Deviance and Power Relations
Conflict theorists who focus on power. relations in society suggest that the lifestyles considered deviant by political and economic elites arc often defined as illegal. From this perspective, the law defines and controls two distinct categories of people: (1) social dynamite persons who have been marginalized (including rioters, labor organizers, gang members, and criminals)-and (2) sodal link-members stigmatized groups (such as welfare recipients, the homeless, and persons with disabilities) who are costly to society but relatively harmless (Spitzer, 1975). According to this approach,norms and laws are established for the benefit of those in power and do not reflect any absolute standout right and wrong (Turk, 1969, 1977). As a result. the activities of poor and lower-income individuals are more likely to be defined as criminal than those of persons from middle- and upper-income backgrounds. Moreover, the criminal justice system is more' focused on. and is less forgiving of, deviant and criminal behavior engaged in by people in specific categories. For example, research shows that young. single. urban males are more likely to' be perceived as members of the dangerous classes and receive stricter sentences in criminal courts (Miethe and Moore, 1987). Power differentials are also evident in how victims of crime are treated. When the victims are wealthy, white, and male. law enforcement officials are more likely to put forth more extensive efforts to apprehend the perpetrator as contrasted with cases in which the victims are poor. black, and female (Smith. Fisher, and Davidson. 1984). Recent research generally supports this assertion (Wonders. 1996). This branch of conflict theory shows how power relations in society influence the law and the criminal justice system. often to the detriment of people who are at the bottom of the social structure hierarchy. and it questions functionalist views Oil conformity and deviance that are based on the assumption that laws reflect a consensus among the majority of people.