Academic journal article Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology

Is Gender Subordinate to Class? an Empirical Assessment of Colvin and Pauly's Structural Marxist Theory of Delinquency

Academic journal article Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology

Is Gender Subordinate to Class? an Empirical Assessment of Colvin and Pauly's Structural Marxist Theory of Delinquency

Article excerpt


For Karl Marx, the problem of crime in capitalist societies was linked to the material forces of capitalism and class domination.(1) Although Marx did not extensively discuss the problem, he did remark that criminality seemed to be concentrated in the dangerous classes.(2) The lumenproletariat, or "parasitic class" of criminals, consisted of unproductive, unorganized labor whose criminal activity victimized capitalists and productive labor alike.(3) Neither Marx nor Friedrich Engels noted the gender regularity of criminality. Over the years, Marxist and neo-Marxist scholars have replicated this omission, and it appears to have become a legacy of criminological Marxism.

Scholars have noted racial differences among the criminal population. For instance, David Gordon contends that crime is a rational response to the pressures of class, society, and the competition manifest in capitalist systems.(4) Racial division in the working class benefits capitalism, because the competition between excluded minorities and employed labor depresses wages. Although Gordon's study analyzed the reasonableness of a crime as a response to joblessness and the lack of economic opportunity in urban poverty areas, it did not consider the relationship between these pressures and gender.

Similarly, Hall, Critcher, Jefferson, Clarke, and Roberts note the ways in which race modifies class consciousness and ideology, and, consequently, criminality.(5) However, the circumstances and conditions they describe, along with their criminogenic consequences, primarily reflect upon the black male experience. Patterns of crime by gender in the black laboring classes and the way in which crime may reflect different class experiences by males and females are ignored.

To the extent that inequalities, other than class, are thought to permeate and divide society, Marxist scholars credit these power differences to a more "fundamental" division (i.e., the organization of production).(6) In criminology, this approach is obvious in Colvin and Pauly's recent presentation of an "integrated structural Marxist theory of delinquency production."(7) As characterized by the theory, workplace experience, regardless of sex or race, subjects workers to distinct processes of discipline and control by the capitalist. These experiences, in turn, produce particular bonds to authority that are reproduced within the workers' familial relationships with their children. Colvin and Pauly go on to discuss how these control structures and initial bonds to authority are reinforced through education and peer influences. However, they do not discuss how experiences in the labor force, family, and school may differ by gender.

Although scholars have criticized the breadth and scope of Colvin and Pauly's theory (eg., Paternoster and Tittle suggest that it would be more appropriate to characterize it as a "sensitizing idea system"), few have explicitly tested the key relationships proposed by the theory.(8) Thus, one research goal of this article is to subject the basic relationship between class, family, peers, and educational experiences, and serious patterned delinquency to empirical testing. A second task, however, is to determine whether the implicit assumption of gender neutrality in Colvin and Pauly's theory is, in fact, warranted.



Colvin and Pauly rely on the neo-Marxist theory developed by Marxist economists and sociologists to describe advanced capitalist societies, to distinguish between traditional Marxian class categories (e.g., capitalist, working class, and petty bourgeoisie), and also to point out differences within these categories.(9) Colvin and Pauly's theory of delinquency production rests on the way in which different control structures within certain fractions of the working class "solicit and compel certain types of behavior from individuals and shape an ideological orientation for the individual in relation to the agents and apparatuses of social control. …

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