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Wk 10 - Crime theories II: Strain and conflict

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Jeffrey Monaghan

on 12 March 2018

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Transcript of Wk 10 - Crime theories II: Strain and conflict

Wk 10 - Crime theories II: Strain and conflict
Chapter 10: “Strain theories” in Criminology: A Canadian Perspective, edited by Rick Linden. Pgs 280-302.

Chapter 11: “Conflict theories” in Criminology: A Canadian Perspective, edited by Rick Linden. Pgs 303-325.

Two theoretical perspectives have guided sociological scholarship on the relationship between crime and social structure:

Consensus perspective
—most people share similar values; morality is universal, customs persist, and the law represents a codification of societal values

Conflict perspective
—criminal law reflects the interests of the powerful groups that create and enforce those laws

Strain theory
fits the general orientation of the consensus perspective

.> Social institutions all contribute to the smooth running of society
.> Crime occurs when something challenging happens that affects these institutions
.> This results in strains, stresses, and frustrations that affect behaviour

Strain theories
.> grounded in sociology theories and methods. Borrows from economics, political sciences, geography, stats and math, as well as social psychology

.> sociology interested in actors, institutions, meanings, symbols, myths, cultures, and norms.

.> Sociological explanations view crime and deviance as “normal,” or “semi-normal” — as socially/culturally learned responses to social circumstances.

Essential to most societies is social solidarity: shared goals that lead to a set of shared norms

.> Without norms to guide them, societies function poorly

.> Durkheim popularized the concept of anomie to explain crime in more advanced and differentiated urban societies

Theory of Anomie and Normlessness:

.> In times of rapid social change, social solidarity can break down; no clear societal norms/values

.> Heterogeneity and increased division of labour weaken societal norms, loosen social controls, and encourage individualism

.> When social cohesion breaks down and social isolation is great, society loses its traditional social control mechanisms

.> eventually suffers from a high rate of crime

.> law/crime reacts to socially identified points of concerns and deviance

.> basis for
consensus theory

.> basis for many sociological approaches to CRM
Durkheim offers four central points on the functions of crime in society
1. Deeming of acceptable and unacceptable
2. Social solidarity for law-abiding public
3. innovation
4. Serves as an indicator of social health.
Theory of anomie:
Durkheim (1897/1951:253) wrote:

With increased prosperity, desires increase. . . . Overweening
ambition always exceeds the results obtained, great as they may
be, since there is no warning to pause here . . . since this race for
an unattainable goal can give no other pleasure but that of the
race itself . . . once it is interrupted the participants are left empty-handed. . . . How could the desire to live not be weakened under
such conditions?

.> strong
social structures
define reasonable limits for desires; but disruptions to social structures allow for unleashed desires
.> unlimited
create pressure for deviant solutions because of a gap between aspirations and opportunities
.> Anomie refers to a state or a condition in society in which the norms are no longer effective in regulating behavior.

.> Durkheim believed that the French Revolution had created an egalitarian society in which all members had a similar opportunity to succeed or fail.

.> Durkheim conclusions on aspirations were mostly focused on upper classes, whose expectations and aspirations expand to an insatiable level

.> Aspirations, Durkheim felt, are class related, with the upper classes having higher goals than those below them.

.> poverty insulated the poor from anomie, argued Durkheim.

.> consensus theory: forces of integration and forces of regulation

Durkheim and anomie

.> Durkheim lays framework for understanding how
opportunity structures
create social disorganization, particularly from the failure of meeting

.> yet Durkheim and anomie tended to focus on features of individuals rather than features of society. Durkheim was also focussed on upper classes and assumed (as one with class privilege often does) that opportunities are unlimited.

.> Robert Merton applied the idea of anomie to the American situation in 1938; and developed
strain theory

Strain theories
most frequently reflect the notion that crime is an outgrowth of weaknesses in the social structure.

.> key argument: stresses, frustrations, or strains (hence the name), are generally a product of
blocked aspirations
, and thereby increases the prospects for norm violation.

.> These theories maintain that norms are violated to alleviate the strain that accompanies failure. Blockage of legitimate goal attainment is said to encourage deviant solutions.

