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Analyse the intersectionality of class, gender and race in understanding crime in contemporary society. Use examples to illustrate your analysis.Support viewpoints with reasoned argument substantiated by relevant theoretical material and research evidenc Essay

  • Category:
    Law
  • Document type:
    Essay
  • Level:
    Undergraduate
  • Page:
    3
  • Words:
    1827

The Intersectionality of Class, Gender and Race in Understanding Crime in Contemporary Society

Introduction

Brown (2015) describes intersectionality as an analytical instrument for examining, interpreting, and acting in response to how gender interconnects with other identities, such as race and class, in addition to the manner in which such interconnections lead to distinctive experiences of freedom and oppression. The intersectionality theory is based on the assumption that individuals live through many divergent identities they derive from history, power structures, and social relations (Anthias 2013). For instance, individuals will most likely be members of multiple societies at the same time, and can at the same time experience freedom and oppression disproportionately. A case in point is a case of a woman who is highly respected as a surgeon at the workplace yet undergoes domestic violence at her home. Essentially therefore, intersectional analysis seeks to tackle the ways in which gender discrimination, racism, class oppression, as well as patriarchy foster inequalities that create women’s relative positions in the society. Basing on this backdrop, this essay argues that intersectionality can reveal the propensities for criminal offending, by helping interpret the effects of race, class, and gender since the actual effects are by nature intersectional. Such a combination brings about distinctive social experiences that cause individuals within a social group like race, gender and class to engage in crime. The race, gender and class variables, therefore, serve as descriptive measures for determining social inequalities that influence certain behaviour, including criminal behaviours.

Studies that have reviewed the American criminal justice system established a structured race and gender disparities within the procedural process, where evidences suggested that individual experiences with the criminal justice systems is dissimilar based on class, race and gender because of socially constructed gender and racial prejudice (Collins 1998; Gregg 2001). For instance, Brown (2015) argues that patterns of class, racial and gender-based oppression, as blamed for criminal prevalence among African Americans. A related study by Anthias (2013) established that poverty, racism and inaccessible human service programs, in addition to forceful crime policies are responsible for female criminal activities among African Americans. Brown (2015) also established that white females who were involved in delinquency were more prone to depression and huge influence from their peers compared to the African American females, who had more likelihood of engaging in delinquency whenever they felt discriminated upon.

The theoretical approaches to crime have sought to supply an explanation for gender and race differences in offending. The theory of intersectionality was initially used by feminist theorists in describing the rational approaches essential for interpreting the meanings and effects linked to being members of certain social groups, whether gender, class or race (Barak, 2014). At the centre of this theory is the assumption that in order to understand the human behaviours, individuals need to recognize and explain the forces of oppression, which are inherently socially constructed. These forces lead to construction of individuals’ identity. Within this context, Gregg (2001) also explains that the significance of the general criminological theory considerably increases once they are connected to the broader contextual and structural explanations of crime that integrate class, race, power hierarchies and gender relationships.

From a survey of literature, it is clear that certain dimensions of race and gender have time after time been linked to criminal behaviours in a large number of criminological literature (Anthias, 2013; Brown, 2015). Such dimensions continue to be identified as being fundamentally strong indicators of deviant behaviours. Some findings have even suggested that men tend to engage in violent crimes compared to their female counterparts. Additionally, the African Americans have also been found to generally commit more crimes than White Americans (Brown, 2015). Indeed, there is a plethora of empirical research on the link between crime and gender, as well as between crime and race (Anthias, 2013). However, the intersectionality of race and gender, as well as how it causes deviant behaviour is usually disregarded. Some scholars supporting intersectionality have suggested that certain traits indicate the more dominant factors that affect people’s individual experiences.

Brown (2015) lamented that it is a regrettable fact that gender and race still outstandingly indicate some social constraints in the contemporary American society, despite after years of struggles to attain equal rights in the country. Gender and race also act as differentiators for accessing opportunities for success or failure in the contemporary life, all through an individual’s course of life. Historically, the human history has been characterised by scenarios where gender, race and class determine one social, economic and political position. The three identifiers have each brought about different effects through time. For instance, the consequences of being an African American were substantially dissimilar before the American Civil War. While the women’s rights have attained great strides, women in the contemporary society still only yearn for the economic and political power possessed by their male counterparts. It should as well be clarified that each of these constructs tends to continually interact with race, as a result creating unique social experiences. What this implies is that the effects of gender and race co-occurs and needs to be taken into perspective while checking the causes of certain criminal behaviors.

Brown (2015) argued that in order to determine the power within any particular society, focus should be on who exercises the power instead of the location of power. When power is identified and located where it is exercised within the society, exploring the constraints and power dynamics created by social structures becomes possible. This becomes the case when seeking to understand how individuals with the least power make the best of the structures, particularly, those oppressed because of class, gender, and race. In return, when the power dynamics in a society are recognised within a society, discovering the manner in which structural forces influence one’s behaviours becomes possible. This idea has been largely supported by some criminological studies where they argued that, structural power differences along with people’s perceptions regarding race and gender influence criminal offending, awareness, and legal actions. A likely explanation could be linked to criminological studies that argued that males tend to perpetrate more crimes than the females.

