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Richard Quinney’s Theories

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    Richard Quinney is a renowned critical philosopher who has profoundly contributed in the field of criminal justice research. Widely regarded as the founder of critical criminology movement (Thomas, 2009), much of his works examine the relationship of crime and capitalism, through which he developed theories of crime that remain influential to date.

    Quinney follows a Marxist approach in citing that crime is rooted in social inequalities, and that criminal behavior is a natural occurrence within a society that favors the wealthy instead of the poor, or those of the powerful over the weak. This perspective toward crime is extensively expressed in his Theory of Social Reality.

    The static approach of sociologist toward the society is grounded in the idea that society is generally stable and consensual, where people live together in accordance to set rules and precepts. Because of such premise, static interpreters believe that crime is a deviant behavior of people. However, as a response to the aforementioned perspective, Quinney contends that crime is not a static set of rules or violations; rather, it is a social structure decided by the wealthy and powerful who then exploit those who are disenfranchised within the structure, thereby encouraging them to engage in criminal behavior. As the society is changing overtime, conflict is unavoidable. Hence, he perceives crime as the response to those disenfranchised individuals against the people in power; crime is an action against the imposed control of the wealthy and powerful (Briggs, 2009).

    It is within the same theory that Quinney introduced the Theory of Legal Order that does not only demystify the static approach but also those who purportedly study crime itself. In this view of Quinney, criminology is said to provide the wrong answers in addressing crime because criminologists incorrectly study offenders when in fact, the real culprit for the rise of crime is the state itself. This is due in part to the fact that the idea of societal reformation is illusory as a capitalist state employs individuals who are adherent to its ideologies (Thomson Gale, 2009). In short, the so-called “legal order,” which supposedly defines deviancy and control over those people who fit the definition of perpetrators of crime, is utilized merely as a tool in order to control threats directed toward the capitalist system, by those people who benefit the most from the laid system (Wakefield, 2009).

    As humans are innately active and independent, Quinney suggests that they should not be expected to respond to the system of reward and punishment. Instead, ending crime would only be possible if those who are disenfranchised will be a part of the system. That is, there must be a classless society that would possibly end class friction; a system Quinney believes to be the proper socialist system. This way, crime will be decreased or even eliminated because the motivations of the wealthy and powerful to exploit the poor to become rebels are taken away (Briggs, 2009).

    There is more to Richard Quinney’s theories of crime than critiquing capitalism. Some of his arguments and ideas are also based on his religious and humanist understanding. In fact, his theories about peacemaking and the achievement of true awareness are influenced by the Buddhist perspective about suffering and end of suffering. That is, responses to crimes should be advocated in a non-violent manner so as to reduce human suffering (Thomas, 2009).

    Quinney’s created a broad range of theories about crime because he does not have a narrowly focused perspective. This is fairly understandable as he is working on a macro-level. However, his works revolutionized the field of criminology as his theories have been followed by academics to draw closer analysis on the social causes of crime, and not regard crime as a mere pathological aspect of the criminal alone. More than addressing the issue of crime, his theories suggest important changes not only in the structure of the society but also in the ways on how people think.


    • Briggs, J. (2009). Social reality theory. December 11, 2009 from
    • Thomas, B. (2009). Richard Quinney. In Encyclopaedia Britannica . Retrieved December 11,
    • 2009, from
    • Thomson Gale. (2009). Richard Quinney biography. In World of criminal justice. Retrieved
    • December 11, 2009, from
    • Wakefield, M. (2009). Richard Quinney. Retrieved December 11, 2009, from

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