From Anomie to Strain theory
.> success paradigm
Vs. Durkheim:
.> social conditions / social pressures are different based on class position
.> goals are culturally transmitted (to everyone), but institutionally blocked to some (e.g. not available to everyone)

.> while Durkheim emphasized social cohesion; Merton shifted focus to opportunity structures

.> Anomie was shifted from
relative deprivation

Merton (1938:680) summarized his argument in this manner:

It is only when a system of cultural values extols, virtually above all else, certain common symbols of success for the population at large while its social structure rigorously restricts or completely eliminates access to approved modes of acquiring these symbols for a considerable part of the same population, that antisocial behavior ensues on a considerable scale.
Merton: The Gap Between Aspirations and Means
prescribed aspirations are defined by culture and transmitted to members of the society

.> In America, material wealth and accumulation of money and status are seen as universal goals

.> The legitimate means of achieving these aspirations, such as schooling or good jobs, are
socially structured

.> The
resulting from the gap between goals and the means to achieve them may result in some innovation, usually deviance

.> When society encourages people to want things but makes it difficult for certain groups to get them, members of these groups are more likely to turn to deviance

Robert Merton (1968) indicated that the American Dream is a double-edged sword—the very elements that contribute to America’s success at the same time foster that “cardinal American vice, deviant behavior” (1968:200).
.> Richard Cloward and Lloyd Ohlin developed strain theory w/ an emphasis on opportunity structures -specifically
illegitimate opportunity structures
.> People under strain cannot become any kind of criminal they choose
They are limited by the opportunities available to them

“Just as the unintegrated slum cannot mobilize legitimate resources for the young, neither can it provide them with access to stable criminal careers, for illegitimate learning and opportunity structures do not develop” (Cloward & Ohlin, 1960:173).

They identified three types of illegitimate opportunity structures through which lower-class youth could cope with their sense of strain or
“status frustration”

Criminal subcultures
were found in “organized” slums, where networks of “professional” criminals could take prospective gang members under their wing and teach them the tricks of the trade

Conflict subcultures
— based on toughness and a willingness to engage in physical violence — were found in disorganized slums, where there was little organized criminal activity

Retreatist subcultures
were found in both organized and socially disorganized slums — these subcultures focused primarily on the buying and selling of illegal drugs, which individuals used to escape/retreat from a sense of status frustration (anomie-strain)

.> Cloward focused on environment and community: convergence of blocked opportunities (structural) with illicit local opportunities and norms.

.> Concerned with explaining gang and youth delinquency from a sociological perspective.

.> underline that
social organization
produces socially organized illicit structures (organized crime); which
social disorganization
produces anomic illicit structures (disorganized crime).

Illegal opportunity structures and urban life
Anderson: The Code of the Street (1999)
.> published in 1999; focused on US cities, particularly black neighbourhoods in Philadelphia.

.> powerful demonstration of how the lack of opportunity for legitimate employment leads to strain - and the involvement in an underground economy

.> ominous side to the underground economy is "a code of the street" that involves toughness and a demand for respect

.> demonstrates "conflict gangs" typology. Blocked opportunity structures create alternative cultural norms. In this case, violence might not be about money and class mobility - it can also be about street cred, personal esteem, vindictiveness, machismo.

According to Agnew (1992), the decline in the popularity of social strain theory can be attributed to four major criticisms:

• the focus on lower-class delinquency;
• the neglect of goals other than middle-class status and financial gain;
• the failure to consider barriers to achievement other than social class; and
• the inability to account for why only some people who experience strain turn to criminal activity.

Strains are more likely to lead to delinquency if they have certain characteristics:

1. High in magnitude: larger, more impactful events

2. Are the strains unjust? If so, higher chance of intense responses.

3. Linked to low social control. Social control comes from a multitude of institutions.

4. When the crime pays off. If no, crime/deviance losses its appeal.

5. When strain is resolved through contact with people who are involved with crime. Group behaviour can impact support for continued deviance.

Agnew's General Strain
.> often considered more of an "individual" approach to strain b/c it combines an analysis of structural forces with individual responses.
Agnew: Strain alone does not produce delinquency

.> re-focus on structural forces - specifically economic.

