radical criminology | Definition

Doc's CJ Glossary by Adam J. McKee
Course: Criminology

Radical criminology is a theoretical framework that seeks to understand crime as a product of power relations within society and advocates for transformative social change to address the root causes of crime.

Radical criminology emerged in the 1960s and 1970s as a response to the limitations of traditional criminology in explaining the social and political contexts of crime. It challenges mainstream theories that focus on individual pathology and behavior and instead seeks to analyze crime in the context of social inequalities and power relations. Radical criminologists argue that crime is a result of structural factors such as poverty, racism, and inequality and that criminal justice policies and practices are often used to maintain the status quo and perpetuate social control.

One of the key concepts in radical criminology is the idea of “law as a weapon.” This refers to the ways in which laws and law enforcement are used to maintain power relations and social control. For example, laws that criminalize drug use may be used to disproportionately target and punish marginalized communities, such as people of color and low-income individuals, rather than addressing the underlying social and economic factors that contribute to drug addiction and abuse.

Radical criminology also critiques the punitive and retributive focus of the criminal justice system, arguing that it does not address the root causes of crime and instead perpetuates harm and violence. Instead, it advocates for transformative justice approaches that prioritize community-based solutions, restorative justice practices, and addressing the root causes of crime.

Some of the key theorists associated with radical criminology include Karl Marx, Antonio Gramsci, Michel Foucault, and Stuart Hall. These theorists have influenced the development of critical criminology, cultural criminology, and other related fields that seek to analyze crime in the context of social, economic, and political structures.

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Last Modified: 03/13/2023


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