Marxism and Criminology

A History of Criminal Selectivity


Winner of the 2017 Choice Outstanding Academic Title Award

In Marxism and Criminology: A History of Criminal Selectivity, Valeria Vegh Weis rehabilitates the contributions and the methodology of Marx and Engels to analyze crime and punishment through the historical development of capitalism (15th Century to the present) in Europe and in the United States. The author puts forward the concepts of over-criminalization and under-criminalization to show that the criminal justice system has always been selective. Criminal injustice, the book argues, has been an inherent element of the founding and reproduction of a capitalist society. At a time when racial profiling, prosecutorial discretion, and mass incarceration continue to defy easy answers, Vegh Weis invites us to revisit Marx and Engels’ contributions to identify socio-economic and historic patterns of crime and punishment in order to foster transformative changes to criminal justice. The book includes a Foreword by Professor Roger Matthews of Kent University, and an Afterword written by Professor Jonathan Simon of the University of California, Berkeley.

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Valeria Vegh Weis, Ph.D. (2015), Buenos Aires University, is Professor of Criminology at that university, Quilmes University, and Federal Police University. She is a Fulbright Scholar and she has an LL.M. in International Legal Studies from the New York University School of Law, where she was a recipient of the prestigious Hauser Global Scholarship. She also received the International Human Right, and the Transitional Justice Fellowships. She has published several articles and translations in the fields of Criminology, Criminal Law, and Mental Health Law.
Winner of the the ACJS Outstanding Book Award 2019

"It is very rare these days to find a book that combines a critical, historical and structural account of crime, punishment, and social control. Marxism and Criminology: A History of Criminal Selectivity achieves those goals by doing for crime and crime control what Rusche and Kirchheimer - in their path-breaking text Punishment and Social Structure - did for the analysis of punishment and incarceration."
- Roger Matthews, Preface

"Vegh Weis’ millennial Marxism is well selected and read for the new logics of permanent unemployment, financial risk-taking, mass migration and terrorism. It comes at a timely moment when new profound problems that arise with the global economy have subjected the carceral state to more intense economic scrutiny than in the past, and when a growing social movement of people of color and others excluded by forms of normality are challenging the role of punishment in maintaining racial hierarchies as a threat to their dignity, and even survival. With growing pressure from both ends to reform the carceral state in the United States and elsewhere (as in the 1960s and 1970s), Critical Theory - with a generationally sharpened edge - is vital. This book delivers just that."
- Jonathan Simon, Afterword

"... Vegh Weis's book is essential reading. Its breadth of analysis allows Marxism and Criminology to take on the types of big questions that historical monographs often miss, and its openly Marxist perspective is refreshing in an era where many historians have retreated from any type of theoretical analysis."
- Sam Mitrani, College of DuPage

"All in all, Marxism and Criminology is an activist book, which might help modern paupers in their struggle against commonplace discriminatory assumptions, not only by recalling that the acts of social harm realized by the upper classes are no less criminal, but also by displaying that in our contemporary capitalist order punishment can be, and is most of the time, itself a crime."
- Funda Hülagü, in: Science & Society 83/1

"[This] path-breaking book compels us to revisit the insights of Marx and Engels and she challenges the dated, but often stated, claim made by orthodox Marxists (e.g., Hirst, 1975) that Marxist theory cannot be applied to the study of crime and law. Vegh Weis demonstrates that nothing can be further from the truth. As well, throughout her book, she contests the frequently cited declarations that Marx and Engels had very little to say about crime and that the sociology of law was little more than a secondary interest to them."
- Walter S. DeKeseredy (West Virginia University, USA), in: Punishment & Society, April 9, 2018

"[...] [C]ertainly since Rusche and Kirchheimer and Foucault, we have an attempt at a general synthesis which brings together a vast range of empirical material on the dimensions of criminalisation which is then theorised in terms of a clearly articulated relationship to the central dynamic of capitalist development. The contribution of this book to the development of Marxist criminology and, reciprocally, criminologically-sensitive Marxism, is immense. If we want to understand where the world is heading, and the urgency of reform, then this is precisely the type of contribution we need."
- Jhon Lea, in: The British Journal of Criminology, 21 March 2018

