For anyone who missed the lesson – please also see me to collect sheets for homework. Read this and summarise for your own notes. Please make every effort to attend lessons – we are covering a lot over the next few weeks!
Traditional Marxist theories of crime and deviance
- Traditional Marxism sees society as a structure in which the economic base (the capitalist economy) determines the shape of the superstructure (all the other social institutions, including the state, the law and the criminal justice system).
- Capitalist society is divided into classes: the ruling capitalist class (or bourgeoisie) who own the means of production, and the working class (or proletariat), whose alienated labour the bourgeoisie exploit to produce profit.
- Society is based on conflict: The inequality of wealth and power that underpins capitalist society and the contradictions and problems inherent within such a system explain crime and deviance (as well as the legal responses to it).
- Laws are not an expression of value consensus (as functionalists argue), but a reflection of ruling-class ideology (the values and beliefs of the ruling class). Laws are made by the state acting in the interests of the ruling class.
- The bourgeoisie is able to keep its power partly through its ability to use the law to criminalise working class activities.
Traditional Marxist view of crime
Based on three main elements:
1. Criminogenic Capitalism
- Crime is inevitable because capitalism by its very nature it causes crime. It is based on the exploitation of the working class and this may give rise to crime:
- Poverty may mean that crime is the only way the working class can survive.
- Crime may be the only way they can obtain the consumer goods they are encouraged by advertising to buy, resulting in utilitarian crimes such as theft.
- Alienation and lack of control over their lives may lead to frustration and aggression, resulting in non-utilitarian crimes such as violence and vandalism.
- Crime is not confined to the working class. Capitalism encourages capitalists to commit white-collar and corporate crimes.
- Gordon (1976): Crime is a rational response to the capitalist system and is found in all social classes.
2. The State and Law Making
- Law making and law enforcement only serve the interests of the capitalist class.
- Chambliss (1975): laws to protect private property are the cornerstone of the capitalist economy.
- The ruling class also have the power to prevent the introduction of laws that would threaten their interests.
- Snider (1993): The capitalist state is reluctant to pass laws that regulate the activities of businesses or threaten their profitability.
3. Selective Enforcement
Powerless groups such as the working class and ethnic minorities are criminalized and the police and courts tend to ignore the crimes of the powerful.
- Reiman (2001): that ‘street crimes’ such as assault and theft are far more likely to be reported and pursued by the police than much ‘white collar’ crime such as fraud or ‘insider trading’ in the City.Thus, the more likely a crime is to be committed by higher-class people, the less likely it is to be treated as a criminal offence.
- In addition, certain groups in the population are more likely to be on the receiving end of law enforcement. As crime is regarded as most common among the working class, the young, and blacks, there is a much greater police presence among these populations than elsewhere, and the approach the police adopt towards them is also said to be more confrontational’.
- Gordon (1976) argues that the selective enforcement of the law helps to maintain ruling class power and reinforce ruling class ideology. It gives the impression that criminals are located mainly in the working class, This divides the working class by encouraging workers to blame the criminals in their midst for their problems, rather than capitalism.
- The law, crime and criminals also perform an ideological function for capitalism. Laws are occasionally passed that appear to be for the benefit of the working class rather than capitalism, such as workplace health and safety laws.
- Pearce (1976) argues that such laws often benefit the ruling class too. E.g. by keeping workers fit for work. By giving capitalism a ‘caring’ face, such laws also create false consciousness among the workers. In any case, such laws are not rigorously enforced.
Evaluation of traditional Marxist theories and explanations of crime
- It offers a useful explanation of the relationship between crime and capitalist society.
- It shows the link between law making and enforcement and the interests of the capitalist class (by doing so it also puts into a wider structural context the insights of labelling theory regarding the selective enforcement of the law).
- It casts doubt on the validity of official statistics on crime. Official statistics are of little use if they simply reflect a policy of selective law enforcement and ruling class control.
- Marxists also offer a solution to crime. By replacing capitalist society with an egalitarian Communist society, the root cause of crime would be removed.
