Evaluate the usefulness of marxist explanations to an understanding of crime & deviance. [45 Marks]

  • Created by: Darnell
  • Created on: 29-10-14 19:11


Define - Crime & Deviance;
-A crime is any act which breaks legal rules and can lead to official punishment, and deviance consists of acts that don't follow societal norms and expectations.
-Marxists see crime in the context of the capitalist system, and therefore crime in inevitable in the capitalist system as traditional Marxists believe that capitalism is criminogenic (meaning its very nature causes crime). They question the functionalist assumption that crime is predominantly commited by the working class, arguing that there is a considerable amount of white collar and corporate crime. 

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Main - Criminogenic Capitalism

Bonger - Criminogenic Capitalism
-Dutch Marxist Willem Bonger argued that as the capitalist system is based of greed, selfishness and exploitation, it follows that these values will shape individual's attitudes to life, and was therefore unsurprising that crime was an endemic characteristic in such a society. He recognised that many poor people are driven to crime simply by their circumstances e.g. poverty.
-Crime is the natural outcome of the capitalist system which is based upon the exploitation of the working class.

-Explains why both working and middle class commit crime, rather than simply focusing on white-collar crime like other Marxists tend to 
-View that sees criminals as victims of their circumstances is too sympathetic and ignores victims of their behaviour. There are also plenty of people in poverty who don't resort to crime, which Marxists fail to explain.
-Writers such as Taylor, Walter and Young offer a New Criminology which argues criminals choose to break the law; they are not merely passive victims of capitalism but active in their challenge to capitalist oppression. 

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Main - Hegemony & Law Creation

Hegemony & Law Creation;
-Refers to the process of imposing values that reflect dominant groups upon the population. These values can easily become a reality through the selective use of law creation.
-Achieved by key socialisation agencies encouraging a framework of ideas which legitimises the law creation process as democratic and a reflection of consensus values.
-Masses are duped into accepting functionalist idea that laws exist to reflect the will of the people. Marxists claim that this is a delusion with criminal laws operating to protect the rich and powerful (Box).

Laureen Snider;
-Notes that governments are reluctant to pass laws that threaten profits of large companies
-The most serious acts of deviance are commited by said companies.
-Calculates that cost of corporate crime, in terms of finance and loss of life, significantly exceeds the cost of burglary and robbery.

-Offers a good evaluation of functionalist views on the acceptance of "value consenus"
-Laws such as the minimum wage directly benefit the working class, if so this would mean the nature of law creation has changed
-In todays climate of recession people are less tolerant of the ruling class being so financially superior, therefore we must be wearier of the RC law creation? 

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Main - Law Enforcement

-Marxists claim that the interpretation and enforcement of law by the police and judicial system is biased in favour of the ruling-class.

Chambliss - Study of organised crime;
-Undertook a study of crime in the city of Seattle.
-Discovered a web of connections between organised crime and politicians, senior police officers and businessmen
-Found evidence of widespread corruption whereby the illegal activities of these rich people were frequently ignored.
-Discovered that policing policy concentrated upon the criminal actions of the working class people and areas rather than suspect activities of social elites.

Box - 'Power, Crime and Mystification';
-Suggests that the social control function of the police is of special importance
-They act as a front line mechanism of oppression.
-In times of political crises, e.g. miners strike, the police are given greater freedom to act against subordinate groups.
-Provides compelling evidence of selective law enforcement; 14,000 deaths occur in the USA and 600 in the UK annually because companies break safety regulations; Very few prosecutions against said companies, penalties rarely match degree of crime.

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Main - Law Enforcement (2)

Croall - Softening of Crime;
-Impact and seriousness of corporate crime tends to be softened by being referred to as cons, rip-offs and fiddles.
-Good example is MP's expenses whuich were described by BBC as the MP's expenses row, suggesting it was more of an argument than a crime. 

-Looks at the actual cost of working class crime against that of white collar crime, linking to the idea that WCC is not dealt with appropriately by law enforcers
-Functionalists, the New Right and even New Left Realists would argue that a problem with the Marxist approach is that it almost excuses and minimises working class crime which actually does need enforcement by the law 
-Ignores the victims of such crime and never gets to grips with why the working class might really commit crime. Instead we are obsessed with enforecing WC crimes.

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Main - Crime and Control

Hall et al - The "fear of crime"
-Argued that the state can use the fear of crime to justify new police powers, in particular the right to 'stop and search'
-Heavy policing of working class ares gains the approval of the population who have been convinced that this is where the bulk of criminals live. This therefore diverts the attention away from white collar crime.
-Links to the use of 'moral panics' in the media that cause marginalisation of the working class, leading to self-fulfilling prophecy

-Useful for looking at the ways we are distracted from exploitation by the society.
-Left Realists and more right wing sociologists (Right Realists & Functionalists) would argue that the fear of crime isn't just a media construction
-Argue that some areas are genuinely dangerous to go in to, therefore the medias highlighting of this are is not a device to divert attention away from exploitation but a real way of alerting people to potential crime.
-New Right would argue that heavy policing is essential to control underclass in certain W/C areas and therefore Hall's work is a hindrance to social control. 

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Overall Usefulness & Evaluation

-Traditional Marxism was important to balance theee study of crime, which previously had only centred on working class crime. It could, as an approach, account for both working class & middle class money related crimes e.g. white collar.
-Development of traditional Marxism with the introduction of New Criminology.

-Feminists would argue that this approach ignores crimes against women, which Liberal & Radical feminists would argue have nothing to do with capitalism. Rad Fem - Problem stems from patriarchy - not capitalism
-Seeing the imprisoned sections of the working class as innocent victims and potentially a revolutionary group appears to be naive and minimises the serious acts often perpetrated by these people.
-Interactionists suggest this view misses the complexity of how individuals come to be labelled by the forces of social control as criminals and deviants.
-Therefore the Traditional Marxist view is potentially not as useful as other theoretical perspectives as it tends to simplify crime and deviance down to terms of capitalism and doesn't account for other causes such as the patriarchy or subcultures. 

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