Theories of Deviance: Conflict Theory
Why are some people's behaviors more apt to be negatively labeled by the criminal justice system? Labeling theorists point to the role of moral entrepreneurs or social movements, but what about the forces that underlie a particular moral crusade? Why, for example, would American society want to criminalize the production, sale, and consumption of alcoholic beverages in the 1920s? Why the increased penalties for domestic violence in the 1970s, or the War on Drugs in the 1980s? For the conflict theorists, the answer has to do with the balance of power and privilege in society. Everything from material goods to quality education to religious freedom is in short supply, and therefore the typical relationship among groups in society is competition and conflict. Conflict theorists are typically categorized according to which inequalities they prioritize. I. Marxist theory. Marx gives priority to economic inequalities. In his view, all societies are marked by the conflict of social classes, sometime overt, sometimes hidden, but always the major source of stability and change in society. Those who control the productive property of any society (land, factories, equipment) use their economic power to dominate other spheres--culture, religion, education, politics, and certainly the criminal justice system. There may be laws that benefit everybody, but mostly "the gneral interest" is a fiction that covers up class interest. "Justice" and "fair play" are public relations for a system that actually protects private property and treats transgressions against the upper classes much more seriously than transgressions against the lower classes. Steven Spitzer points out that a capitalist economy, by its very nature, creates a surplus population. As businesses compete with one another, the successful capitalist will be the one who is the most technologically innovative. Advanced technology (i.e., automation) allows skilled workers to be...
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