Crime, Law and Social Change

, Volume 63, Issue 1–2, pp 65–90 | Cite as

The classlessness state of criminology and why criminology without class is rather meaningless

  • Michael J. LynchEmail author


Criminology has returned to a stage of development where class is no longer seen as a relevant theoretical or empirical concern. This state of classless criminology reflects the decline in radical scholarship over the past two decades and the absence of radical/Marxist critiques of criminology. Despite the neglect of class by criminologists, class remains an important construct for understanding the main issues of concern within criminology: crime, the construction of law, and justice. This article reviews the neglect of class analysis in contemporary criminology, and draws examples of the ways in which class remains an important consideration in the contemporary world where the world economy of capitalism dominates economic, social and political relations globally. In reviewing the neglect of class, examples are provided of contemporary areas of criminological research where class based theory and empirical work could alter what we know about crime. While orthodox criminology has long neglected class, new forms of critical criminology that emerged since 1990 have also promoted the neglect of class analysis.


Social Class Class Analysis Class Structure Class Relation Environmental Crime 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


  1. 1.
    Aaltonen, M., Kivivuori, J., Martikainen, P., & Sirén, R. (2012). Socioeconomic differences in violent victimization: exploring the impact of data source and the inclusivity of the violence concept. European Journal of Criminology, 9(6), 567–583.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Bakir, E., & Campbell, A. (2006). The effect of neoliberalism on the fall in the rate of profit in business cycles. Review of Radical Political Economics, 38, 365–373.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Barak, G. (2012). Theft of a Nation: Wall Street, Looting and Federal Colluding. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Barrett, K. L. (2013). Bethlehem Steel at Lackawanna: the state-corporate crimes that continue to victimize the residents and environment of Western New York. Journal of Crime and Justice, 36(2), 263–282.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Bellinger, D., Leviton, A., Waternaux, C., Needleman, H., & Rabinowitz, M. (1988). Low-level lead exposure, social class, and infant development. Neurotoxicology and Teratology, 10(6), 497–503.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Ben-Tovim, G., John, G., Ian, L., & Kathleen, S. (1999). A political analysis of local struggles for racial equality. In J. Rex & D. Mason’s (Eds.), Theories of Race and Ethnic Relations (pp. 131–152). NY: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Blanden, J. (2013). Cross-Country Rankings in Intergenerational Mobility: A Comparison of Approaches from Economics and Sociology. Journal of Economic Surveys, 27(1), 38–73.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    Blanden, J., Robert, H., Timothy, S., & Kathryn, W. (2013). Intergenerational mobility in the United States and Great Britain: a comparative study of parent–child pathways. Review of Income and Wealth. doi: 10.1111/roiw.12032.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    Bradley, R. H., & Corwyn, R. F. (2002). Socioeconomic status and child development. Annual Review of Psychology, 53(1), 371–399.Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    Brisman, A. (2013). Gregg Barak: theft of a nation: wall street, looting and federal regulatory colluding. Critical Criminology, 21, 525–527.Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    Bryan, D. B., Martin, R., & Rafferty, M. (2010). Financialization and Marx: giving labor and capital a financial makeover. Review of Radical Political Economics, 41, 458–472.Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    Carlson, S. M., Bradshaw, E. S., & Buist, C. L. (2013). Bringing ‘the poor’ back in: regulation and control of surplus populations in Finland and the Netherlands. Journal of Crime and Justice, 36(2), 194–232.Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    Chambliss, W., & Seidman, R. (1982). Law, Order and Power. Reading: Addison-Wesley.Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    Clegg, S., & Dunkerley, D. (2013). Organization, class and control. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    Clelland, D., & Carter, T. J. (1980). The new myth of class and crime. Criminology, 18(3), 319–336.Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    Cohen, Y. A. (1961). Social structure and personality: A casebook. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.Google Scholar
  17. 17.
    Conger, R. D., & Brent Donnellan, M. (2007). An interactionist perspective on the socioeconomic context of human development. Annual Review of Psychology, 58, 175–199.Google Scholar
  18. 18.
    Côté, S., Piff, P. K., & Willer, R. (2013). For whom do the ends justify the means? Social class and utilitarian moral judgment. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 104(3), 490–503.Google Scholar
  19. 19.
    Dardanoni, V., Fiorini, M., & Forcina, A. (2012). Stochastic monotonicity in intergenerational mobility tables. Journal of Applied Econometrics, 27(1), 85–107.Google Scholar
  20. 20.
