Crime and deviance Topic 3A

Marxist explanations

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  • Created on: 16-04-15 11:41


Marx wrote very little about crime a marxist theory of crime was first developed by Bonger (1916) and Chambliss (1975). The marxist analysis of society is best understood by examining the process whereby the magoity population (proletariate) are exploited by the owners of the means of production (bougoisie) of commerce and industry. Marxists argue that this form of exploitation provides the key for uynderstanding the workings of capetalist society.

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The marxist aproach to crime

The five key ellements to the marxist stance of crime

  • The law benefits the rulling class
  • The rulling class impose their values on the rest of the population
  • law enforcment favours the powerful
  • crime is a rational responce to living in an unequel and unfair capetalist society
  • Selective enforment of the law takes away from the unfair nature of society.
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1 the law benefits the rulling class

  • The criminal justice system exists to maintain the power and privledge of the dominant class. The agents of social control construct laws to control and punish the proletariate while they apply an exeedingly light tough to the misdemeaners of the powerful. I.e bosses in charge of banks that went bust allowed to retire with huge pensions,
  • Marxists see power as largely held by those who own and control the means of production- the institutions of society that are shaped by the economic system reflects the relationship between the subject and rulling classes. A key part of the superstructure is the state made up of
  • institutions of social control such as the law, police and influential parts of the mass media. They reflect and serve rulling class interests. Marxists say that as an instrument of the rulling class the state passes laws which: 
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the law benefits hte rulling class 2

while functionalists see laws as an expression of value concensus marxist regard them as a reflection of rulling class ideology. For example

  • Hermann Mannheim (1960)- "the history of criminal legislation in england and many other countries shows that exessive prominence was given by the law to the protection of propety". Chambliss- (1976) such laws were widely unnecacary in feaudal society where land unmovable property was the main source of wealth and landoweners were the "undiputed masters of the economic resources of the country" "the heard of a capetalist economic system is the protection of private property which is by definition the cornerstone upon which capetalist economies function. Its not surprising then that criminal laws reflect this basic concern"

However the increasing importance of trade and commerce (which involves movable property) and the eventual replacement of feaudalism by capetalism resulted in a vast number of laws protecting the property interests of the emerging capetalist class

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the law benefits hte rulling class 3

Laureen Snider- A marxist who investigates the deviant and criminal activities of big buisnesses and goverments nots that the capetalist state is often reluctant to pass laws which regulate large capetalist concerns and which might threaten their profitabillity. She argues capetalist states invest millions into trying to attract investment from corporations having tried so hard to attrack them the state is unwilling to risk alienating large corporations.

snider- "the state is reluctant to pass or enfore stringent laws against pollution, worker health and safety or momopolies such measures frighten off the much sought after investemtn and engender the equally dreaded loss of confidence.

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The rulling class impose their values on the rest

The rulling class impose their values which are beneficial to themselves upon the mass of the population. They do this through a number of agencied such as eduction, religeon, mass media. The concept of rulling class values being imposed upon the population is called hegemony this dominant set of values forms the framework on which laws are based in a democracy. However these values are forced on the people. Hegemony leads to falce class conciousness- we all beleive that the law works in our favour when in fact it benefits the rulling class.

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Law enforcment favours the powerful

The police and judicial systems are "instruments of the rulling class" they will arest and punish the working class but tend not to enforce the law against the rulling casss. these crimes are powerful and tend to be ignored as they are less visable than street crime.

(see Box, Chambliss in topic 1b and cicourel on topic 2b)

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Crime is a rational responce to living in an unequ

Many marxists see crime as a natural outgrowth of capetalist society, they argue that a capetalist economic system generates crime for the floowing reasons:

  • The economic infastructure is the major influence upon social relationships, beleifs and values. The capetalist mode of production emphasises the maximization of profits and the accumulation of wealth
  • Economic self interest rather than public duty motivates behaviour
  • capetalism is base on the private ownership of property, personal gain rather than collective wellbeing is encouraged.
  • Capetalism is a competative sytem, mutual aid and cooperation for the betterment of all are discouraged in favour of individual acheivment at the expense of others. Competition breeds agression, hostility and frustration
  • Chamblis- the greed, self interest and hostility generated by the capetalist system motivates many crimes at all levels within society. Members of each stratum use whatever means and opportunities their class position provides to commit crime. Thus in low income areas the mugger, pusher, pimp and prostetute use what they can . In igher income brackets buisness people, lawyers and politicians have more effective mans at their disposal to grab a larger share of the cake.
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Crime is a rational responce to living in an unequ

Given the unfair nature of capetalist society and particularaly american society

David Gordon (1976)- argues that crime is rational it make ssense in a dog eat dog society where competition is the order of the day, indivduals must fend for themsevers in order to survive. This is particularaly true for the american poor since the usa has minimal welfair services copared to other advanced industrial societies. Gordon concludes - they represent rational responces to the competativeness and inequality of life in capitalist societies.

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Selective enforment of the law takes attention awa

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Selective enforment of the law takes attention awa

Gordon argues that defining criminals as 'animals and misfits, enemys of the state' provides a justification for incarcerating them in prisons- this keeps them hidden from veiw in this way the most embarressing extreems produced by capetalism are swept under the carpet.

Therefore Gordon concludes that the selective enforcement of the law serves to maintain rulling clss power and reinforce rulling clas ideology.

