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Criminology Concepts, Fall 1999

Criminology Exercises
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California State University, Dominguez Hills
University of Wisconsin, Parkside
Latest update: November 14, 1999
E-Mail Curran or Takata.

Concept 3: Spitzer's Social Junk and Social Dynamite

Information on this concept was taken from pp. 229-239 of Williams III and McShane's Criminology Theory, Spitzer's "Toward a Marxian Theory of Deviance."


Black Letter Definitions

"social junk" That group of people who have either fallen or jumped through the cracks of our social system, and are now dependent on others for the provision of those basic needs.

"social dynamite" That group of people who have either fallen or jumped through the cracks of our social system, but who are rebellious and potentially violent over this perceived failure. (Steven Spitzer, op.cit, at p. 234)


Spitzer's Marxian analysis views the problem of deviance and the plausible solutions as residing in the structure, not in the individual. Thus, "social junk" and "social dynamite" refer not to individuals, grouped by their common behaviors, but to segments of society who are not in positions of power to mark off adequate distributions of resources for themselves.

Spitzer uses the term "social junk" to refer to those who have been unsuccessful in securing the minimal resources for "the good life" in the U.S. This group has failed to secure a job, either through lack of skills, through downsizing which eliminated the need for skills they had, through some physical or psycho-social inability to function within the limits imposed by available jobs, or by forced retirement

  1. "Social junk" and "social dynamite" are pejorative terms. Steven Spitzer is an academic. Academics rarely use pejorative language in their scholarly writings. What effect does the pejorative language have for you?

    The pejorative language makes me angry, but angry with myself, not Spitzer, for having failed to see my own unstated assumptions. the language forced me to identify with the group I might have thought of that way, even though I would never have used the term. It made me wonder if I have to use the term to be part of the harm. The pejorative language also made me take on tentatively the role of those groups, made me feel as I might if someone were to hurl a racial, gender, or religious epithet at me.

    Academically, that throws me out of my safe neutral ivory tower, and forces me to recognize the pain those terms invoke, both to those who use them, and to those against whom they are used. Even though Spitzer then gives rational, academic arguments about how such groups are created in the "natural order" of capitalist production, my sense of unease remains. The pejorative names given the groups continue to remind me that there are non-monetary costs to capitalist production, and that the capitalist system has not yet adequately addressed the means to repair the harm done.

  2. What do you think Stanley Salas had in mind when he visualized people "jumping through the cracks"? Do you think that term applies to "social junk" as well as "social dynamite"?