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The so called "Theft of Social Conflicts": A Critical Look at the Criminal Justice System


In this post, we will explore Nils Christie's famous thesis on the "theft of social conflicts" and its application to the criminal justice system. Christie, a renowned Norwegian sociologist and criminologist, argued that the criminal justice system appropriates social conflicts and transforms them into legal processes, thereby displacing dialogue and peaceful resolution of disputes. We will examine the foundations of this thesis and its relevance in today's context.

Christie's Thesis:

Christie's thesis posits that the criminal justice system, by assuming control over social conflicts, creates a dynamic in which problems become legal cases. This implies that conflict resolution is based on the application of laws and criminal sanctions, rather than addressing the underlying needs of the parties involved.

Impact on Social Conflicts:

The "theft of social conflicts" has significant consequences for society. Instead of allowing communities to autonomously resolve their disputes through dialogue, the criminal justice system centralizes power and decides which issues deserve legal attention. This can perpetuate inequality, stigmatization, and a lack of citizen participation in conflict resolution.

Criticisms and Debates:

Christie's thesis has generated debates and criticisms in academia and the legal field. Some argue that the criminal justice system is necessary to ensure the protection of rights and maintain social order. Others contend that alternative conflict resolution methods, such as reconciliation, mediation, and restorative justice, should be explored to promote more inclusive and participatory approaches.

Current Perspectives:

There is growing interest in seeking more inclusive and participatory ways to address social conflicts. Restorative justice, for instance, promotes harm reparation and reconciliation among the involved parties, rather than solely focusing on punitive measures. These perspectives aim to restore dialogue and community responsibility in conflict resolution.

Final Reflections:

Christie's thesis prompts us to reflect on the role of the criminal justice system in our society and the need to find a balance between protecting individual rights and engaging communities in conflict resolution. It is important to consider alternatives that promote social justice and address the underlying causes of problems, rather than merely resorting to punishment and incarceration.


Christie's thesis challenges us to reconsider how we approach social conflicts and the role played by the criminal justice system. By recognizing the "theft of social conflicts," we can seek more effective and equitable solutions that foster reconciliation, inclusion, and community participation in the pursuit of justice.

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