904 Words Essay on Radical Criminology

radical criminology essay

The emergence of ‘radical’ approach to deviance can be traced through a gradual process of shift from the liberal pluralist positions which characterised ‘mainstream’ criminology in the 1940s and the 1950s. Early criminology now popularly called conservative, traditional or orthodox criminology concerned itself, up to late 1930s, with the pathological nature of the deviant act.

In 1939, Sutherland (Cf. Sutherland and Cressay, Principles of Criminology, 1965: 74) offered a “social process” view of criminology. The “social structural” theories of Merton (1938) and Cloward and Ohlin (1960) drew attention to the functioning of social structures in the causation of crime. For locating the cause of crime, they advised criminologists to look for socially structured sources of ‘strain’ within society.

The social structural and social process theories shared in common the view that crime is ‘normal’ rather than a pathological condition, and that a criminal is like any other person. The higher and lower rates of crimes in different societies were explained in terms of different social conditions and social experiences.


Then developed a view in the 1960s which described crime as nothing more than a label attached to conduct and people, and what needed to be explained was variations in labelling behaviour (Becker, 1963).

Crime came to be thought of as a status applied to behaviour, not as a particular kind of act. This was followed by the development of anew criminology or anew deviancy theory in the 1970s (Hunt, 1976) which focused on ‘reaction’ and ‘social control’ in giving rise to deviance. According to it, too much control is irrational and dysfunctional. The overreaction of those in power creates more deviance which further raises the level of coercive strategies necessary to maintain control.

The key to controlling crime then lies not in structural change in society but in the control of reaction against deviance. The 1970s also saw the emergence of ‘critical’ perspective. Gouldner’s (1970) questioning the validity of ‘value neutrality’ in social sciences, including sociology, sharply affected criminologists also, from which emerged a number of critical and radical strands.

Conflict theory was revived and theorists such as Turk (1969), Chambliss (1969), and Quinney (1970) applied conflict theory directly to criminology.

After the attack on ‘value ‘neutrality’, many sociologists and criminologists took up a clear ‘partisan’ stance. One consequence of this was the growing ‘politicisation of deviance’. There evolved a structural critique of dominant institutions, of big business, and of political rulers, who came to be regarded as ‘true’ criminals.

This analysis of the political consequences of ‘criminalisation’ of deviance led to the growth of ‘Union of Radical Criminologists’ in the United States, School of Criminology at Berkeley (USA), and National Deviancy Conference in Britain.

These organisations provided framework for the convergence of critical theory with radical political ideology. They took up a ‘politics of support’ for prisoners, drug users, homosexuals, etc.

It was realised that a “new fully social theory of deviance” was required which could demonstrate theoretically the connections between law and the state, legal and political relations, the econorfiic basis and functions of crime.

On this terrain were forged the links between a ‘radical politics’ of deviance and a ‘critical’ version of Marxist and neo-Marxist theories (see, Fitzgerald, et al., Crime and Society, 1981: 465).

Taylor, Walton and Young published The New Criminology which laid emphasis on a “fully social theory of deviance” and talked of “abolition of inequalities in wealth and power”.

They argued that the study of crime was to be grounded in material conditions, the capitalist division of labour and the structural inequalities of wealth and power which the law helped to preserve. Thus, ‘new criminology’ attempted to forge a synthesis between neo-Meadean interactionist theories and a neo-Marxist political economy.

A social theory of criminality was at the heart of this critical enterprise. According to it, “criminality did not arise from biological inheritance or personality disorder or evil intent but is politically, economically, and socially induced.” It (criminality) arose from ‘material necessity’ and ‘material incentive’. A criminology not committed to ‘the abolition of inequalities of wealth and power’ was bound to be correctional. Its (new criminology’s) objective was ‘containing the consequences of crime’.