.> 'Institutional anomie': an outcome of a society dominated by the economy and economic pressures at the expense of other values and behaviour (Messner and Rosenfeld 2009).

“Our basic thesis is that the American Dream itself exerts pressures toward crime by encouraging an anomic cultural environment, an environment in which people are encouraged to adopt an “anything goes” mentality in the pursuit of personal goals” (2001:61).

They pointed to an institutional imbalance (
), in which the economy dominates the political system, the educational system, and the family, leading to an amoral “ends justifies the means” attitude in society

.> Institutional-anomie theory helps to explain white collar crime and corporate crime

Ex: financial crisis of 2007-2008; Paradise Papers from last week.

Uses of Strain theory
.> Durkheim's legacy: He shifted the focus away from psychological and genetic variables toward sociological ones, which are now dominant in theories of crime

.> Merton’s theories help account for social class differences; influencing a wide range of strain theories that offer insights into how structural forces impact the unethical behaviour of individuals, gangs, and corporations.

.> Strain theory is part of the consensus tradition; institutions are very important for smooth running of society. Macro structures have significant impacts on micro behaviours.

Strain and policy:

.> huge influence on the knowledge of opportunity structures. The strength of this empirical scholarship is second to none.

.> though always tricky when addressing policy. Intersects with issues of poverty, taxes, social integration, race.

Outro: John Braithwaite: Greater Class Mix and the Reduction of Crime
Conflict theories
.> associated with Marxism and post-Marxism

.> focused on economic inequality; how economic inequality structures relations, behaviours, and CJS practices

perspective assumes that societies are more divided by conflict than they are integrated by

.> Conflict theorists question the assumption that laws represent the interests of society as a whole

.> Instead, the social norms and values codified into law are those endorsed by the more powerful or dominant groups in society

Conflict theories
Thorsten Sellin (1938) Cultural conflict

George Vold (1958) Group conflict
.> In complex societies, diverse cultural groups maintain distinct
conduct norms
or cultural rules governing appropriate conduct

.> there may be

between the conduct norms of different cultural groups

Criminal norms
: conduct norms codified into laws that represent the values of the dominant group

Group conflict theory
focuses on crime that occurs due to conflict between competing “interest” groups

.> Law-making is a political process involving conflict between interest groups:
“Those who produce legislative majorities win control over the police power and dominate the policies that decide who is likely to be involved in violation of the law” (Vold, 1958, 209)

Two classes of group conflict can result in criminal behaviour:

1. Crime occurs when there is a conflict between the behaviour of a minority group and the laws of the dominant majority

2. Crime occurs from conflict between competing interest groups vying for power

Conflict theory criticized for only explaining a narrow range of crimes

.> Focused on “segments of society” (social groupings) that attempt to secure their interests through criminal law

.> Quinney saw much inequality in decision-making of public policies and laws

.> Only some
interest groups
are sufficiently powerful to influence public policy

Richard Quinney: Social Reality of Crime (1970)
.> provided a more generalized theory of conflict
Six propositions that make up Quinney’s theory:

1. Crime is a product of legal definitions

2. Crime is behaviour that conflicts with the interests of segments that have the power to shape policy

3. Powerful segments also enforce and administer the law

4. People in less powerful segments of society are more likely to have their behaviour criminalized

5. Conceptions of crime are constructed and diffused in the segments of society by various means of communication (the mass media)

6. The social reality of crime is constructed by the formulation and application of criminal definitions

Quinney's theory of conflict has far broader implications.
.> 'victimless crimes'

Ex: software or copyright piracy
.> sex work and prostitution
.> drug use
Ex: Terrorist violence vs mass shootings
.> Since the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, the U.S. has seen 1,518 deaths in mass shootings. Almost 1 per day.
Policy responses:
Policy responses:
.> creation of DHS
.> billions in spending, domestic and abroad
.> mass surveillance programs, curtailment of privacy and civil liberties
.> widespread security policies; from taking off shoes at the airport to religious and racial profiling.
.> thoughts and prayers.
.> conflict theory valuable for analysis; less valuable for prescription
Marxist Conflict Perspectives
.> Marx himself wrote little on crime

.> Many criminologists believed that Marx’s work could help analyze the relationship between crime and the social world