Aside from intersectionality, an additional criminological theory that that integrates the social dynamics of class, gender, and race is the Agnew’s general strain theory. The theory is based on Merton’s (1968) theory of deviance, which seeks to explain the inequality between culturally constructed goals and the legitimate means needed for attaining such goals. Merton’s theory argues while people emphasise on attaining goals, they all do not have legitimate means to attain their goals (Brown, 2015). The means for attaining the goals are also unequally distributed rooted in social class, where those ranked high in the social strata have greater legitimate means. Hence, a strain or stress is created on those in the lower class, who in turn seek illegitimate means attain their goals. While explaining race in criminal offending, the African-Americans who are overrepresented in the lower economic class bracket are likely to turn to illegitimate means to attain their goals.

On the other hand, Agnew’s theory suggests three kinds of stress or strain generators that cause deviance or criminal offending. These include the failure of a person to attain goals, the elimination of positive stimuli from the person, and confronting the person with negative stimuli (Brown, 2015). A combination of these leads to negative emotions that people tend to eliminate through participating in crime, or even searching for vengeance what they perceive are the sources of the of strain. Within the context of intersectionality, the theory argues that individuals (based on classes, race and gender), may experience the strain differently. For instance, African-American women are likely respond to strain in a different way to the white women.

General strain theory explains how gender, as a type of oppression, shapes propensity for criminal offending. Evidences of such intersectional difference in strain are found in the media. In recent times, President Obama signed the “equal pay for equal work” into law for the federal contractors. This was to equalize the pay for women in a similar job group as men. However, the Republicans in the Congress failed to vote in favour of the legislation. This reflected what happened during the signing of the Equal Pay Act of 1963 that prohibited paying women less than men in similar job groups with the same job experiences (Brown, 2015). This shows structural discrimination against women in the contemporary society. The consequences of such oppressions assist in shaping identity, hence contributing their propensity for crime due to strain.

The General strain theory also identifies Race as a type of oppression in the contemporary society that shapes propensity for criminal offending. Some 40 percent of African-American children in the US, according to the U.S. Census 2010, were reported to have been raised in poor households (Brown, 2015). In the same year, some 30 percent of African-Americans lived below the poverty line, relative to nearly 10 percent of whites (Brown, 2015). Consequently, many African-American children have limited educational opportunities, and health-care access. Hence, the African-Americans are likely to experience high incidences of strain leading to negative emotions that lead to higher rate of criminal offending – due to poverty, lack of education and career opportunities, and discrimination.

Conclusion

Intersectionality reveals the propensities for criminal offending, by helping interpret the effects of race, class, and gender since the actual effects are by nature intersectional. Such a combination brings about distinctive social experiences that cause individuals within a social group like race, gender and class to engage in crime. Aside from intersectionality, an additional criminological theory that that integrates the social dynamics of class, gender, and race is the Agnew’s general strain theory. The theories have showed that in the contemporary society, structured race, class and gender disparities within the procedural process determine an individual’s experiences with the criminal justice systems. The patterns of class, racial and gender-based oppression cause criminal prevalence among the oppressed social group. This explains the reasons the African-American males and females tend to commit more crimes compared to the white males and females respectively.

References

Anthias, F 2013, “The intersections of class, gender, sexuality and ‘race’: the political economy of gendered violence, special issue on ‘Gender, Sexuality and Political Economy,” International Journal of Politics, Culture and Society, pp.1-45, viewed 12 Feb 2016, <http://roar.uel.ac.uk/3326/1/2013_Anthias_Political-economy-of-intersections.pdf>

Barak, M 2014, “Re-Imagining Punishment: An Exercise in “Intersectional Criminal Justice”. Laws vol 3 no 1, 693–705 viewed 12 Feb 2016, http://www.mdpi.com/2075-471X/3/4/693/pdf>

Brown, W 2015, «An Intersectional Approach to Criminological Theory: Incorporating the Intersectionality of Race and Gender into Agnew’s General Strain Theory,» Ralph Bunche Journal of Public Affairs, vol. 4 iss. 1, pp.229-243 viewed 12 Feb 2016, <http://digitalscholarship.tsu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1027&context=rbjpa>

Collins, P 1998, “It’s All in the Family: Intersections of Gender, Race and Nation,” Hypatia vol 13 no1, pp62-82 viewed 12 Feb 2016, <http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.457.6652&rep=rep1&type=pdf>

Gregg, B 2001, Class, Race, Gender, and Crime: Social Realities of Justice in America, Roxbury Publishing Company, Los Angeles, CA viewed 12 Feb 2016, <https://www.academia.edu/547480/Class_Race_Gender_and_Crime_The_social_realities_of_justice_in_America>