Author Archives: jb912

Prohibition Laws by Durkheim and Marx

The paper I am writing about will be on laws governing prohibited substances.  Laws prohibiting illegal substances have been created and repealed many times throughout our society, with the infamous alcohol prohibition in the early 1900’s to the recent legalization of marijuana in Washington and Colorado.  Both Durkheim and Marx provide differing opinions on this issue and what the causes and effects are.  For Durkheim, his belief is that law shapes society, meaning that our society’s norms are reflected in our laws.  Marx suggests the contrary, that our society is what shapes law.  This is in regards to his beliefs that society’s common interests must arise from our methods of production.  A State does not directly form a society; rather it develops based on the social conditions at the time.  He argues that a society cannot be based on old laws that were created from previous social conditions.

Durkheim’s theories of society and its structures covered a broad range of topics, but “he was mostly concerned with social solidarity, or how society is held together” (Pavlich, 2011, p. 73).  This social solidarity can be separated into two different categories dependant on the type of society: ‘Mechanical solidarity’ and ‘Organic solidarity’.  Mechanical solidarity occurs when “a certain number of states of consciousness are common to all members of the same society” (Pavlich, 2011, p. 77).  In this type of solidarity exists a ‘repressive’ system of punishment (e.g. criminal, penal).  The reason for this type of punishment is because of the strong collective morality that is offended by a crime.  Organic solidarity is a modern type of society where it is comprised of several independent systems that all work together in cohesion.  With this society comes a new type of ‘restitutive’ punishment (e.g. civil, administrative).  This involves “a complex division of labour that generates disputes around individual property rights, commercial transactions, torts, administrative regulations…” (Pavlich, 2011, p. 77).

He would explain prohibition laws as performing collective functions for the benefit of society.  In general, he argues that crimes would inform individuals of what not to do and act as a deterrence.  Crime is an inevitable part of our society, so naturally we would need laws based on social norms to prevent it.  However, there would need to be a shared value among individuals that illegal substances are against the norm which Durkheim calls ‘social facts’.  It is best to look at this issue with a functionalist perspective as Durkheim would do.  In this perspective, laws would be analyzed to gauge their social impact in two ways.  Laws can either perform restitutive affects or reinforce the norms of a society.  What prohibition laws could do with this perspective is force offenders to make some sort of amends for their crime(s).  Also, if this were a regulatory society (i.e. organic solidarity), we would be able to reduce the occurrence of illegal substance use due to increased sanctions that could possibly make obtaining these substances more difficult.  Another method that drug prohibition laws could change society is by reinforcing the collective norms against that illegal behaviour.  More specifically, it could strengthen the bond between individuals to reaffirm their social norms.

On the other hand was Karl Marx, who believed that law is a product of society and not the other way around like Durkheim suggested.  One major difference between Marx and Durkheim was that Marx focused more on the economy and politics in his ideas about society.  In particular, he focused on ‘materialism’ or the production of our needs society.  He viewed this economic system as a constant struggle between the capitalists, who own the land and employ the workers, and the working class.  The legal system comes into play to uphold the capitalists’ means of production.  In particular, criminal law exists to keep the capitalist class stable against any sort of organized revolution against them.

Crime, in a Marxist approach, occurs as the result of the conflict between the opposing classes.  Marx would explain prohibition laws as being based on the social conditions during the time they are enacted.  He would suggest that these laws came into place in an effort to control the working class.  By the capitalists imposing social control over the working class, they would be able to continue their means of production.  In essence, law and the State are one and they reflect the current economic state.  Moreover, Marx would also suggest that the legal substances today that used to be illegal, such as alcohol, are accepted because of the financial gains the capitalists make from it.  To them, alcohol is a profitable business, which is why it is in their best interests to keep it legal.


Pavlich, G. (2011). Law and Society Redefined. Ontario, Canada: Oxford University Press.


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NYPD and ‘Racial Profiling’

The article by Sociological Images and the video about the NYPD’s ‘stop-and-frisk’ policy is about the program in which police officers are required to stop and search individuals in public without a warrant; only reasonable cause.  The main reason for this program is to appease the public opinion of the police and to prevent crime by taking proactive measures.  Generally this seems like a good program for the overall safety of the community but many people argue against it and the statistics show that the program does very little to prevent or catch criminal behaviour.  As shown in the article, the author reports that about 87-89% of stops lead to no evidence of wrong-doing (Sharp, 2012).  Moreover, the program is put under greater scrutiny when the statistics show that the overwhelming majority of individuals stopped are minority groups, i.e., African Americans and Latinos.  Adding to the issue is the report that the officers are required to fill quotas for the number of stops they make and are threatened with penalties for not filling enough ‘250’s’ as they call them.

