Critical criminology is a way of looking at crime and deviance as something not inherent in humanity. Instead, it’s a result of the social and economic conditions in society.
Critical criminology is multi-disciplinary, meaning it draws from several different academic disciplines, including sociology, philosophy, history, politics, and others, to analyze the crime.
Criminological Theory: A Critical Overview
The purpose of criminological theory is to understand crime and deviance. Criminology theory is different from other disciplines because crime is dynamic and changes from place to place, person to person. Theories of criminology must adapt to be relevant and valuable.
The first criminological theories were posited in the late 1800s. Cesare Lombroso, an Italian scientist, believed that criminals were born, not made. He believed that criminals could be identified by physical features such as extra digits and specific facial structures.
Lombroso’s theories of criminology were not widely accepted. However, the impact of individual biology on criminality became an important concept in modern criminology theory.
Lombroso’s theories are based on biological determinism. This refers to the idea that biology determines social behavior. Lombroso believed criminals could exhibit physical features that were not at one with their social behavior. Thus, deviance was biological.
Karl Marx’s Theory of Criminology
Karl Marx’s criminology theory is based on the idea of class conflict. He believed that poor, working-class people commit crimes to survive, while rich people commit crimes for personal gain. Marx also believed that members of the working class police other members of the working class through passive acceptance of the status quo.
Marx’s theories help analyze crimes that involve lower-class perpetrators and middle or upper-class victims. Crimes such as burglary, robbery, and auto theft involve lower-class perpetrators and upper-class victims.
White-collar crimes have been defined as illegal activities committed by business and government professionals. These may include:
- Mail fraud
- Wire fraud
- Money laundering
- Securities fraud or stock manipulation
According to Marx, these crimes are committed by the upper-class to gain personal wealth. Young and Nilsen (2000) explain that this definition is problematic due to its failure to recognize the complicity of lower- and middle-class people in white-collar crime.
Marx’s theories are still used by criminologists today. Still, they must be combined with other theories to provide a complete picture of crime as it happens in society.
Feminist Theories of Criminology
Feminism is a movement that advocates for equal rights between men and women. Feminist criminologists believe that traditional theories of crime are inherently sexist. This is because men created them with the assumption that only males commit a crime.
They also believe that the criminal justice system is inherently sexist, as well. Feminist criminology theories help explain crimes that are gender-specific such as sexual assault and domestic violence.
The feminist theory of criminology is a critique of scientific knowledge. For example, it questions the objectivity of scientists in general and criminologists in particular. Feminist criminology also examines how gender influences criminal behavior. This theory attempts to describe society from the perspective of women as well as men.
Examples of feminist theorists
The feminist theorist Susan Estrich argues that men commit most crimes and that women are usually victims of male-perpetrated crime. Feminist criminology theories such as Estrich’s attempt to explain why particular crimes occur between men and women.
Synnott argues that male dominance is reinforced by society in many ways, including through “criminal justice” systems which she explains are, in reality, systems designed to control women and not criminals.
Many other feminist writers – notably Diana Russel, Carol Smart, and Elizabeth Spelman (citation) – have supported the claim that male-dominated societies attempt to deny or conceal female criminal victimization. Oscar Newman’s Defensible Space and Altina Waller’s Feuding and Filing: A Comparative criminal justice History of Divorce in the United States, 1630-1930 are also relevant here.
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Left-realism is a theory of criminology that individual factors cause a state’s crime. Left-realists believe that everyone has the potential to commit a violent act, but not everyone commits one because they choose not to.
Left-realists reject Lombroso’s theories about physical features and biological determinism. Instead, left-realists believe that criminal behavior is learned. Criminals learn to be criminals from their social environment through the observation and imitation of other criminals.
Left-realism’s primary focus is on individual characteristics instead of society and social structure. However, it does not reject the influence of society. Instead, left-realism states that a person’s environment and social background can influence their behavior.
Left-realism is also helpful in explaining crimes that involve lower-class perpetrators and middle or upper-class victims, such as the crimes committed by Karl Marx. Left-realists view these criminals as being from a working class background trying to obtain wealth for themselves and their families.
Left-realism’s primary focus is on the individual characteristics of criminals and how those characteristics influence their behavior. This differs from many other criminology theories that emphasize external factors such as social structure, culture, and subculture.
