Law Essay Sample: Quinney's Definition of Law

Published: 2019-09-11
Law Essay Sample: Quinney's Definition of Law
Type of paper:  Essay
Categories:  Law Criminal law
Pages: 3
Wordcount: 596 words
5 min read

Richard Quinney is among some of the pluralistic conflict theorists whose works defined the concept of crime based on Marxist principles. The Marxist approach focused on the application of social conflicts arising from classes as the basis for the existence of crime. Quinneys approach is based on six major propositions. These propositions will be sampled in this paper for the analysis of his definitions of crime and the law. Additionally, the political nature of the law will also be examined according to his approach.

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Quinneys approach was based on six major assertions. The first such assertion was that crime is a state of human conduct that has been created by the powerful political class in a society. This approach is one that focuses on the political and administrative function of the law enforcers as opposed to the clinical/rehabilitative nature of law enforcement against the occurrence of crime. The second assertion is that crime is something that has been created by the powerful in society, who are able to shape the views of public policy and brand certain behavior as unacceptable in a society. Therefore, powerful groups within the society will try to control others using the enforcement of criminal law. He argued that this is the case because of the changing nature of human rights and their enforcement. For example, it is possible that changes in the society would lead to a change in the administration of rights in favor of the powerful people. Moreover, increasingly conflicting interests would lead to a higher chance that there are stricter rules of crime and their enforcement is more stringent (Chamlin, 1989).

Quinney also asserted that the powerless in the society are often the victims of the application of criminal law since the law is applied favoring the powerful in society. Segments of society that are able to apply control over legislative processes will enforce criminal law to their advantage. Moreover, criminal behavior in the society is what will be unacceptable in the eyes of those who have a controlling stake in the society. The chances of an action being classified as criminal will be dependent on the particular circumstances and attitudes towards the behavior in question (Quinney, 1970).

Another assertion is that definitions of crime will be espoused to members of society through various social avenues. Therefore, the role of the media is important in the enforcement of the law. Therefore, the definitions of law in a society will reflect the power structures of that society. Lastly, Quinney asserts that the inter-relation of definitions of crime, a development of behavior patterns among members of the society and the conception of crimes among people creates the entirety of the crime factor (Williams & McShane, 2010).

These assertions would then show that there is a political wing to the application of law that is out to perpetuate inequality in the application of the law. This view has been rejected by radical theorists as it implies that things must remain the way they are despite large-scale inequality being perpetuated. Moreover, this approach has not taken consideration of social structures and economic production that has necessitated the development of criminal law to reflect societal values. Nonetheless, the pluralistic view has done away with the simplistic definition that the law is neutral in nature, but has accepted the existence of factors that shape the development of the law.


Chamlin, M. (1989). Conflict theory and police killings. Deviant Behavior , 353-368.

Quinney, R. (1970). The social reality of crime. New York: Transaction publishers.

Williams, F., & McShane, M. (2010). Criminology theory: Selected classic readings. New York: Routledge.

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