Literature review Social Conflict theory Unit


Literaturereview: Social Conflict theory


Thesocial conflict theories of crime suggest that crime emanates fromconflict and misunderstanding between different social classes. Thetheory developed by Karl Marx uses the Marxist ideologies of twodifferent social classes, notably capitalist and the working classbeing on conflict. The capitalist class comprises of people in thehigher positions of power who control the means of production andthus create laws to safeguard their interest which oppress theworking class (Andersen &amp Taylor, 2007). On the other hand, theworking class is frustrated and makes all sorts of attempts to amassresources and move to the capitalist class. Crime is a form ofexpression of competitiveness over meager resources or identityeither as a group or individually.


KarlMarx views on society are that the modern society is comprised twomajor social classes the haves and the have-nots. The haves compriseonly a few section of society but control majority of the wealthcreating resources while the have-nots are the majority of the peoplecompeting for few resources (Cole, Smith &amp DeJong 2013). Intoday’s American society, this can be likened to the big shots ofWall Street who control and sit in boards of major companies. Thesepeople also the “power elite” influence government and formulatelaws unfair to the working class (Cassel,&amp Bernstein 2013)Theworking class comprises of the relatively powerless and less wealthyindividuals who rely on selling their labor services for a wager tothe capitalist class in this case the large corporations. Karl Marxsuggested that it is the intentions of the capitalist class tosuppress the working class and consolidate their hold on resources toensure that the working class can only survive by serving them.Therefore, the capitalist are also competing amongst themselves toaccess the best and cheapest labor resources from the working class.In the same way, the working compete amongst themselves and againstthe capitalists (Hipp, Tita &amp Boggess 2009)

Socialconflict theory explains various types of crime. Inter class andintra class competition for meager resources explains various formsof crime. The fight for liberation and independence experienced inmany countries that were under colonial rule took the nature ofsocial conflict or inter class conflict. The conflict between thesetwo classes resulted in criminal behavior. The subjected rebelled andengaged in delinquency such as destroying property belonging to thecapitalists. The capitalists sought to control the working class bysuppressing them with tough working conditions and meager wages. Suchconditions perpetrate crime. This theory is used to explain racist orxenophobic related crime. This is because one class of people isadvantaged by the system and the other disadvantaged. This results incrime across the two classes. In short, it is clear that economic andfinancial reasons are the main issues of conflict between differentgroups that perpetrate criminal behavior (Stucky 2012).

Bothclasses of people engage in acts of deviance with different outcomes.The capitalist class engages in acts of deviance aimed atconsolidating their resources while the working class engages indeviance in a bid to move to the upper level. In so doing, thecapitalist engage in white-collar crime such as insider trading instocks, embezzlement, tax evasion and such. The competiveness of thisclass, which is basically to amass more and more resources inwhatever means to retain their standing in society and gain power,motivates them to commit crime (Andersen &amp Taylor, 2007). On theother hand, the working class engages in crime mainly for survivaland also to compete for the meager resources. They therefore engagein theft, mugging and vandalism which are largely triggered by anger,frustrations and needs. In the US, such crimes are largely connectedto minority groups who have formed unique social classes (Stucky2012). The two classes of people often respond to the set lawdifferently. The capitalists can afford expensive lawyers and evenbuy their freedom through corruption and bribery while the workingcannot afford such hence is disadvantaged by the law.

SCTexplains ethnic or racial conflict. The theory posits thatinter-ethnic competition over dominance not necessarily over controlof resources fuels crime. Hipp, Tita and Boggess (2009) note thatprevious studies on homicide in various neighborhoods in the USpointed to a racial/ethnic influence. They noted that the AfricanAmerican ethnic group has prior to 2000 predominantly controlledcriminal gangs and neighborhoods dominated the identity of the‘minority group’ in the US. The influx of Hispanic immigrants hastriggered the conflict with each ethnic group eager to tame theinfluence and even population of the other in various neighborhoods.Such ethnic branded aggression towards one another has fueled crimeacross these two groups. On the other hand, intra-group socialconflict is also common with the line of divisions being individualor gangs. Bo (2004) explains this by saying that in some societiesand for some individuals, any threat to the social equilibrium is metwith violence.


Critiqueon this theory has explored its strengths and weaknesses. One of theissues raised was that the theory does not explain the occurrence ofcrime in socialist countries/societies. This is because the theoryattributes capitalism and its values such as competition andindividualism to crime. Another weakness pointed out is that thetheory does not explain why only a small percentage of people in thetwo different classes engage in crime. It would be expected that theclass conflict suggested by the theory would result in a revolution(Andersen &amp Taylor, 2007).


Andersen,M. &amp Taylor, H. (2007). Sociology:understanding a diverse society, updated.New

York:Cengage Learning.

Bo,Ernesto Dal. (2004). Workers, warriors and criminals: social conflictin general

equilibrium.EconomicsColloquium.UC Irvine: Department of Economics, UCI. Retrieved online of 20thNov 2014 from:

Cole,G. Smith, C. &amp DeJong, C. (2013). Criminaljustice in America.New York: Cengage


Cassel,E. &amp Bernstein, D. (2013). Criminalbehavior.New York: Psychology Press.

Hipp,Tita &amp Boggess (2009). Inter- and Intra-group violence: Isviolent crime an expression of

groupconflict or social disorganization? Criminology2009 47(2): 521-564

Stucky,T. (2012). the conditional effects of race and politics on socialcontrol black violent

crimearrests in large cities, 1970 to 1990. Journalof Research in Crime and