The ‘new criminology’ opposed traditional correctional criminology. Instead, it chose to consider issues like (Taylor, et al., 1973: 270-76):

(i) The wider origins of deviance in terms of cultural, structural and socio-psychological conflicts within wider society;

(ii) The situated background specific deviant action;

(iii) A grasp of the actual act in terms of wider origins;

(iv) The immediate origins of social reaction;

(v) Wider contexts of social reaction;

(vi) The effect of social reaction by and on the deviant and

(vii) The subsequent persistence and change in action.

The programme (of new criminology) not only proposed to retain the focus on the immediate interactions between the deviant and the agencies of control but also to locate them in a broader, historical and structural framework. This was a bold programme but it proved difficult to defend it.

This programme was developed further in a new book, Critical Criminology in 1975 edited by Taylor, Walton and Young. In this book, the authors adopted a Marxist materialist analysis. ‘Critical criminology’, however, failed to answer many questions. In 1975 Hurst argued against developing a ‘Marxist criminology’.

It may, thus, be said that new critical and radical criminology was mainly concerned with the relationship between law, crime, and class, and the fact that crime is the product of class conditions.

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The inheritance of radical criminology

The history of mainstream criminological thought is not a story about challenging power and authority. As already discussed, it is one often dominated by attempts to establish the causes of state-defined crime by scientific means. It is a story that frequently emphasises the significance of law, psychiatry and medicine in explaining criminality in positivistic terms (Rafter, 2009). In that sense, much of its development has been involved in shaping and reforming state criminal justice systems. By contrast, critical criminology presents perspectives and narratives that challenge state-defined concepts of crime, oppose official crime statistics, and question the authority and universality of positivist analyses of criminality.

The advent of radical perspectives in criminology sparked an intellectual debate that constituted a revolutionary shift away from so-called scientific criminological discourses. Although critical scholarship in crime and justice had its major impact in the 1960s, it had various intellectual and political forerunners that were inspired by social and economic injustices. For example, Willem Bonger’s Criminality and Economic Conditions was first published in English in 1916 and provided a Marxist-informed analysis of ‘capitalist exchange’ and economic disadvantage He identified how an unequal distribution of property and wealth was created by labour-market exploitation. Such economic injustices thereby created a context for crime to be more likely to occur. Here we begin to see the importance of social structure, society, and marginalisation to the problem of crime. Such seminal works and ideas as these were to have profound impacts on subsequent and early developments in critical thinking about, for example, class, white-collar crime and political economy (Rusche and Kirchheimer, 1939; Sutherland, 1949)

In a similar vein to Bonger’s work on social structure and crime, Peter Kropotkin’s ‘Law and authority’, published in 1898, attacked the criminal law and those who held the power to create it. He argued that processes of criminalisation were heavily skewed in favour of lawmakers and property owners. For him, law served three purposes – the ‘protection of property, protection of government, protection of persons’ – and he famously concluded that such underpinning rationales highlighted ‘the uselessness and harmfulness of the law’ (McLaughlin et al., 2003, p. 69). As a result, Kropotkin motivated later social science critiques of ‘the state’ and is credited with providing the ideological foundations of abolitionist thinking.

Numerous critical commentaries outside of academia have also been part of the on-going development of critical criminology as well as broader critical narratives that have occurred throughout human social history. Literary and polemical works such as Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s novel Crime and Punishment (1866) and critic and playwright George Bernard Shaw’s essay ‘Crude criminology’ (1931) explored narratives in which states of oppression, exploitation and human greed were offered as alternatives to mainstream government-defined views of crime and criminals. In theatre, Broadway’s internationally acclaimed stage production of The War of Wealth (1896) portrayed economic and business chaos and the resultant pubic disorder. Such presentations of the complexities of social life in popular culture served to highlight and critique social discontent and unrest against institutions of power. In doing so, the stage became a platform for voicing the struggles of honest working ‘men’ against financial institutions that dictated economic policy. Furthermore, social transformations in the shape of political resistance and struggles surrounding rights, including, for example, the Women’s Social and Political Union of 1910 and its suffragette movement, pivoted on mobilised resistance. These and many other earlier social movements proved to be important forerunners of the critical criminological enterprise.