"Overcoming the particularistic and formalized view of criminal unfairness is perhaps one of Vegh Weis' great contributions [...] she shows that much of the legal world is set to become an autonomous field separated from social-economic conditionings [...] Marxism and Criminology is an excellent contribution to renew the debate on the causes of the growing demand for punitiviness and, at the same time, a questioning of the legal field auto-perception as emancipated from the conditions of production and reproduction of the life and the world."
[original text:]
"Superar la mirada particularista y formalizada es quizás uno de los grandes aportes de Vegh Weis: su trabajo cuestiona los “vientos teóricos” que reiteran el pensamiento habitual, no relacional, que hace de los comportamientos estancos (de las disciplinas) su criterio de sagacidad. Vegh Weis pone en evidencia que gran parte del mundo jurídico se dispone a constituirse como campo autónomo del acontecer económico-social... , Marxism and Criminology es un excelente aporte para renovar el debate sobre las causas de la creciente demanda de punitivismo y, al mismo tiempo, un cuestionamiento sobre las bases (no precisamente muy sólidas) con que el campo jurídico se auto percibe en términos emancipados de las condiciones de producción y reproducción de la vida y el mundo.
- Jorge Elbaum, in Delito y Sociedad, 2018

"In this important work, Vegh Weis (NYU) does a brilliant and accessible job of applying Marxist theory to modern criminality. […] Throughout this work, Vegh Weis positions her inquiry in critical social theory that considers crime in its socioeconomic context.
Summing Up: Essential. Upper-division undergraduates and above."
- F. E. Knowles (Valdosta State University), CHOICE, September 2017

"El texto de Vegh Weis es una novedad que no debe pasar por alto porque se trata de una de las aventuras más audaces que se haya emprendido en los últimos tiempos en la arena de la criminología y la crítica jurídica. A lo largo de sus páginas, Vegh Weis describe y analiza, sintetiza y arriesga, en una prosa que sabiéndose fundamentada en una sólida investigación desarrollada en Argentina, en Estados Unidos y en Europa, y se desliza al terreno de nuevas teorizaciones, ese terreno siempre fangoso, logrando, empero, salir airosa."
- Juan Manuel Suppa Altman (Universidad de Buenos Aires, Argentina), in: Revista de Historia del Derecho, N° 53, January-June 2017, pp. 187-189

"Valeria Vegh retakes, many decades later, the fundamental statements of Punishment and Social Structure by Rusche and Kirchheimer and goes beyond the strict consideration of the labor market to delve into the complex social and economic relations under which criminal demonstrations contemporarily take place [...] it is a real pleasure to present an investigation of the rigorousness that Valeria Vegh's work possesses. I hope that it has a long journey. I am sure it will have it and that it can also be translated and known by a wider audience beyond the U.K. and the U.S.A. [...] this would be extraordinary for the essential enrichment that the criminological disciplines need, this work can both feed and contribute to it."
- Iñaki Rivera Beiras (Facultat de Dret), in: Critica Penal y Poder, N° 15, Barcelona (2018)

"The book, Marxism and Criminology, which I have received and read, must be the most extended treatment of Marx and crime made in many years.... What I am fascinated by, and interested in, in this very impressive book, is the analysis according to the stages of capitalism in relation to forms of crime."
- Richard Quinney

For more information on the author and her research, please read an interview with the BBC here, and an interview with Period. here.