.> Marxist theories focus not on individual pathologies but on social, political, and economic structures that give rise to crime

.> Marxist criminologists view conflict as rooted in the structure of capitalist society

Instrumental Marxism
Assumes the state and legal and political institutions are a direct reflection of the interests of the ruling/capitalist class

Law is equated with class rule

.> The ruling class controls the formation of law, and the focus is on the coercive nature of the law

.> The state and the legal system are instruments of the capitalist class

.> Wrongly portrays ruling class as homogeneous
.> Ignores constraints on the powers of the ruling class
.> Ignores legislation that is contradictory to the position of the powerful capitalist class
.> View that the economic base is the foundation of the superstructure is too deterministic

Contributions of instrumental Marxism:
.> offers a sociology of the capitalist class
.> details the relationship between class power and state power
.> gives a view of the law within capitalist society
Criticisms of instrumental Marxism:
Structural Marxism
Opposes instrumental Marxist assumption that the state is the direct servant of the ruling class

.> Instead, it argues that state institutions function in the long-term interests of capitalism (to reproduce capitalist society)

.> The state and its institutions have a certain degree of independence from specific elites in the capitalist class (
relative autonomy

.> Intra-social conflict

.> Many laws are enacted that do not represent the immediate interests of the capitalist class

.> Laws that benefit the less powerful reflect the need to develop a widespread consent for the existing social order

.> role of

.> Louis Althusser (1970)
.> repressive state apparatus vs/and the ideological state apparatus

.> role of ideology in maintaining law

.> theory of interpellation

.> normative power of law and the CJS

.> Mark Fisher, “capitalist realism”: a social condition where the dictates of the market become a “pervasive atmosphere, conditioning not only the production of culture but also the regulation of work and education, and acting as a kind of invisible barrier constraining thought and action.”
Marxist contributions:
Crimes of the powerless vs crimes of the powerful
Crimes of the powerless
.> Criminalization of behaviour is often directed at problem populations that arise in capitalist societies: Surplus populations // Those who disturb capitalism, such as student radicals

Crimes of the Powerful

.> Marxist research on corporate crime focuses on the harmful conduct of those inside the sphere of production in capitalist economies
.> Corporate crime has far greater negative impact on society compared to “street crime”
.> Capitalism and profit maximization create strong motivation for corporations to commit crimes and other socially harmful behaviours

.> Tendency toward circular reasoning

.> Too much emphasis on structure and not enough on human agency to shape and direct the social world

.> Exclusive focus on class relations has precluded other considerations, such as gender oppression and race oppression

Critiques of structural Marxism
Left realism
.> response to criticisms of Marxism, particularly in the 80s and 90s

.> Must pay attention to the serious harm generated by street crime, “working-class crime”

.> Crime is disproportionately distributed among the working class, women, and racial minorities

.> The majority of working-class crime is intra-class

.> Victimization surveys help focus on and examine the problem of crime for the working class

.> Must develop a working-class criminology that examines and offers practical solutions to street crime

.> Must advance concrete and non-repressive crime control programs and policies:
Alternatives to prisons
Pre-emptive deterrence
Making police more accountable to the public;
“Harnessing the energies of the marginalized” to create a “politics of crime control”

define strain theory?

what are some major differences between strain theorists like Durkheim, Merton, and Agnew?
what are the fundamental differences between consensus and conflict theories?
describe some contributions and some criticisms of Marxism theories of crime?
November 20: Week 11
Crime theories III: Interactionist theories, Social control, rational choice

Required readings:

Chapter 13: “Interactionist theories” in Criminology: A Canadian Perspective, edited by Rick Linden. Pgs 357-379

Chapter 14: “Social control theory” in Criminology: A Canadian Perspective, edited by Rick Linden. Pgs 380-406.

Chapter 15: “Deterrence, Routine activity, and rational choice theories” in Criminology: A Canadian Perspective, edited by Rick Linden. Pgs 407-432.

.> next week's readings

.> booklets

Strain theories

Durkheim and anomie
Merton and strain
Illegitimate opportunity structures
Agnew and general strain
Institutional anomie
Conflict theories

Group conflict
Quinney: Social reality of crime
Institutional marxism vs Structural
Left realism
Full transcript