Pyrrhic defeat theory

Pyrrhic defeat theory /ˈpɪrɪk/ is the idea that those with the power to change a system, benefit from the way it currently works.


In criminology, pyrrhic defeat theory is a way of looking at criminal justice policy. It suggests that the criminal justice system’s intentions are the very opposite of common expectations; it functions the way it does in order to create a specific image of crime: one in which it is actually a threat from the poor. However, to justify the truth of the idea there must be some substance to back it up. The system needs to fight crime, to some extent at least, but to an amount only to control it and ensure it stays in a prominent position in the public eye, not enough to eliminate it.[1]

This concept amalgamates ideas from Emile Durkheim, Karl Marx, Kai Erikson and Richard Quinney, drawn together by Jeffrey Reiman. Reiman’s ideas differ from those of Marx’s slightly. Whereas Marx suggests that the criminal justice system serves the rich by conspicuously repressing the poor, Reiman suggests that it does so instead by its failure to reduce crime. Durkheim suggests that crime is functional for society, and part of the very tapestry that holds it together. He suggests that an act is perceived criminal because it affects a peoples opinions. “…we must not say that an action shocks the conscience collective because it is criminal, but rather that it is criminal because it shocks the conscience collective. We do not condemn it because it is a crime, it is a crime because we condemn it.” [2]

See also


  1. Reiman, Jeffrey (1979). "Criminal Justice Through the Looking Glass". The Rich Get Richer and the Poor Get Prison. New York, New York: John Wiley & Sons. pp. 5–7. ISBN 0-471-04726-0.
  2. Craig Calhoun; Joseph Gerteis; James Moody; Steven Pfaff; Indermohan Virk (6 March 2012). Classical Sociological Theory. John Wiley and Sons. ISBN 978-0-470-65567-2. Retrieved 20 February 2012.

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