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Evaluation of Marxism

  • Feminists- put undue emphasis on class inequality, they beleive marist theories ignore the role of patriarchy in influencing the way the criminal justice system operates.
  • Marxists have also been accused of neglecting the importance of raceism in enfrcoment of the law.
  • assumes a communist system could erradicate crime in soviat union this was never the case
  • Jones- capetalism doesn't always produce high crime rates for example switzerland has a vey low crime rate
  • Some marxists have a rather simplistic veiw of the distribution of power in capetalist societies- the rulling class may have a disproportionate amount of power but it may be missleading to see them as monopolising power. A range of non marxist theories sugest that the distribution of power is more complex than marxists tend to beleive.
  • Left realists-see marxist theories as putting undue emphasis on corporate cirme at the expense of other types of crime. Left realists argue crimes such as burglary, robbery and other violent crimes cause greater harm than marxist theories seem to imply. the victims of such crimes are usually working class and the concquences can be devastating for them. To left realists marxism offers a rather one sided veiw of crime and in doing so offers no way of dealing with the types of crimes which are of most concern to most members of the population.
  • In defence of traditional marxism it seems plausable to argue that certain sorts of crime like corporate crime are scarecely policed, rarely prosecuted and hardly ever punished.
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Neo marxist aproaches


Many neo marxists take their inspiation from the itallion thinker Antonio Gramsci who applied Marsism to a donsideration of mass media and its role in perpetuating capetalist and fascist ideology. Gramsci developed the idea of hegemony which features in the work of neo marxists such as Hall, Gilroy and Cohen.

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Neo marxist: C+D as acts of rebellion

Some neo marxists have focussed on WC deviants such as mods and rockers, punks and skin heads and suggested that these can be seen as ideological resistence to the dominant adult value system shaped by MC and capetalist values.

CCCS- aruged that youth subcultural styles should be read as a challenge to the class inequality that characterises capetalist society, Cohen- skin heads 1970's and proposed that skinhead styles were a symbolic reaction to the decline in wc communities. their dress was exagerated wc masculinity and agression whilst their anti immigrant stance was a reaction to the decline f their excluevly white wc neibourhoods.

Brake (1980)- argues that this resistence is best seen as "magical" by that he means that its a form of illusion that apears to solve their problems but in reality does no such thing. Acording to him each generation of WC youth face similar problems (dead end jobs, unemployment) but in different circomstances, society changes and every generation experiences a different world whith the one constant being that the majority will be exploited by the rulling class. Each generation expresses itself through different choices of clothes, sland and music but will eventually be trapped like the generation before them

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Neo marxist: C+D as acts of rebellion 2

Scraton- ethnic minorities have been on the receiving end of discrimination since the fist migransts arived, leaving them in a significantly worse socio economic position than the white majority. in responce to this 'cultures of resistence' have emerged in which crime is a form of organised resistene which has its origins in the anti colonial strugle. When young members of an ethnic minority commit a crime it is a political act rather than a criminal one.

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Neo Marxists evaluation

  • Left realists argue this is ' left idealism' where un realistic and impractial. most crime isn't progressive robin hood style instead crime victimises thousands of ordinary people for the most part crime is poor people victimising other poor people it must be taken seriously and not seen as rebellion.
  • Also most members of subcultures ren't aware their actively "resisting capetalism" this is just a maning that has been imposed on their actions by a few radical sociolgists.
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Neo marxist: the new criminology

Tayler, Walton and Young are all neo marxists and produced a book called "the new criminology" which became very influential in the 1970's and 1980's claiming to be a "full social theory of deviance". They argue crime can only be understood by looking at :

  • The wider social origins of the deviant act- inequality, class division
  • The immediate origins of the act- the social context within which the individul chooses to commit an act
  • To investigate the meaning given to the act by those who react to it, such a spolice, politicians, judges and the media
  • The historical context of this raction
  • The impact of the social reaction to a criminal act and the futer impact of the social reaction on the individual.
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KEY STUDY: Hall ET AL Policing the Crisis

  • in this study Hall attempts to provide a "full social theory of deviance" by exploring mugging in the 1970's
  • He argues that there was a "moral panic" about crime and mugging in particular- a crime asociated with black youth.
  • the moral panic over mugging could be explained in the context of the problems that were faced by british capetalism at the start of the 1970's. Economic problems and indistrial and social unrest meant hegemony of the rulling class was under threat and it had to turn to force to control the crisis. Mugging was presented as a key breakdown to law and order. Hall says mugging moral panic helped capetalism in two ways. 
  • The public were persuaded that societies problems were caused by "immigrant" rather thn the faults of capetalist system.
  • Secondly the goverment was able to justify using force to supress the groups challenging them
  • the sociatal reaction to the threat of violnce lead to the labelling of large numbers of young blacks as deviants. Labelling helped tp produce the figures that apeared to show rising levels of black crime which in turn justified stronger police measures.
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KEY STUDY: Evaluaiton

  • Downe's and Rock identify two key weaknesses
  • policing the crisis claims black street crime was not rising quickly while at the same time claiming it was bound to rise due to unempolyment
  • fials to show how the moral panics over mugging was instigated by the state to deflect attemtion from the crisis of British Capetlism

Young- study provides no evidence that the public were panicing about muggin nor that tje public identified the crime with blacks. However the also argues it would be rational for the public to be concerned about street crime

in defence of the study there are pleanty of modern examples with evidence from official ata to suggest that minority groups face disproportinate attention from the state and its agents, it could also be argued that the media obsession with youth crime or with the threat of aisan extreemists is blown out of proportion to conceal or divert attention from the misdemeanours of the ric and powerful.

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