    Das-Munshi, J., Clark, C., Dewey, M. E., Leavey, G., Stansfeld, S. A., & Prince, M. J. (2013). Does childhood adversity account for poorer mental and physical health in second-generation Irish people living in Britain? Birth cohort study from Britain (NCDS). BMJ Open, 3, 3. doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2012-001335.Google Scholar
  21. 21.
    Dunaway, R. G., Cullen, F. T., Burton, V. S., & David Evans, T. (2000). The myth of social class and crime revisited: an examination of class and adult criminality. Criminology, 38(2), 589–633.Google Scholar
  22. 22.
    D’angiulli, A., Roon, P. M. V., Weinberg, J., Oberlander, T. F., Grunau, R. E., Hertzman, C., & Maggi, S. (2012). Frontal EEG/ERP correlates of attentional processes, cortisol and motivational states in adolescents from lower and higher socioeconomic status. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 6, 1–16.Google Scholar
  23. 23.
    Duncan, G. J., & Magnuson, K. (2012). Socioeconomic status and cognitive functioning: moving from correlation to causation. Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Cognitive Science, 3(3), 377–386.Google Scholar
  24. 24.
    Elliott, D. S., & Huizinga, D. (1983). Social class and delinquent behavior in a national youth panel, 1976–1980. Criminology, 21(2), 149–177.Google Scholar
  25. 25.
    Eysenck, S. B. G., & Eysenck, H. J. (1969). Scores on three personality variables as a function of age, sex and social class. British Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 8(1), 69–76.Google Scholar
  26. 26.
    Ferrell, J. (2007). For a ruthless criticism of everything existing. Crime, Media, Culture, 3(1), 91–100.Google Scholar
  27. 27.
    Ferrell, J., Hayward, K., Morrison, W., & Presdee, M. (eds). (2004). Cultural criminology unleashed. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  28. 28.
    Foster, J. B. (2000). Marx’s Ecology: Materialism and Nature. NY: NYU Press.Google Scholar
  29. 29.
    Gray, A. L. (Ed.). (2009). Class and Personality in Society. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press.Google Scholar
  30. 30.
    Greider, W. (1998). One World, Ready or Not: The Manic Logic of Global Capitalism. NY: Simon and Schuster.Google Scholar
  31. 31.
    Hackman, D. A., & Farah, M. J. (2009). Socioeconomic status and the developing brain. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 13(2), 65–73.Google Scholar
  32. 32.
    Hackman, D. A., Farah, M. J., & Meaney, M. J. (2010). Socioeconomic status and the brain: mechanistic insights from human and animal research. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 11(9), 651–659.Google Scholar
  33. 33.
    Hadjar, A., Baier, D., Boehnke, K., & Hagan, J. (2007). Juvenile delinquency and gender revisited the family and power-control theory reconceived. European Journal of Criminology, 4(1), 33–58.Google Scholar
  34. 34.
    Hagan, J. A., Gillis, R., Simpson, J. (1985). The class structure of gender and delinquency: toward a power-control theory of common delinquent behavior. American Journal of Sociology, 11511178.Google Scholar
  35. 35.
    Hagan, J., Simpson J., Gillis, A. R. (1987). Class in the Household: A Power-Control Theory of Gender and Delinquency. American Journal of Sociology, 788–816.Google Scholar
  36. 36.
    Hall, S., & Winlow, S. (2007). Cultural criminology and primitive accumulation: a formal introduction for two strangers who should really meet. Crime, Media, Culture, 3(1), 82–90.Google Scholar
  37. 37.
    Havighurst, R. J. (1976). The relative importance of social class and ethnicity in human development. Human Development, 19(1), 56–64.Google Scholar
  38. 38.
    Hosseini, H. (2006). From communist manifesto to empire: How Marxists have viewed global capitalism in history. Review of Radical Political Economics, 38, 7–23.Google Scholar
  39. 39.
    Hout, M., Brooks, C., & Manza, J. (1993). The persistence of classes in post-industrial societies. International Sociology, 8(3), 259–277.Google Scholar
  40. 40.
    Hsieh, C.-C., & Pugh, M. D. (1993). Poverty, income inequality, and violent crime: a meta- analysis of recent aggregate data studies. Criminal Justice Review, 18(2), 182–202.Google Scholar
  41. 41.
    Kohn, M. L. (1989). Social structure and personality: a quintessentially sociological approach to social psychology. Social Forces, 68(1), 26–33.Google Scholar
  42. 42.