Critical race theory can be used to explain this program by the NYPD.  Essentially this theory describes race relations and that racist motives, especially institutional racism, is behind society’s power structures in legal contexts.  “CRT identifies that these power structures are based on white privilege and white supremacy, which perpetuates the marginalization of people of color” (UCLA School of Public Affairs, 2009, para. 2).  How this relates to the ‘stop-and-frisk’ program is that the underlying basis for the stops is based on the race of the individuals.  The majority of them are minorities that turn out to be innocent.  The source of racism in this theory is “systematic, structural…deeply psychological and socially ingrained” (Pavlich, 2011, p. 130).  As such, the commissioner and mayor of the NYPD and New York both promote this program saying it is necessary and effective.  Additionally, the systemic racism is evident from the Lieutenants and Sergeants that condone and force this practice to target minorities.

Furthermore, as Pavlich (2011) states, “law is never colour blind, neutral, or objective, and is key to struggles that generate, manipulate, and use various conceptions of race for difference political ends” (p. 130).  Critical race theorists would use this statement to show that the NYPD is using this program to gain public support by showing they are proactively trying to reduce crime and Michael Bloomberg is in support of this as well to maintain his position as mayor.  This is effective because the majority of the public views this program in a positive light and would like to see it continue.

In my opinion, I think this is a good program for police departments to keep positive public opinions because it is shown that a police presence makes the community feel like the police are doing their job effectively.  Regarding the issue of racial profiling, the more appropriate term would be ‘criminal profiling’.  If you take a realistic view of crime in New York and in many other American cities, minorities like African Americans and Latinos disproportionately make up a large amount crime in relation to their total population.  Studies have shown that the typical offender in a city like New York is a young minority male.  This recent report by the NYPD proves just that, where 34.9% of suspects arrested are Black, 37.7% are Hispanic, and 23.3% are White.  While I agree that some officers tend to take advantage of profiling by abusing their power or being pressured into doing so, as shown in the video, generally their main targets are individuals, regardless of race, that are known to commit more crime.  If this program was done in a city where statistics show that young White males commit the most crime then the police would primarily target young white males.

Here is another article about the ‘stop-and-frisk’ program that supports the idea that the police target stereotypical criminals for their city based on statistics and that there is no racial motive behind their work.  It states that:

Blacks committed 66 percent of all violent crimes in the first half of 2009 (though they were only 55 percent of all stops and only 23 percent of the city’s population). Blacks committed 80 percent of all shootings in the first half of 2009. Together, blacks and Hispanics committed 98 percent of all shootings. Blacks committed nearly 70 percent of all robberies. Whites, by contrast, committed 5 percent of all violent crimes in the first half of 2009, though they are 35 percent of the city’s population (and were 10 percent of all stops). They committed 1.8 percent of all shootings and less than 5 percent of all robberies. The face of violent crime in New York, in other words, like in every other large American city, is almost exclusively black and brown. Any given violent crime is 13 times more likely to be committed by a black than by a white perpetrator (MacDonald, 2010, para. 10).

To conclude, crime rates are what drive the tactics that police departments use to prevent crime.  It’s only logical for them to target those who are responsible for the majority of crimes committed.  Even though many of the minority individuals stopped are innocent, the police are only doing so for the greater good of their community.  However, I do disagree with how the NYPD carries out this program.  Their main problem is that there is no independent oversight committee to evaluate their programs and policies.  It is unethical to force officers to write ‘250’s’ for the sake of not getting punished which is what makes this program ineffective and corrupt.

MacDonald, H. (2010, May 14). Distorting the Truth About Crime and Race. City Journal. Retrieved from:

Pavlich, G. (2011). Law & Society Redefined. Don Mills, Ontario: Oxford University Press.

Sharp, G. (2012, October 15). NYPD’s Stop-and-Frisk Policy. Retrieved from:

UCLA School of Public Affairs. (2009). What is Critical Race Theory? Retrieved from:

United States Department of Justice. (2012). Crime and Enforcement Activity in New York City. Retrieved from:


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Law in a Capitalist society

“Law’s repressive coercive (material) functions are obscured by its ideological (symbolic) functions that portray it as equal, universal, and just”.

The thought that Law serves repressive and coercive functions underneath a veil of universal equality and justice is not far from the truth.  In essence, what this means is that on a superficial level, law is portrayed in a way that makes it seems fair and just to everyone in society yet, if we were to delve deeper we can see that its true purpose is to maintain power and control over society in an effort to keep the ‘capitalists’ (as Karl Marx calls them) in authority.  Marx reasoned that the creation of the capitalist society was created by the ruling class and their power needs to be obscured “by extending rights equally and universally to all – but…within a fundamentally unequal social context.” (Pavlich, 2011, p. 99)

Karl Marx brought this idea into modern society as a way to promote his communist beliefs, preaching equality among everyone by way of liberating all forms of social hierarchy.  He also refined the term ‘division of labour’ stating that different social classes have different forms of labour, where lower classes are forced to work (sell their labour) for production and higher classes live off the labour and production from others.  These two social classes are referred to as the ‘proletariat’ (working class) and the ‘bourgeoisie’ (capitalists).   In general, what Marx argued was that there will always be a struggle between the working class and the capitalists which will subsequently cause crime.  The only way to prevent crime was to create a classless society where there wouldn’t be a struggle for authority and repression.