Right-pessimism focuses on the physical and biological causes of crime. It states that criminals are biologically different from noncriminals. Also, these biological differences cause them to commit crimes.
According to right-pessimism, an individual’s genes and hormones contribute to their tendency toward deviance rather than the external factors associated with other theories of criminology.
Right-pessimism’s primary focus is on the biological and physical causes of crime. This differs from most other criminology theories that primarily focus on social factors such as social structure, culture, subculture, and the criminal justice system.
Right-pessimism’s primary focus on biological and physical differences between criminals and noncriminals makes it helpful in explaining crimes committed by Karl Marx. Right-pessimism states that certain individuals are biologically inclined toward crime and deviance.
Right-pessimism helps explain crimes such as burglary or robbery, which involve lower-class criminals and upper-class victims because it views these offenders as physically different from noncriminals. Right-pessimists believe that these individuals are biologically inclined toward crime and deviance.
Right-pessimism’s primary focus on the physical factors associated with crime makes it different from most other criminology theories, which primarily focus on social or cultural factors.
Power Control Theory
Anthony Walsh created a power-control theory to explain gender-specific crimes, such as sexual assault and domestic violence. The theory emphasizes the importance of power in a relationship rather than dominance or patriarchy.
It views crime as using one person’s power against another, including any controlling behavior such as physical abuse, sexual coercion, and confinement.
Power control views crime as a means of power, which can abuse another person or assert dominance over them. This differs from other criminology theories that view crime as an act in itself rather than the use of one person’s power against another.
Power control is useful in explaining crimes such as sexual assault and domestic violence because it views them as misusing one person’s power over another.
This theory is different from other criminology theories such as routine activity theory and left realism, which primarily focus on the individual characteristics of offenders rather than the relationship between the offender and victim.
Routine Activity Theory
Alfred Blumstein created routine activity theory to explain crimes that involve strangers, such as burglary or robbery.
Routine activity theory states that crime results from the interaction between four elements: target, place, time, and offender. This theory maintains that if one of these factors changes, it will affect the other three.
For example, if fewer targets are present during a particular time and place, there will be less opportunity for crime to occur.
This differs from other criminology theories that primarily focus on the individual characteristics of the offender or victim.
Merton’s Strain Theory
Robert Merton’s strain theory is based on the idea that people learn crime due to economic and social forces in society. Merton believed that people adapt their morals and ethics to attain a goal in the face of outside forces.
Merton’s theory is useful in explaining crimes such as theft and murder, which often involve the motivation of material gain.
According to Sutherland, learned behavior is the result of interactions between individuals and groups. When people associate with other individuals who engage in crime and deviance, they are more likely to influence these interactions and adopt similar behavior.
Sutherland’s theory is necessary for explaining deviant behavior such as gang violence and drug use. It can also be used to explain the actions of groups that engage in terrorist activity.
Quinney’s Radical Criminology
Quinney used radical criminology to show how criminal behavior results from a hostile society that criminalizes non-conformity.
Radical criminology explains why some groups are more likely to be criminalized and marginalized by society.
Convict criminology is a branch of critical criminology that seeks to understand the criminal mind. Convict criminologists often have criminal experience themselves, which allows them to create insight into the criminal mindset.
It was developed in large part by Donald Clemmer. Clemmer was an inmate in San Quentin prison who conducted research there. He believed that criminals were society’s victims and sought to understand why other people were criminals.
Convict criminology explains why people commit crime and deviance. It also explains how to help individuals who are struggling to conform to social norms.
According to this perspective, criminality is a product of social conditions, which cause people to act in specific ways. The idea that criminal acts are caused by individual biology is rejected. In this perspective, the cause of crime is rooted in society.
Critical criminology looks at how criminal behavior is a result of social forces and social conditions. It provides an understanding of how people are influenced by society and why they commit a crime.
Critical criminologists often use data collected through surveys and interviews to study why people commit a crime. They also use statistics and studies on the criminal justice system to explain why some individuals are arrested or imprisoned more often than others.
This perspective has been criticized as being too general to help address the cause of criminal behavior. However, it provides a way to gain insight into the criminal mind and help those with criminal backgrounds.
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Conflict Theories of Criminology
One of the most prominent theories in this area is the conflict theory. This perspective argues that crime arises because of social inequalities in society. Such inequalities include social and economic inequalities, racism, sexism, ageism, and homophobia.