    Kotz, D. M. (2008). Contradictions of economic growth in the neoliberal Era: accumulation and crisis in the contemporary U.S. Economy. Review of Radical Political Economics, 40, 174–188.Google Scholar
  43. 43.
    Kotz, D. M. (2003). Neoliberalism and the social structure of accumulation theory of long-Run capital accumulation. Review of Radical Political Economics, 35, 263–270.Google Scholar
  44. 44.
    Kramer, R. C. (2013). Carbon in the atmosphere and power in America: climate change as a corporate-state crime. Journal of Crime and Justice, 36(2), 152–170.Google Scholar
  45. 45.
    Kraus, M. W., & Stephens, N. M. (2012). A road map for an emerging psychology of social class. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 6(9), 642–656.Google Scholar
  46. 46.
    Krieger, N., Williams, D. R., & Moss, N. E. (1997). Measuring social class in US public health research: concepts, methodologies, and guidelines. Annual Review of Public Health, 18(1), 341–378.Google Scholar
  47. 47.
    Langford, T. (2013). Five decades of class analysis in the Canadian review of sociology. Canadian Review of Sociology, 50(3), 306–336.Google Scholar
  48. 48.
    Lende, D. H. (2012). Poverty poisons the brain. Annals of Anthropological Practice, 36(1), 183–201.Google Scholar
  49. 49.
    Lippit, V. D. (2004). Class struggles and the reinvention of American capitalism in the second half of the twentieth century. Review of Radical Political Economics, 36, 336–343.Google Scholar
  50. 50.
    Lukács, G. (1971). History and Class Consciousness. Cambridge: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  51. 51.
    Lurie, O. R. (1974). Parents’ attitudes toward Children’s problems and toward the use of mental health services: socioeconomic differences. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 44(1), 109–120.Google Scholar
  52. 52.
    Lynch, J. W., Kaplan, G. A., & Salonen, J. T. (1997). Why do poor people behave poorly? Variation in adult health behaviours and psychosocial characteristics by stages of the socioeconomic lifecourse. Social Science & Medicine, 44(6), 809–819.Google Scholar
  53. 53.
    Lynch, M. J. (2013). Political economy and crime: an overview. Journal of Crime and Justice, 36(2), 138–140.Google Scholar
  54. 54.
    Lynch, M. J. (2013). Reexamining Political economy and crime and explaining the crime drop. Journal of Crime and Justice, 36(2), 248–262.Google Scholar
  55. 55.
    Lynch, M. J. (2013). The extraordinary relevance of Gregg Barak’s “theft of a nation”. Western Criminological Review, 14(2), 52–60.Google Scholar
  56. 56.
    Lynch, M. J. (1996). Race, Class, Gender and Criminology: Structured Choices and the Life Course. In M. Schwartz & D. Milovanovic (Eds.), Gender, Race and Class in Criminology. Hamden: Garland.Google Scholar
  57. 57.
    Lynch, M. J., & Michalowski, R. J. (2006). Primer in Radical Criminology. Monsey: Criminal Justice Press.Google Scholar
  58. 58.
    Mack, K. Y., & Leiber, M. J. (2005). Race, gender, single-mother households, and delinquency a further test of power-control theory. Youth & Society, 37(2), 115–144.Google Scholar
  59. 59.
    Marx, K. & Engels, F. (1970[1845]). The German ideology. London: Lawrence & Wishart.Google Scholar
  60. 60.
    McCarthy, B., & Hagan, J. (1987). Gender, delinquency, and the great depression: a test of power-control theory. Canadian Review of Sociology, 24(2), 153–177.Google Scholar
  61. 61.
    McDonough, T. (2008). Social structures of accumulation theory: the state of the art. Review of Radical Political Economics, 40, 153–173.Google Scholar
  62. 62.
    McLoyd, V. C. (1998). Socioeconomic disadvantage and child development. American Psychologist, 53(2), 185–204.Google Scholar
  63. 63.
    Meier, A., & Allen, G. (2008). Intimate relationship development during transition to adulthood: differences by social class. New Directions for Child and Adolescent Development, 119, 25–39.Google Scholar
  64. 64.
    Messerschmidt, J. W. (2000). Nine lives: adolescent masculinities, the body, and violence. Boulder: Westview Press.Google Scholar
  65. 65.
    Messerschmidt, J. (1997). Crime as structured action: Gender, race, class, and crime in the making. Beverly Hills: Sage.Google Scholar
  66. 66.