I agree with the idea that law does cover up its repressive actions by means of moral and symbolic functions.  We live in a capitalist society based on advancing the capitalist economy (Quinney, 1975).  Their main goal, like Marx said, is profit and authority.  This is achieved by exploiting the value of the working class, paying them far less than their production.  One relevant example is the fact that many CEO’s and politicians frequently give themselves salary increases while the minimum wage barely increases even with constant debate.  Here is one article about some members of the BC Liberal party getting salary increases while the teachers are still in need of a new contract:

Also, just take a look at the ratio of crimes reported between the lower and higher classes and you can see that white collar crime is hardly seen or heard about.  I know there are far more individuals in the lower classes which inflates their crime levels but crimes committed by the higher class occur more often than we think.  One way to understand that is that all the major media outlets are controlled by capitalists.  It makes sense for them not to show themselves as criminal and immoral so they shift the public attention towards the lower class.  The American executives involved in the 2008 financial crisis are a good example of how high ranking businessmen basically get a ‘get-out-of-jail card’.  To this day, no one involved in the disaster received any jail time and the few who were accused were only be fined.  This shows that individuals in the higher class are often exempt from the law and in many cases their only punishment is monetary which they can easily pay.  The same cannot be said for individuals in the lower class.  They are frequently given jail sentences for all kinds of crimes committed.

Law is supposed to apply equally to everyone in society, regardless of their status.  However, as Marx argued, the law itself is exploited by the higher class to further their interests.  On the other hand, law exploits the lower class by making them more susceptible to its repressive nature.

CBC News. (2012, May 4). B.C. Liberals accused of salary ‘double standard’. Retrieved from:

Pavlich, G. (2011). Law & Society Redefined. Don Mills, Ontario: Oxford University Press.

Quinney, R. (1975). “Crime Control in Capitalist Society: A Critical Philosophy of Legal Order“, in 1. Taylor, P. Walton, J. Young (eds) Critical Criminology. London: Routledge. 181-201.

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Durkheim: Crime serves a Social Function

Food for Thought:
Durkheim’s sociology of law proposes that crime is a normal part of society, and that it is necessary and indispensable. What does this mean? Is Durkheim correct? Discuss, with reference to contemporary examples.

Emile Durkheim’s theory that crime is a normal aspect of society is based on his belief that crime itself serves a social function.  That social function is to support or reassure the social norms of a society by the fact that crime is considered going against the norm.  Put simply, crime is simply deviant behaviour that goes against social norms.  It is with that model that law is created, from the adverse reactions of criminal behaviour by society.  As Pavlich (2011) states, “law is conceived of as the product of a given society” (p. 73).  Durkheim’s main focus was the idea of ‘social solidarity’, or how society works together as a whole and how society is organized.  He rejected the idea of individualism in the sense that society is the sum of its individual members; rather that it should be studied collectively.  Another principle of Durkheim’s that keeps society stable is ‘social facts’, that is, “ways of acting, thinking, and feeling, external to the individual,” (Pavlich, 2011, p. 74).  It is these social facts that hold control and authority over individuals to keep society stable.

One of the main arguments for Durkheim’s theory is that since crime is found in all societies, it must be performing necessary functions otherwise it would disappear in an advanced society. (Hamlin, 2009).   One of these necessary functions is social change.  Crime is one of the most effective sources of social change in any society.  When crime goes against social norms, eventually a society’s collective belief will transform thus bringing about social change.  A prime example is the Anti-miscegenation laws in the United States that promoted racial segregation.  As society progressed many people began violating the laws at the time until society reached a point where it was considered a norm for inter-racial relationships in society.  Eventually racial segregation was abolished and in today’s society would violate social norms.

In my opinion, I would agree to some extent, with Durkheim’s theory and say that he is correct in saying that crime is inevitable.  Moreover, it is largely inevitable in societies with higher inequality such as socio-economic statuses which Durkheim mentions as being a factor of crime.  However, crime will always occur in every society regardless of its socio-economic state because most social norms are based on a moral code.  That moral code can only be defined by previous criminal behaviour for that specific society.  Therefore, crime has to be present for social norms and laws to be created.

One point of Durkheim’s that I agree with in theory but disagree with in a practical sense is his notion that crime reinforces social norms because that contradicts how crime can bring about social change.  If social norms against crime collectively become stronger when it is committed, then how can those norms be reversed?


Pavlich, G. (2011). Law & Society Redefined. Don Mills, Ontario: Oxford University Press.

Hamlin, J. (2009) The Normality of Crime. Durkheim and Erikson, Department of Sociology and Anthropology. UMD

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