Conflict criminology, radical criminology, and Marxist criminology all refer to similar and related ideas, but also different theoretical constructs. Conflict criminology is largely based on the ideas championed by Karl Marx, who believed strongly that one could understand crime only in the constructs of societal inequity. He believed that because the very rich controlled most of society, these individuals were much more apt to use their power to inflict difficulty of those below them. What this produces, then, is a reality where people commit crime in large part because they are starved of resources. He urged people to understand crime in the context of the societal structures that helped to cause it.
Radical criminology is less about understanding the structures and more about understanding the abuse of power by those in control. Tony Platt is one of the men most commonly associated with this theory. He believed that the people in power, who controlled the means of production, would always use their power in order to enforce stricter controls on the people who lacked power. He saw crime as being defined by whatever poor people are doing because it gave the very rich the ability to control workers in order to keep down wages and make more profits.
Chambliss is one of the foremost thinkers in Marxist criminology, which is a field that uses the works of Marx as a lens through which to view criminality. The authors focus much more on state crime and political crime. They like to view the world through the lens of how things change because of the ingrained structures and because of the desires of the very rich. This is similar to conflict criminology, but it can be different because it focuses more on the utilization of the state as an agent through which the very rich—or the ruling class—perpetuate their power and control over society.
- Bernard, T. J. (1981). Distinction between conflict and radical criminology. J. Crim. L. & Criminology, 72, 362.
- Inciardi, J. A. (Ed.). (1980). Radical criminology: The coming crises. Beverly Hills: Sage.
- O’Malley, P. (1987). Marxist theory and Marxist criminology. Crime and Social Justice, (29), 70-87.