- It has also influenced recent approaches to the study of the crimes of the powerful.
- Not all laws, however, are so clearly in ruling class interests. Many seem to benefit everyone, such as traffic laws.
- It ignores individual motivation. It is highly deterministic, rarely considering notions of individual free‑will.
- It largely ignores the relationship between crime and other inequalities that may be unrelated to class, such as ethnicity and gender.
- It over-predicts the amount of crime in the working class: not all poor people commit me, despite the pressures of poverty.
- Not all capitalist societies have high crime rates.
- The criminal justice system does sometimes act against the interests of the capitalist class. For example, prosecutions for corporate crime do occur (however, Marxists argue that such occasional prosecutions perform an ideological function in making the system seem impartial).
- Left realists argue that Marxism focuses largely on the crimes of the powerful and ignores intra-class crimes (where both the criminals and victims are working class) such as burglary and ‘mugging’, which cause great harm to victims.
5. Neo-Marxist theories of crime and deviance
Neo-Marxists are sociologists who have been influenced by Marxism, but recognise that there are problems with traditional Marxist explanations of crime and deviance. They also seek to combine Marxism with other approaches such as labelling theory.
Taylor et al: ‘The New Criminology’
- The starting point of Taylor et al’s ‘New Criminology’ is a rejection of the traditional Marxist view that workers are driven to crime by economic necessity. Instead, they believe that crime is a voluntary act. In particular they argue that crime often has a political motive, for example, to redistribute wealth from the rich to the poor. Criminals are not passive puppets whose behaviour is shaped by the nature of capitalism. Instead they are deliberately striving to change capitalism.
- Taylor et al are trying to create what they call a ‘fully social theory of deviance’ which has two main sources:
- Traditional Marxist ideas about the unequal distribution of wealth and who has the power to make and enforce the law.
- Ideas from Interactionism and labelling theory about the meaning of the deviant act for the deviant, societal reactions to it, and the effects of the deviant label on the individual.
- In their view, a fully social theory of deviance needs to bring together six aspects:
- The wider origins of the deviant act in the unequal distribution of wealth and power in capitalist society
- The immediate origins of the deviant act – the particular context in which the act takes place
- The act itself and its meaning for the individual – e.g. was it a form of rebellion against capitalism ?
- The immediate origins of the social reaction – the reactions of those around the deviant, such as the police, family and community, to discovering the deviance.
- The wider origins of the social reaction in the structure of capitalist society – especially the issue of who has the power to define actions as deviant and to label others, and why some acts are treated more harshly than others.
- The effects of labelling on the deviants future actions – e.g. why does labelling lead to deviance amplification in some cases but not in others ?
- For Taylor et al, these six aspects are interrelated and need to be understood as part of a single theory.
- Feminist criticise Taylor et als approach for being ‘gender blind’, focussing excessively on male criminality and at the expense of female criminality.
- Left realists make two related points:
- Firstly, this approach romanticises working class criminals as ‘Robin Hoods’ who are fighting capitalism by re-distributing wealth from the rich to the poor. However, in reality these criminals simply prey on the poor.
- Secondly, Taylor et al do not take such crime seriously and they ignore its effects on working class victims.
Neo Marxism and Corporate Crime
1. Chambliss “Saints and Roughnecks” Sheet given out – please see me if needed, RDU – study of policing of “black” and “white” areas.
Hall – Policing the Crisis 1979
Hall studied how governments use crime as a justification for policing and a distraction from underlying issues – in the 1970s unemployment was high, capiltalism was in “crisis” and the economy was collapsing. The media then focussed on a small number of muggings perpetrated by afro-caribbean youths, this led to heightened awareness of the problem and a “moral panic” and distracted the working class from the problems of capitalism.
Gilroy – The Myth of Black Criminality
Gilroy claims that black people are unfairly overrepresented in crime statistics for 2 reasons.
- the police are racist – evidence: Macpherson Inquiry, Mark Daly “Secret Policeman”
- They are protesting against racism e.g. Brixton riots.
White Collar Crime:
White collar crime