Conflict theory helps understand why some groups have more crime than others and which groups are most impacted by the criminal justice system.
For example, conflict theory can explain why individuals who are poor or unemployed are more likely to be convicted of a crime.
It also explains why racial and ethnic minority groups have higher incarceration rates, conviction, and recidivism rates than white groups.
For example, indigenous populations in the United States have high rates of violent crime and incarceration. This corresponds with conflict theory, as indigenous groups have long been disenfranchised in the United States, creating poverty and lack of opportunity.
Social Structure and the Criminal Law
Critique of the criminal law is one way to understand how society’s laws are biased against certain groups. This perspective argues that the way laws are written represents society’s power structure.
For example, many laws discriminate against black people. One law that is often criticized is a Florida measure that provides for harsher sentences against people who have been convicted of crimes before.
This law can be seen as a way to disenfranchise black communities since black communities are disproportionately likely to have black individuals who have been incarcerated before.
Most people convicted of crimes are male and white. However, many laws discriminate against female and minority groups. This is because lawmakers in positions of power are primarily white men, and these individuals reflect power structures in society.
Explanations for crime in conflict theory, social structure, criminal law, and critical criminology helps in understanding why people commit crimes. Crime is a result of the conditions in society, and these perspectives can be used to gain insight into why people commit crimes.
Post-modern Perspective of Critical criminology
Critical criminology is a perspective that seeks to move beyond binary theories of causation. It rejects the idea that crime results from either biological or social conditions.
It argues that both perspectives are limited in explaining why crime occurs. For example, biological theories do not explain why structural conditions such as poverty and racism lead to criminal behavior.
Also, these perspectives also ignore the role of human agency in crime. For example, conflict theory is limited because it does not explain why some individuals act on their discriminatory beliefs while others do not.
Individuals have the free choice to commit a criminal act, but their social environment influences this choice.
This free conscious choice to commit crimes means that criminals are not biologically or socially caused to be deviant. All explanations of criminal behavior should be based on understanding individual agency in the context of society’s conditions.
Critical Criminology Development
Critical criminology has developed in several different areas. One area is the study of white-collar crime. This type of crime occurs among high-status individuals, such as corporate executives who break environmental laws or fraudulently sell financial products to investors.
This perspective argues that these crimes are not harmless because they cause harm to society as a whole. For example, white-collar crimes often lead to environmental destruction and job loss because of corporations’ unsafe or deceptive practices.
Some critiques argue that white-collar criminals are treated too leniently by the criminal justice system. This perspective argues that these individuals have more social power than those who commit lower-status crimes. This disparity in criminal punishment is unfair.
Another area of development for critical criminology has been the study of crime among minorities and women. This perspective argues that most theories are based on studies conducted by white men, which reflect the biased views of these individuals about what causes crime.
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Essay Example of Critical Criminology
Essay Title: A Summary of Critical Criminology
Among the theories of criminology, critical criminology might be the most difficult to understand. This perspective rejects the idea that individual choices and biological characteristics can explain criminal behavior.
Instead, it looks at crime as a product of social forces and conditions. The cause of criminal behavior is not an individual factor but rather the society’s conditions created by those in power.
This perspective helps gain insight into how laws are unjust and create more crime than they prevent.
Critical criminology can also be used to explain why some groups are overrepresented in the criminal justice system. For example, indigenous populations in the United States have high rates of violent crime and incarceration.
This corresponds with critical criminology because indigenous groups have long been disenfranchised in the United States, creating poverty and lack of opportunity.
Critical criminology is also necessary for gaining insight into why certain crimes are given harsher punishments than others. For example, many laws discriminate against black people.
One law that is often criticized is a Florida measure that provides for harsher sentences against people who have been convicted of crimes before. This law can be seen as a way to disenfranchise black communities since black communities are disproportionately likely to have black individuals who have been incarcerated before.
Critical criminology is a difficult way of looking at crime. However, it provides insights into why individuals commit crimes and how certain groups are overrepresented in the criminal justice system.
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The field of critical criminology has been around for decades and continues to grow. This is a fascinating new way of thinking about crime. It can help us better understand the root causes and potential solutions or strategies to reduce criminal behavior.
Although not all criminologists agree with this perspective, it offers an interesting lens through which we can view some of our most pressing social problems today.