The Marxist Approach to Crime and Deviance

A review of:

  • Traditional Marxism
  • The New Criminology
  • Marxist Subcultural Theory
  • Left Realism
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Critical Criminologies (Traditional Marxism)

Traditional Marxism which is based of the idea of a 'reletivistic' theory where there are sets of competing values in this case between the ruling and the working class.

They believe that the basis of the law is that it beneifts only the ruling class mostly because theya re the ones actually making the law and the fact that it is enforced unfairly giving undue attention to the working class and rarely persuing the ruling class

Bonger (1916) is one of the first Marxists to point out that most crime is motivated by the values of greed and selfishness within society and it is this which drives people to crime

Chambliss (1975) studied vagrancy laws within the UK which stated that any person on the road without a job was presumed to be a highwayman to prevent people moving to where workers were in short supply and getting a higher wage


  • The victims of crime are often working class and are not taken account in this particular theory
  • Generally the view is very 'one dimensional' as it does not explore the full complexities of the structures of law making within society.
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The New Criminology

  • This theory first introduced by Taylor, Walton and Young (1973) takes a new approach to studying crime and deviance as knowing influences and motivation was considered not enough.
  • This theory aimed to look at all areas of society rather than just the narrow vision of traditional Marxism looking exclusively at capitalism


  • Hirst (1975) suggests that the theory strays too far from tratidional Marxism
  • Rock (1988) suggests that the theory gives a far too 'romantic' view of offenders who have in fact comitted crimes
  • Feminists suggest that this theory neglects to menteion patriarchy and thus uninvolves women in criminological discussion
  • Methodologically this approach is far too complicated to be properly applied and the theory stands more as a model rather than a practical theory
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Marxist Subcultural Theory

This theory suggests that most cultures are 'locked' into capitalism by the mass media and economic pressures, however there are some groups not locked in and the largest of these groups is made up of working class males:

  • Brake (1980) suggests that resistance is expressed through the working class youth by the cloths they wear and the language they use. Brake suggests that this is 'magical' in that it forms an illusion of change when really nothing is changing
  • Brake goes on to suggest that working class individuals will face the same problems just in idfferent ways due to the way society changes however the ruling class will constantly stay dominant
  • Each generation expresses it's resistance through different choice of clothing, language and music but each will be just as 'trapped' as their parents
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Left Realism

Left realism is a more modern theory for the application of traditional Marxist values. It states that instead of the traditional Marxist idea of overthrowing capitalism we should instead examine society as it exists now in order to expose exploitation but make changes within the current system.

The main differences are that Left Realists suggest a revolution is unlikely and therefore their ideology does differ from traditional Marxism who are waiting for social change to Left Realists who suggest that we must make change happen.

Lefts realists therefore a remore interested in exposing the crimes of the ruling class and the state in order to make change happen

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Crimes of the State

Many Marxist sociologists are keen to investigate crimes of the state and how they get ignored by everyone and usually are nonconsequential to the state:

  • Many of these crimes are around issues such as ignoring the crimes of the extremely powerful within society
  • Conempory examples could be the several issues with tax avoidance or issues around the recent human rights issues such as the giving of life sentences within society however the state has worked ways around this issue.
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