Please find below an overview of Vegh Weis's recent (book) presentations:
1. Manchester Workshops in Political Theory. Marxism Specialist Group of the PSA, Sep. 11-13, 2017
2. Seminar ‘Saber Penal.’ Buenos Aires University School of Law, Oct. 18, 2017
3. PSA Marxism Specialist Group Panels for the PSA Annual Conference. Cardiff, UK, Mar. 26-28, 2018
4. 200 Marx Conference, Berlin, Germany
, May 4, 2018
5. European Criminology Conference (forthcoming Sep)
6. American Criminology Conference (forthcoming Nov)
List of Tables and Figures

Chapter 1: Introduction
Criminological Theories and the Notion of ‘Criminal Selectivity’
‘Criminal Selectivity’ through the Work of Marx and Engels
Marx and Engels’ Contributions Did Not Analyze Crime and Crime Control in Deep.
Marx and Engels’ Contributions Understood Crime and Crime Control as Superstructural Aspects.
Marx and Engels’ Constributions Lead to the Failure of ‘Real Socialism.’
Marx and Engels’ Contributions Are Necessary to Analyze Crime and Crime Control
A Conceptualization of ‘Criminal Selectivity’ from a Marxist Perspective

Chapter 2: Original Criminal Selectivity
Where, How and When of the ‘Primitive Accumulation’ (Late 15th to Early 18th Century).
Original Conflict-Control
Original Under-Criminalization
Original Over-Criminalization
The Different Application of Penalization and the Transit from Physical Punishment to Workhouses
Who Were the Social Sectors Targeted by Original Criminal Selectivity?
Mixed insertion in the ‘Primitive Accumulation’
Punishment during Original Criminal Selectivity
Manifest Functions.
Latent Functions
Creating a Disciplined Working Class
Imposing a New Social Order
Fragmenting the Dispossed Sectors
Moral Entrepeneurs and Moral Panics
Brief Reflections

Chapter 3: Disciplining Criminal Selectivity
Where, How and When of the Disciplining Social Order (late 18th century- late 20th century).
Disciplining Conflict-Control
First Disciplining Phase: Legally-Disciplining Criminal Selectivity (Late 18th Century)
Legally-Disciplining Under-Criminalization
Legally-Disciplining Over-Criminalization
Second Disciplining Phase: Police-Medically Disciplining Criminal Selectivity (19th Century)
Police-Medically Disciplining Under-Criminalization
Police-Medically Disciplining Over-Criminalization
Third Disciplining Phase: Socio-Disciplining Criminal Selectivity (Early to Late 20th Century)
Socio-Disciplining Under-Criminalization
Socio-Disciplining Over-Criminalization
Who Were the Social Sectors Targeted by Disciplining Criminal Selectivity?
Mixed Insertion in the Disciplining Social Order
Punishment during Disciplining Criminal Selectivity
Manifest Functions
Retribution or ‘Just Deserts’ Theory
Specific Deterrence/Incapacitation Theory
General Deterrence Theory
Rehabilitation Theory
Latent Functions
Disciplining the Worker That Resisted the New Social Order and Its Guidelines
Disciplining the Entire Working Class
Fragmenting the Working Class
Moral Entrepeneurs and Moral Panics
Brief Reflections

Chapter 4: Bulimic Criminal Selectivity
Where, How and When of the Bulimic Social Order (Late 20th to 21th Century).
Bulimic Conflict-Control
Bulimic Under-Criminalization
Bulimic Under-Criminalization on the ‘War on Terror.'
Bulimic Under-Criminalization of Financial Manouvers
Bulimic Over-Criminalization
Bulimic Over-Criminalization on the ‘Social Junk.'
Bulimic Over-Criminalization on the ‘Social Dynamite’
Who Were the Social Sectors Targeted by Bulimic Criminal Selectivity?
Mixed Insertion in the Bulimic Social Order.
Punishment during Bulimic Criminal Selectivity
Manifest Functions.
Latent Functions
Incapacitating the problematic social sectors
Controlling the Modern Pauperism
Fragmenting the working class
Moral Entrepreneurs and Moral Panics
Promoting a ‘crime control industry’ and the omnipresent control of the social whole.
Brief Reflections

Chapter 5: Final Reflections.

All interested in Criminology, Criminal Law, Sociology of Law, History of Punishment, Marxism and the Law, and anyone concerned about the criminal justice system in Europe and the United States.
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