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

Abstract

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.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    To be sure, criminologists have also classed attention to the importance of race, ethnicity and gender in the construction of crime, law and justice, but it is beyond the scope of the present study to address this issue. To be sure, it can be shown that ethnicity, race and gender also play a role in the construction of crime law and justice, and the current discussion of class is not a critique of race, gendered or ethnic analyses. Studies that refer to race, ethnicity and gender remain important to criminological discussions of crime, law and justice, but again, are well beyond the scope of the present analysis of class and criminology. Indeed, one would find that generally, research that ignores class also has difficulty addressing race, ethnicity and gender, but such a critique goes well beyond the scope of an analysis of the neglect of class. Despite their relevance to discussions of crime, law and justice, race, ethnic and gender structures are not uniform across nations while class structures are uniform especially from a theoretical perspective in which the analysis of class is derived from a theory of class and capitalism. For example, while race or ethnicity influences the construction of crime, across nations it is not the same racial or ethnic groups but racial and ethnic groups of “of concern” in different national contexts that are economically marginalized within the historical context of a given nation at a given stage of historical development that draw attention. In this sense, class supersedes other factors as the most obvious relational element presupposed by the study of crime, law and justice. To be sure, Marxist analysis has addressed the intersection of race, class and gender (see, for example, the Special Issue of Race, Gender & Class, volume 8, number 2, 2001; for additional discussions see: [6, 91, 105]), and has done so with respect to criminological theory as well ([6467]).

  2. 2.

    An example of a study that compared sample class to population class characteristics is Dunaway et al. [21]. Here, measures of the sample’s class correspondence with the general population was conducted for personal and family income. On both measures, the sample population had a higher mean income than the general population (for personal income, 9.5 % higher; for family income, 12.5 % higher). Equally important in this kind of research is providing some measure of the dispersion of income. In Dunaway et al’s study, the proportion of the population comprised of low income families (28 %) was much lower than in the population from which the sample was drawn (38 %). At the upper end of the distribution, families in the sample were more likely have earned $60,000 or more (20.7 % of the sample) than the general population (13.5 %). These large differences in income between the sample population and the general population with respect to class variable means and distributions indicate that we should not generalize the results from the sample population to the entire population, and that the results have no relevance beyond the sample being studied.

  3. 3.

    While the Tittle, Villemez and Smith study has more than 375 citations in the literature, criticisms of that study ([15], which appeared in Criminology) has fewer than 70 citations, indicating that criminologists do not pay significant attention to the critique of this class-crime relationship research. Tittle [97] reinforcing the conclusion that class and crime are unrelated, again despite finding that in some cases, SES and delinquency were related. Moreover, they generalized conclusions about the class-crime relationship without commenting on the measure’s empirical validity or theoretical content (for other anti-class discourse see [96]; for an alternative assessment of research on class and crime, see: [40, 100]).

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Lynch, M.J. The classlessness state of criminology and why criminology without class is rather meaningless. Crime Law Soc Change 63, 65–90 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10611-015-9553-y

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Keywords

  • Social Class
  • Class Analysis
  • Class Structure
  • Class Relation
  • Environmental Crime