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Marxism, functionalism and feminism theories on crime

For this sociology essay I shall be researching and comparing three social perspective theories on crime, Marxism, Functionalism, and Feminism. I will be attempting to write how the three theories compare and conflict with each other.

Marxist perspective on crime

Karl Heinrich Marx was born the 5th of May 1818 Trier Germany to a comfortable middle class family. A historian, social scientist, revolutionary and philosopher, Karl Marx, was and still is considered the most important socialist thinker that emerged from the 19th century. Karl Marx during his lifetime was for the most part ignored by scholars. But since his death in 1883, Marx’s political, social and economic ideas quickly gained acceptance in the socialist movement.

Although Karl Marx never wrote at length about crime, he did argue the laws made by the ruling class were mostly put in place to keep the working class under control. Karl Marx had the idea that most people were not even aware they were being exploited. Marxism recognises for a society to function properly, social order is necessary. They state that in all societies apart from communist societies the ruling class always gains far more than any other class.

Haralambos & Holborn (2004) in discussing Marxist perspectives on deviance states that: the ruling class passes laws that benefits ruling-class interests. Therefore making sure the power stays in ruling class hands so they have a constant control over lower classes. (P353).

Marxists have the idea that Capitalist societies emphasise individual gain and the need to win at all costs. They feel greed explains crimes for financial gain. Marxists think the frustrations felt by dehumanising the lower classes can explain the crimes against the individual persons. They think crime in part is the creation of unequal power and inequality, and that it is a natural response to living in poverty. They feel crime is often the result of the ruling class offering the lower classes of society, demeaning work that gives little or no sense of creativity.

Although Marxists agree that crime is widespread within all social classes they argue deprived criminals are given harsher sentences than wealthy criminals. Marxists are more likely to emphasise corporate and white collar crime, they note that crimes by the upper classes cost more, and have a greater economic toll on society than lower class crimes. Marxists believe laws are approved to benefit the desires of the ruling class, they say people have unequal access to the law. Powerful people with money can hire a good lawyer this can change the odds of being found guilty or not guilty. Therefore for a Marxist, punishment for a crime could depend and vary with the social status of the criminal.

A man named William Chambliss was concerned in the fact of why certain things are made illegal and others are not, he also wondered who decided what issues are made law, and why the unequal distribution of wealth wasn’t illegal, William Chambliss also thought the ruling class controlled this power, and it was the ruling class who prevented certain issues from ever being discussed.

Dutchman Willem Adriaan Bonger 1876-1940: The 1st Marxist Criminologist wrote that all individuals in capitalist societies are infected by egoism because they are alienated from authentic social relationships with their fellow human beings, and all are thus prone to crime. He thought the root cause of crime was the capitalist mode of production and poverty was the major cause of crime, but the effects of poverty can be traced to the family structure and on parental inability to properly supervise their children. Willem Bonger supported the view that the roots of crime lay in the exploitative and alienating conditions of capitalism. The social sentiments that concerned him were altruism (an active concern for the well being of others) and egoism (a concern only for one’s own selfish interests). Willem Adriaan Bonger took his own life in 1940 rather than summiting to the Nazis. Willem Bonger (1969) Criminality and Economic Conditions.

In general Marxists believe the law is created by the ruling class, and only acts that grow out of working class life are defined as criminal. They state everyone breaks the law, but biased law enforcement means it is mainly the working class who get caught. “Marxism is the only theory that examines the crimes of the powerful”.

Haralambos & Holborn (2004): Marxists have been criticized in the past for thinking that a Communist system maybe the answer to eradicating crime, when in fact Switzerland, a capitalist society has a very low rate of crime. Feminists argue Marxists ignore the role of patriarchy whilst putting far too much emphasis on class inequality. (p355).

Functionalism perspective on crime

Haralambos & Holborn (2004): Functionalists believe that deviance and crime starts with society as a whole. Functionalism looks into society for the source of crime and deviance rather than looking to the individual itself. Functionalism is frequently thought of as the exact opposite to Marxism. Functionalists give emphasis to the positive way crime can affect a social system. Functionalism stems from Emile Durkheim. He believed that crime was to be expected in all societies. (p253).

Emile Durkheim was born on April the 15th, 1858 at Epinal, Vosges, in Lorraine, France. Durkheim is considered by most the father of sociology. He is credited for making sociology a science. During Durkheim’s lifetime he published a number of sociological studies on subjects like suicide, religion and other aspects of society as well as giving a number of lectures. Emile Durkheim (2002).

