TOPIC 3: Critical criminology

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The traditional Marxist approach - 1

The basis of criminal law

  • Little to steal for poor
  • Personal violence = dangerous
  • Ruling class wish to control right to use violence in society through agents
  • Law operates to protect rich and powerful

Law creation and dominant hegemony

  • Number of agencies used to impose ruling class values on masses
  • Forms framework on which laws are based in democracy
  • Marxists = values 'forced' on people
  • What they believe they are agreeing to as result of own beliefs = interests of ruling class

Law enforcement

  • Provide benefits for population if applied fairly
  • Law not enforced against ruling class
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The traditional Marxist approach - 2

Individual motivation

  • Bonger (1916) = capitalism based on competition/selfishness/greed --> formed people's attitudes
  • Poor people driven to crime by desperate conditions

Crime and control

  • Ruling class diverts attention of vast majority away from understanding of true causes of situation
  • Impose values through mass media/education system/etc. --> provide alternative accounts of reality
  • Crime diverts attention away from exploitative nature of capitalism --> focuses attention on frightening nature of certain criminal groups
  • E.g. heavy policing, 'stop and searches', etc.
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Criticisms of Marxist approach

  • Stephen Jones = activities of capitalists sometimes criminalised --> not always true that law favours ruling classes
  • Left realists = Marxists put undue emphasis on corporate crime at expense of other types of crime, victims of crimes ignored by Marxism
  • Explanation of law creation/enforcement = too simplistic --> no allowance made for complexity of processes of law making/competing groups who exert pressure on governments to amend/create laws
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The New Criminology

  • Wider origins of deviant act = 1970s was period of social crisis in Britain, result of international downturn in capitalist economies
  • Immediate origins of deviant act = riots, conflict in Northern Ireland, high level of strikes, government searching for group to scapegoat
  • Actual act = Mugging more likely to be carried out by people from A-C backgrounds
  • Immediate origins of social reaction = Media outrage - linked to racism
  • Wider origins of social reaction = need to find scapegoats/ease with which young men from A-C backgrounds could be blamed
  • Outcome of social reaction on deviants' further action = sense of injustice amongst ethnic minorities, loss of confidence by ethnic-minority communities
  • Nature of deviant process as whole = real causes not addressed, hidden by CJS
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New left realism

  • Critical of other theories
  • Accuse traditional Marxists of having idealistic views of criminals as political revolutionaries fighting back against capitalism
  • Crime is serious problem = victims ignored by Marxists --> often working classes
  • Traditional Marxists criticised for implying that perpetrators of crime are heroes rebelling against ruling classes
  • Official stats = broadly correct, not just social constructs
  • Accept that policing policies may exaggerate ethnic minority crime rate
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Evaluation of New Criminology

  • Traditional Marxists scathing of Left Realists who openly want to help governments to reduce crime
  • Capitalism itself is cause of crime
  • Marxists criticise Left Realism/New Criminology for placing too much emphasis on street crime - not enough on white collar crime
  • Gordon Hughes (1991) = New Left realism focuses more on victims of crime, balanced theory
  • Feminists = no discussion of power of patriarchy/how patriarchy has profound implications for impact of crime in women's lives
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Marxist subcultural theory

  • Working class boys may join gangs as form of resistance to capitalism
  • Disadvantaged under capitalism
  • Joining gangs offers solution to unemployment/low status work

'The Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies':

  • Capitalism maintains control by ideological dominance through media
  • Economic pressures - people want to keep their jobs/pay mortgages


  • Resistance expressed through working-class youth subcultures
  • Clothes/language show disdain of capitalism
  • 'Magical' = form of illusion
  • Society changes constantly = every generation experiences very different world --> majority will always be exploited by ruling class
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Evaluation of Marxist subcultural theory

  • Matza = young men drift in and out of criminal activity --> looking for excitement, search for subterranean values
  • Interactionists = young men targeted/picked on by police --> process labelling
  • Traditional Marxists = real criminals are corporate criminals, CJS is biased
  • Blackman = emphasis on working-class basis of subcultural resistance ignores huge variation of subcultures --> based on variations in sexual identity/locality/age/intellectual capacity
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Crimes of the state

  • Herman Schwendinger = definitions of state crimes should be extended to include human rights crimes
  • Violation of people's human rights should be defined as illegal/criminal
  • If some groups are denied same opportunities as majority population on basis of racism/sexism/homophobia/economically exploited = unequal conditions are result of crimes against human rights
  • Cohen = criticises Schwendinger --> genocide/torture are clearly crimes, economic exploitation is not clearly criminal
  • Not enough agreement as to what constitutes human rights
  • Schwendinger confusing immorality with criminality --> taking a highly moral value position

Ross: crimes committed by state -

  • Committed within particular country/those by one country on another
  • Between direct and indirect actions of state apparatus
  • Between crimes of commission and omission
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Crimes of the state - 2

  • Indirect state crime = through agencies that are not directly controlled, e.g. police
  • Direct state crime = failing to undertake activities which lead to grave consequences for citizens

Barak (1991): how do states commit crimes in other countries?

  • USA interfered in political processes of Central/South American countries --> ensure that interests of large US corporations safeguarded
  • Activities of US government = supporting rebel groups etc.

Tombs and Whyte: why are crimes of the state rarely discussed?

  • Research in Britain increasingly 'policy oriented' --> state agencies asking for very specific pieces of research
  • Difficult to get conclusions widely distributed
  • Extremely difficult to gain access to more powerful groups --> power to deny access
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Problems of solving crimes of states

  • States define what is criminal within own boundaries --> 'viewpoints'
  • Standard of 'human rights' - state accused of 'crimes of the state' if country breaks internationally agreed 'human rights'
  • States able to prevent sociologists studying whole issue = restricting access to information, refusing to fund research, threats etc.
  • Barak = failure of US government to provide adequate social-security payments/lack of federal healthcare system --> viewed as breach of human rights/state crime
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