2 minute read

Crime Causation: Political Theories

Theories Of Crime And Explaining Political Crime

Given that any theory of crime may be shown to have an affinity with some political ideology, it follows that any theory may be used for political purposes. In this general sense, therefore, any theory of crime is a political theory. And any form of crime may be given political significance. Indeed, radical criminologists have sometimes argued that all crimes are political, as are all theories of crime. And some theorists have offered explanations of crime (and criticisms of one another's views) that obviously support conservative or liberal political perspectives and agendas. Their theories may thus be considered political theories (e.g., Wilson and Herrnstein; Currie).

An alternative conception of political theories of crime causation is that they are characterized by their emphasis on social conflict and power relationships. Although such theories, as we have seen, may be applied to any form of crime, they have not historically focused on explaining individual criminal behavior, but rather have focused on explaining variations in crime rates, and especially on the differing risks (among class, racial, and other population sectors) of being labeled as criminal. Insofar as the criminal justice system is seen as an instrument of political control or repression, the politicization of all crime is implied. More narrowly, it is occasionally argued that political crimes, as such, are especially amenable to explanation by labeling and conflict theories; but the counterargument is that any theory with an affinity to a political ideology can be invoked to account for political criminality.

Given affinities between political ideologies and crime causation theories, it may be conjectured that the more explicitly political the theory, the more likely it is to assign political significance to criminality. Theories having affinities with conservatism and radicalism appear to be more likely than theories with affinities to liberalism to explain crime and criminals in political terms, whether as threats to political stability or as resistance to political oppression. As previously noted, theories having affinities with conservative images of crime and criminals tend to encourage the view that crime threatens the political order, while radical Marxist theories assert or imply that crimes may either be acts of accommodation or resistance, to oppression or oppressive acts by agents of governmental and corporate domination (Quinney). In any event, how theorists define and explain political criminality, and what policy options are favored, vary with whether their theories have greater affinities with conservatism, liberalism, or radicalism. Accordingly, conservatives will assume the pathology of political offenders (especially violent ones), liberals will assume that political offenders are mostly normal but misguided people who are reacting to the stresses imposed on them by faulty social institutions, and radicals will assume that political offenders are reasoning people who perceive and resist the oppressive and exploitative nature of liberal democratic capitalist society.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationCrime and Criminal LawCrime Causation: Political Theories - Political Orientations And Theoretical Affinities, Theories Of Crime And Explaining Political Crime, Conclusion, Bibliography