Neo-Marxism: critical criminology

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Neo-Marxisms are sociologists who have been influenced by many of the ideas put foreward by traditional Marxism, but they combine these ideas with ideas from other approaches such as labelling theory.

The most important neo-Marxist contribution to our understanding of crime and deviance has been by Taylor, Walton and Young, who agree with traditional Marxists that:

  • Capitalist society is based on exploitation and class conflict and characterised by extreme inequalities of wealth and power. Understanding this is the key to understanding crime.
  • The state make and enforces laws in the interests of the capitalist class and criminalises members of the working class.
  • Capitalism should be replaced by a classless society. This would greatly reduce the extent of crime or even rid society of crime entirely.

However, the views of Taylor etal also differ slightly from those of traditional Marxists. much of their book is a critique of exisitng theories of crime and deviance, including both Marxist and non-Marxist approaches, and they describe their approach at critical criminology.


Taylor et al argue that traditional Marxism is deterministic. For example, it sees workers a sdriven to commit crime out of economic necessity. They reject this explanation, along with theories that claim crime is caused by other external facotrs such as anomie, subcultues or labelling, or by biological and psychological factors.

Instead, Taylor et al take a more voluntaristic view. They see crime as meaningful action and a conscious choice by the actor. In particular, they argue that crime often has a political motive, for example to redistribute the wealth from the rich to the poor. Criminals are not passive puppets whose behaviour is shaped by the nature of capitalism: they are deliberately striving to change society.

This emphasis on freedom is also evident in their view of what kind of society we should be aiming to create. Taylor et al share with traditional Marxism the goal of a classless socialist society and social equality, but they also emphasise the importance…


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