As I started to research what critical theories might have to say about international crime, I thought materials representing this point of view would be readily available. I even contacted leading critical theorists within criminology. Few responses were fruitful.
A perspective on international crime can be easily constructed from the main precepts of critical theory. Wealthy industrialized nations represent the "haves," while the third world become the exploited "have nots." In another version, minorities, women, and children are exploited internationally as low paid workers, prostitutes, or slave labor.
The problems identified as serious enough to be labeled as international crimes, being identified by the powerful within first world countries, would likely treat third world residents as scapegoats. Similarly, international problems caused by the global superpowers themselves (e.g., environmental crimes) would likely be given less importance, and treated as less serious crimes or not as crimes at all.
Critical theory could be used to analyze the example below. While powerful multinational corporations are in effect money launderers for international drug dealing, they do not want to make the effort to stop the influx of drug money. In effect, they would rather not know where the money is coming from.
Another clear example is the historical development of anti-marijuana legislation in the United States. Prior to 1937 marijuana was not illegal in the U.S. However, it was illegal in several southwestern states where residents there had identified Mexican guest workers as users of the drug.
During the depression, Mexican guest workers became seen as thieves of American jobs. One way to get rid of them was to identify them as importers of a dangerous drug. C.M. Goethe, spokesman for the American Coalition, said in the 1930s:
Marihuana, perhaps now the most insidious of our narcotics, is a direct by-product of unrestricted Mexican immigration. Easily grown, it has been asserted that it has recently been planted between rows in a California penitentiary garden. Mexican peddlers have been caught distributing sample marihuana cigarettes to school children. Bills for our quota against Mexico have been blocked mysteriously in every Congress since the 1924 Quota Act. Our nation has more than enough laborers.
In 1937, the U.S. Congress passed the Marijuana Stamp Act, and began a campaign of arrest and deportation of Mexican guest workers. It should not be surprising that the Mexican government and its citizens question American motives each time the U.S. government identifies Mexico as the source of a new drug menace.
The same pattern can be seen with opium, a staple of late 19th Century patent medicines used by middle class white women with impunity, but outlawed in the 1914 Harrison Act once identified as brought into the country for use within opium dens by Chinese immigrants.
Testing the Critical Theory Model
One of positive points about social science as compared to political or religious belief systems, is that the former permits testing of hypothesis. Max Weber pointed this out toward the end of his career in his essays "Science as a Vocation" and "Politics as a Vocation." Applying the falsifiability test suggested by Karl Popper to critical theory's perspective on international crime, we would need to look for instances in which the identification of problems as crimes was not in the best interest of elites within first world nations.
It is certainly true that being socialized into the upper class in any society does not guarantee that such individuals will spend their lives devoted to the protection of class interests. There are numerous cases of individuals rejecting their class upbringings to become champions of or workers among the poor. Karl Marx, in The Communist Manifesto, himself predicted that certain members of the bourgeoisie would recognize the oppressive regime of which they were a part, reject their current perspective, and identify with the workers in their struggle.
Within the current concerns over international crime, can we find examples of areas that do not appear in the best interests of exploitative elites within contemporary capitalist economies? Concerns over problems that directly impact women, children, and the poor should not be high on the international crime agenda. However, we discover that there is significant concern within first world nations about such problems as trafficking in women and children for sexual purposes, child labor, immigrant sweat shops, stealing of foreign aid dollars aimed at the poor by oligarchs within the receiving countries, etc.
One way the critical perspective might respond is to ask researchers to review the priority given to these concerns versus others, such as the drug wars. Comparing the amount of money spent on fighting drugs, for example, versus those aimed at assisting women escape and recover from forced prostitution might prove instructive.
Personally, I think that forces beyond those generated by market capitalism are at work in defining international crime agendas. My position would be similar to Ethan Nadelmann's that "religious beliefs, humanitarian sentiments, faith in universalism, compassion, conscience, paternalism, fear, prejudice, and the compulsion to proselytize can and do play important roles in the creation and the evolution of international regimes" aimed at targeting specific international crimes.
PERCEPTIONS OF DEVIANCE:
article on the Bhopal industrial "incident" demonstrates conflicting
attempts to define victims and assign accountability.
Identify one of the international or transnational crimes you have been following this semester that seems to fit well with critical theory. Discuss why it is the interest of business or political elites in first world nations to focus on this type of crime. Whose interests are downplayed or ignored in the current focus on these activities? How might concern in this area be broadened to include perspectives other than those currently represented?