    Messerschmidt, J. W. (1993). Masculinities and crime: Critique and reconceptualization of theory. Totowa: Rowman & Littlefield.Google Scholar
  67. 67.
    Messerschmidt, J. W. (1986). Capitalism, Patriarchy and Crime. Totowa: Rowman & Littlefield.Google Scholar
  68. 68.
    Michalowski, R. J. (2013). Ethnic cleansing american-style: SB 1070, nativism and the contradictions of Neo-liberal globalization. Journal of Crime and Justice, 36(2), 171–193.Google Scholar
  69. 69.
    Mills, C. W. (1962). The Marxists. NY: Dell.Google Scholar
  70. 70.
    Mills, C. W. (1959). The Sociological Imagination. NY: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  71. 71.
    Muntaner, C., Edwin, N., Christophe, V., Sharon, C., & Eaton, W. W. (2013). Social Stratification, Social Closure, and Social Class as Determinants of Mental Health Disparities. In C. S. Aneshensel, J. C. Phelan, & A. Bierman (Eds.), Handbook of the Sociology of Mental Health (pp. 205–227). Netherlands: Springer.Google Scholar
  72. 72.
    Murray, E. T., B.-S. Yoav, Tilling, K., Southall H., Aucott P., Kuh D., Hardy R. (2013). Area deprivation across the life course and physical capability in midlife: findings from the 1946 British Birth Cohort. American Journal of Epidemiology, 178, doi:  10.1093/aje/kwt003
  73. 73.
    Nivette, A. E. (2011). Cross-national predictors of crime: a meta-analysis. Homicide Studies, 15(2), 103–131.Google Scholar
  74. 74.
    Noble, K. G., McCandliss, B. D., & Farah, M. J. (2007). Socioeconomic gradients predict individual differences in neurocognitive abilities. Developmental Science, 10(4), 464–480.Google Scholar
  75. 75.
    Nurius, P. S., Uehara, E., & Zatzick, D. F. (2013). Intersection of stress, social disadvantage, and life course processes: reframing trauma and mental health. American Journal of Psychiatric Rehabilitation, 16(2), 91–114.Google Scholar
  76. 76.
    O’Brien, R. M. (1991). Sex rations and rape rates: a power control theory. Criminology, 29(1), 99–114.Google Scholar
  77. 77.
    O’Hara, P. A. (2004). A New transnational corporate social structure of accumulation for long-wave upswing in the world economy? Review of Radical Political Economics, 36, 328–335.Google Scholar
  78. 78.
    Olsen, E. K. (2010). Class conflict and industrial location. Review of Radical Political Economics, 42, 344–352.Google Scholar
  79. 79.
    Oriola, T., Neverson, N., & Adeyanju, C. T. (2012). ‘They should have just taken a gun and shot my son’: taser deployment and the downtrodden in Canada. Social Identities, 18(1), 65–83.Google Scholar
  80. 80.
    Pakulski, J. (1993). The dying of class or Marxist class theory? International Sociology, 8(3), 279–292.Google Scholar
  81. 81.
    Papapolydorou, M. (2013). ‘When you see a normal person . . .’: social class and friendship networks among teenage students. British Journal of Sociology of Education, 34(4), 1–19.Google Scholar
  82. 82.
    Pettit, B., & Western, B. (2004). Mass imprisonment and the life course: race and class inequality in US incarceration. American Sociological Review, 69(2), 151–169.Google Scholar
  83. 83.
    Raizada, R. D. S., & Kishiyama, M. M. (2010). Effects of socioeconomic status on brain development, and how cognitive neuroscience may contribute to levelling the playing field. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 4(3), 1–17.Google Scholar
  84. 84.
    Reiman, J., & Leighton, P. (2012). The Rich Get Richer and the Poor Get Prison. Upper Saddle River: Pearson.Google Scholar
  85. 85.
    Rieu, D.-M. (2009). Interpretations of Marxian value theory in terms of the fundamental Marxian theorem. Review of Radical Political Economics, 41, 216–226.Google Scholar
  86. 86.
    Roberts, B. W., Kuncel, N. R., Shiner, R., Caspi, A., & Goldberg, L. R. (2007). The power of personality: the comparative validity of personality traits, socioeconomic status, and cognitive ability for predicting important life outcomes. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 2(4), 313–345.Google Scholar
  87. 87.
    Russ, S. A., Larson, K., Tullis, E., & Halfon, N. (2013). A lifecourse approach to health development: implications for the maternal and child health research agenda. Maternal and Child Health Journal. doi: 10.1007/s10995-013-1284-z.Google Scholar
  88. 88.