Haralambos & Holborn (2004): All Functionalists have the opinion that control mechanisms like courts and police are a necessity to keep crime and deviance in control and protect social order. However many functionalists argue a certain amount of deviance can have positive functions in society, they feel crime can even provide maintenance and the well being of a society. In Emile Durkheim’s book “The Rules of Sociological Method” (1938) crime is argued to be inevitable, and a normal part of social life. Emile Durkheim had the notion that crime was present throughout all types of society. He also felt the crime rate would be higher in more highly developed industrialized countries. Durkheim believed that if there was a perfect society of saints, occupied by perfect individuals, a society where no murder or robbery occurred, deviance would still be present because behaviour standards would be set that high the smallest slip would be considered a serious offence. Durkheim felt society would stagnate without deviance. (253).

A man named Robert Merton produced a detailed functionalist theory to explain criminal behaviour. Merton stated that all societies set goals to attain, Merton believed that if there was a sensible chance you could reach these goals then society would function, but he felt that if these goals were unobtainable then a situation of anomie occurs (anything goes). Robert Merton stated that there are five anomic responses where individuals cannot achieve Societies goals.

1, Conformity: where individuals struggle for success through accepted channels.

2, Innovation: people will accept society has goals but will reject the socially accepted means, for example organized crime.

3, Ritualism: where people accept the socially approved way, but no longer believe they can achieve success, for example people who stick to the rules no matter what.

4, Retreatism: people who have lost sight of societies goals for example drug users.

5, Rebellion: people who have adopted new goals, and different ways to achieve them, for example revolutionaries, cults. Sociology in Focus: Paul Taylor (1997)

In general Functionalist’s believe crime can play a positive role in society, they feel societies need to produce crime to set the limits of behaviour to show society what will, and won’t be tolerated. Functionalist’s state the working class are more criminal because they have fewer bonds with social institutions and therefore have less to lose. They think of society as a living organism with each function like institutions, organizations, and other mechanisms working together. J.Tattersall: (2010).

Functionalist theory has been criticized for ignoring the crimes of the higher social classes, for seeing crime and deviance as a product of society and social background (deterministic), and for ignoring the fact that many young people often choose to be deviant and they often grow out of this behaviour.

“Functionalism is the only theory that sees crime as having a positive function”.

Feminist perspective on crime

Feminist criminology thinks that crime must be viewed from all perspectives in order to understand and obtain the most complete picture of crime. Feminists see society as male-dominated (patriarchal). Feminists see men benefiting at the women’s expense. Feminists also argue that most social institutions, including the state and its policies, help to maintain women’s subordinate position and the unequal gender division of labour in the family.

According to the Feminist school of criminology, major theories in crime have been developed by male subjects, and they focus on male victimization. They feel that facts about crime tend to be focused on the gender of the criminal and not the crime itself. “Feminism is the only theory that examines gender differences when explaining crime”.

Professor Frances Heidenson (1989) criticises the male dominance of sociology she feels that most academics are male, and therefore criminology reflects male views and interests, she also stated that that most traditional theorists are gender blind, and therefore fail to explain how their theories can be applied to females. J. Tattersall (2010)

Haralambos and Holborn (2004): Otto Pollack (1950) claimed to have recognized certain crimes are usually committed by woman, he thought nearly all shoplifting and criminal abortions were carried out by woman, he also argued that many unreported crimes were committed by female servants. He noted many police, magistrates, and other law officials tended to be men. This could therefore make them chivalrous and lenient towards female offender’s, he thought because of this woman appear in statistics less. Pollack also stated that females are particularly good at hiding their crimes because of their genetic makeup. He stated that woman learn to mislead men during sex and can use this to fake interest and sexual pleasure. (pp. 382-383).

Haralambos and Holborn (2004): Pollack has been brutally criticized for some of these statements, Steven Jones (2001) points out that Pollack gives no real support that servants commit many crimes against employers, or that woman are better at hiding crimes then men. Heidensohn points out that Pollack has an unsubstantiated stereo typical image of woman and he is unwilling to point male crime to a biological predisposition to aggression and violence. (p384).

Heidensohn believed that there was double standards in the justice system and that the justice system was loaded against women and not for them, she thought that the justice system is more likely to punish women when they deviate from the norms of female sexuality. It has been suggested that women are being sentenced in terms of being mothers, wives, and daughters rather than examining the seriousness of their crime. It seems that lighter sentences are given to females who meet the traditional roles, whilst women who don’t fit these roles are given stronger punishments. J Tattersall (2010): (p5).

Feminists can be criticised for being ideological and prejudiced, by focussing on patriarchy they ignore the fact that men are also used for domestic labour. They fail to notice women are becoming increasingly independent, and focus on gender ignoring other important social factors such as class and race.

Conclusion- All three theories are structural theories they look at groups in societies rather than the individual. Marxism and Feminism are both conflict theories they see some groups as being less equal than others, functionalist theory is the only theory that see’s crime in a positive nature.

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