Teaching Criminology: Part I

Teaching Marxist Criminology

Many of the theories now used and taught in criminology courses around the country are worse than useless...as bad theory, they ground bad social policy.

Some of the theories of crime are good enough on their own terms but fail as theories of and only of crime. In this mini-lecture, I would like to critique some of these theories and, in later mini-lectures, offer other ways to understand crime; other ways to ground social policy for the future.

  1. Beccaria and Bentham. Both taught that the solution to crime was swift, sure and for Bentham severe punishment. There are several points to consider:
  2. Physiological theories. There are a wide range of physiological theories from I.Q. to body type to PMS which are adduced to explain a variety of behaviors defined as criminal. The truth value of these theories vary from weak to none. Body type, as a theory of crime is not worth the ink given it. PMS is a sexist backlash at those women who break out of the Suzy Sweetheart modality and express anger and embody violence toward gender roles and gender privilege.

    I.Q. deserves a bit of time....
  3. Freudian theory. Freudian theory is a lot of fun and most rewarding to those of us who like to label our friends as oral incorporative, anal expulsive, anxious about castration or envious of our penises. And it may have some small truth value in societies where father is a tyrant...i.e., in patriarchal societies. But one should not confuse between culture and psychology. If men grow up hating women and end up slashing them, the solution is not psycho-analysis but rather an end to such paternal parenting...n'cest pas??

  4. Differential Association Theory. Perhaps the most venerable theory in American criminology is Sutherland's Differential Association Theory. The theory is valid on two levels but useless on the largest level.

  5. Labelling theory has the same strengths and the same flaws as does Differential Association theory. People labelled priests are much more likely to do priestly things than those of us who are not so labelled.

    Those of us who do a bit of gardening, a bit of healing, a bit of traveling may be labelled gardeners, healers and travellers by a goodly number of people but becoming deeply involved such that labels are likely to be used takes a lot of pre-existing activity with skills, resources as well as a bit of history before people begin to pick up on it.

    Again, labelling theory is good social psychology but doesn't focus upon the question why we have been at such activity long enough for it to become public knowledge. Sorry Charles.

  6. Durkheim, Merton and Anomie. Durkheim remains a pillar in social theory. That he got it wrong on one point does not thereby invalidate other points especially those in the sociology of religion.

    Anomie means normlessness...lots of problems when one appeals to normlessness as a source of crime in general and mischief in particular.

  7. One of the most despicable theories of crime is Control Theory. The USA has some ten well organized control systems yet people routinely engage in a wide variety of crime. The Criminal Justice System, the Private Security System, the Federal Regulatory Agencies, the state welfare system, INS and the Military Justice System join with these and a growing medical control system as well as the traditional juridical processes in organized religion to control and over-control people.

    Social justice is probably a better route to a low-crime society than is more prisons, more police, longer sentences, harsher prison conditions, full term policy and/or mean guards and wardens.

  8. Marxist theory. In subsequent part of the series, I will rely on some elements of marxist theory but there are several cautions I want to have up front:

I shall make a case that capitalism, in spite of its many valuable accomplishments, promotes five kinds of crime...the operative word, is promotes...I do not want to use the word, causes, since most people presume a linearity in the word. I don't but those socialized to newtonian physics, aristotlean logic, leibnizean calculus, carnapian reasoning and to formal, axiomatic theory do so presume. The new sciences of chaos and complexity reduce the range of such epistemological tools. So, in future mini- lectures, keep in mind, the notion of 'tendency,' the idea of 'promote,' the implications of 'non-linearity' for both crime and social policy. There is order even in deeply chaotic social dynamics; there is the possibility of social policy in most non-linear social processes. But the hard, tight causality of modern science has but a small role to play in postmodern criminology.

TR Young

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