    Schofield, T. J., Martin, M. J., Conger, K. J., Neppl, T. M., Brent Donnellan, M., & Conger, R. D. (2011). Intergenerational transmission of adaptive functioning: a test of the interactionist model of SES and human development. Child Development, 82(1), 33–47.Google Scholar
  89. 89.
    Scholte, J. A. (2005). Globalization: A Critical Introduction. NY: Palgrave Macmillan.Google Scholar
  90. 90.
    Savolainen, J., Paananen, R., Merikukka, M., Aaltonen, M., & Gissler, M. (2013). Material deprivation or minimal education? social class and crime in an egalitarian welfare state. Advances in Life Course Research, 18(3), 175–184.Google Scholar
  91. 91.
    Solomos, J. (1999). Varieties of Marxist concepts of ‘race’, class and the state: A critical analysis. In J. Rex & D. Mason’s (Eds.), Theories of Race and Ethnic Relations (pp. 84–109). NY: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  92. 92.
    Staff, J., & Mortimer, J. T. (2008). Social class background and the school-to-work transition. New Direction for Child and Adolescent Development, 199, 55–69.Google Scholar
  93. 93.
    Stretesky, P. B., Long, M. A., & Lynch, M. J. (2013). Does environmental enforcement slow the treadmill of production? The relationship between large monetary fines penalties, ecological disorganization and toxic releases within offending corporations. Journal of Crime and Justice, 36(2), 233–247.Google Scholar
  94. 94.
    Terrill, W., & Reisig, M. D. (2003). Neighborhood context and police use of force. Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, 40(3), 291–321.Google Scholar
  95. 95.
    Tiikkaja, S., Sandin, S., Malki, N., Modin, B., Sparén, P., & Hultman, C. M. (2013). Social class, social mobility and risk of psychiatric disorder-a population-based longitudinal study. PLoS One, 8(11), e77975.Google Scholar
  96. 96.
    Tittle, C. (1983). Social class and criminal behavior: a critique of the theoretical foundation. Social Forces, 62(2), 334–358.Google Scholar
  97. 97.
    Tittle, C. R., & Meier, R. F. (1990). Specifying the SES/delinquency relationship. Criminology, 28(2), 271–300.Google Scholar
  98. 98.
    Tittle, C. R., Villemez, W. J., & Smith, D. A. (1978). The myth of social class and criminality: an empirical assessment of the empirical evidence. American Sociological Review, 43, 643–656.Google Scholar
  99. 99.
    Tudge, J. (2009). The everyday lives of young children: culture, class and child rearing in diverse societies. New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  100. 100.
    Van Dusen, K. T., Mednick, S. A., Gabrielli, W. F., & Hutchings, B. (1983). Social class and crime in an adoption cohort. The Journal of Criminal Law & Criminology, 74(1), 249–269.Google Scholar
  101. 101.
    Wallerstein, I. (1974). The Modern World-System I: Capitalist Agriculture and the Origins of the European World-Economy in the Sixteenth Century. New York: Academic.Google Scholar
  102. 102.
    Walsh, A. (2010). Social class and crime: A biosocial approach. Taylor & Francis.Google Scholar
  103. 103.
    Wickrama, K. K. A. S., Mancini, J. A., Kwag, K., & Kwon, J. (2013). Heterogeneity in multidimensional health trajectories of late Old years and socioeconomic stratification: a latent trajectory class analysis. The Journals of Gerontology Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences, 68(2), 290–297.Google Scholar
  104. 104.
    Wilkinson, R. G., & Pickett, K. E. (2009). Income inequality and social dysfunction. Annual Review of Sociology, 35, 493–511.Google Scholar
  105. 105.
    Wolpe, H. (1999). Class, concepts, class struggle and racism. In J. Rex & D. Mason’s (Eds.), Theories of Race and Ethnic Relations (pp. 110–130). NY: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  106. 106.
    Wright, E. O. (1997). Class Counts: Comparative Studies in Class Analysis. Cambridge: University of Cambridge Press.Google Scholar
  107. 107.
    Yankauer, A., Gross, K. G., & Romeo, S. M. (1953). An evaluation of prenatal care and its relationship to social class. American Journal of Public Health and the Nations Health, 43(8), 1001–1008.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Criminology, Associated Faculty, The Patel School of Global SustainabilityUniversity of South FloridaTampaUSA

Personalised recommendations