These early contributors were important predecessors of the critical criminological enterprise. They represent voices of opposition to dominant and ruling ideologies deemed to be brutal, unjust and discriminatory. These earlier critical vignettes, embedded in social movements of discontent, comprised relatively marginal voices outside of what can be considered ‘the mainstream’. That is, they challenged previously ‘accepted’ assumptions and starting thinking critically about crime.


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Analysis of Radical Criminology - Essay Example

Analysis of Radical Criminology

  • Subject: Social science
  • Type: Essay
  • Level: Masters
  • Pages: 2 (500 words)
  • Downloads: 4
  • Author: eldridge68

Extract of sample "Analysis of Radical Criminology"

GED260 CRIMINOLOGY The central tenet of radical criminology is that it is a division of criminology that handles the root cause of a crime (Farrington and Tonry, 2005). It also enables the location of the crimes in the societal classes of our modern communities. It helps us to locate crimes committed in our capitalist markets and in the class structures where inequalities prevail. They occur as a result of the individualism produced by our market. It applies adequately within a societal structure that frustrates the concepts of a legal system (Farrington and Tonry, 2005).

They also operate efficiently to shape and control people’s frustrations and anger using the foundation values of aggressive individualism. This type of criminology is essential in locating crimes within patriarchal schemes where men who are threatened due to their dominance result in violence against women. An example of a situation where this domination was threatened was when women started flooding the labor during the period after the 1st and 2nd world wars (Farrington and Tonry, 2005).

Since the creation of this form of criminology, the causes of criminal acts in the larger society tend to be ignored with the causes of crime within individuals being located. The microstructures that come under investigation in this criminology include institutions such as schools, families and prisons. The belief of radical criminology is that various kinds of crime are uncontrollable through socializing within the family while others are increased through this socialization. It also believes that crimes caused by ineptitude are enabled by family structures that are weak.

The criminologists also face many dangers from the criminal nature of the society. This form of criminology attempts to combine different Marxist ideas. These are ideas such as the societal structures, exploitations in their economies and isolation (Farrington and Tonry, 2005). This form of criminology has been heavily criticized for befriending criminals. It is seen to be fighting against capitalism though it supports the perception that criminals exploit other people using criminal methods (Schmalleger, 1998).

n The concept of radical criminology argues that the functions of the society are controlled by the interests of those ruling and not the community itself. This form of criminology does not also receive the administration’s sponsorship. It has shown a lot of victimization when dealing with crimes across various classes of people within the society. Radical criminology only focuses on issues that affect the politically correct people while it ignores issues affecting women and children (Farrington and Tonry, 2005).

The issues range from their experiences of violence in their homesteads, rape and abuse of their children. This form of criminology also favors those who are economically sound and have political connections . This is because it relies on the judgment and direction of the ruling classes and they can easily be influenced to take sides. Women also tend to believe that the policies of these form of criminology are also biased against women. They suggest that their experiences have long been ignored and women commit less crimes in comparison to their male counterparts.

There are also fears that associations between criminals and the radical criminologists could be formed. This would greatly advance the chances of a criminal walking free after committing heinous crimes (Farrington and Tonry, 2005). Radical criminology does not adequately address the issue of a conflict of interest arising in the course of the rulers performing their duties. It is also deficient in its suggestions about crime being caused only by economic and communal forces. This is not true since crimes have many different causes.

They could also be caused by political forces which this form of criminology does not focus on. References Farrington, D. and Tonry, M. (2005), strategic approaches to crime prevention, building a Safer Society, University of Chicago Press, Chicago. Schmalleger, F. (1998). Criminology Today: An Integrative Introduction. Boston: Prentice Hall.

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