Punishment in Modern Society

3079 Words Oct 15th, 2012 13 Pages
Why do Marxists argue that there is no such thing as punishment as such? Critically evaluate these arguments.
When exploring the substantial role in which punishment plays in society, a number of differing perspectives can be identified. Most are influenced by social theories which can be traced back to the founding fathers of sociology; the two main proponents of the conflict and consensus theory, Karl Marx and Emile Durkheim, as authors tend to adopt ideas from either a Durkheimian approach or a Marxist position when writing on the matter of the role punishment in societies (Carrabine 2009:305). Durkheim did more than any other theorists to develop a sociological account of punishment and to emphasize the social importance of penal
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A flaw highlighted by nearly all of Durkheim’s critics is his lack of attention towards power relationships within societies. Durkheim has been criticised for not considering individuals as members of opposing groups, and the neglect of power and of the conflict between the two interest groups means that his view of the state is altogether too ‘positive’ (Hudson 2007:104), which jeopardises the validity of his claims. Unlike Marxist writers who argue that law often expresses the interest of the capitalist class in power struggles.
Essentially, it should be noted that the practices and institutions for the penal system was not discussed in great depth by Marx. Neither did he write much about crime and criminals nor did he develop a theory on crime and punishment in the same way as Durkheim (Marsh 2004:39). Because Marx did not provide much writing relating to the occurrence of punishment, much is relied on the writing of later Marxist influenced writers, in order to evaluate the Marxist analysis and theory of punishment (Marsh 2004:39).
The most influential example of a Marxist interpretation of punishment is found in the work of Rusche and Kirchheimer, in their 1939 text ‘Punishment and Social Structure’ (Garland 1990:89); in which they provided a thorough history of punishment which emphasise how the economy and, in particular, the labour market influences the method of punishment adopted by different
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