Political Debates in Criminology
Dan Ellingworth
Friday, 10 April 2015
Lecture Outline
• Critical Criminology
• Right Realism
• New Labour
Marxist Criminology
• Fully social theory
• Conflict Theory (class)
• Law and Order Ideology
• Critique of CJS
• Critical of link between
class and offending
• Awareness of link between
class and victimisation
Feminist Criminology
• Conflict theory (gender)
• “Hidden” Crime
• Victimisation
• Criminology as part of
dominant ideology
• Suspicion of Official Statistics
• Methodological concerns
Labelling Theory
• Subjectivity: no act is inherently deviant
• Variability in the application of social control
• Social Construction of deviance
• The Law causes Crime
Initial Inspiration: Marxism
• All aspects of society seen in terms of revolutionary
conflict between the working class (proletariat) and the
ruling class (bourgeoisie)
• A macro-level perspective
– Differs from functionalism in that the maintenance of capitalist
society is based on conflict, not consensus
– Ultimately, this conflict will bring about the end of capitalism
– In order to maintain capitalist society, it is necessary for the
ruling class to develop a dominant political ideology to justify
their position: the law represents part of this ideology
• Was Marx a criminologist?
Crime …. the struggle of the isolated individual against the predominant relations”
(The German Ideology)
• an expression of powerlessness of the ‘dangerous classes’ or lumpen-proletariat
Marxist Criminology
• Crime is
– Egoism and individualism encouraged by capitalism
(Willem Bonger)
– The criminal law represents a ruling class definition of
deviance, which they themselves can break with
impunity. The criminal justice system reflects and
reinforces class division (eg. Jeffery Reiman)
– An expression of class conflict (Paul Q. Hirst)
• the criminal law acts to suppress this by force
• socialization acts to internalise ruling class ideology
Left Idealism  Left Realism
• Ian, Taylor, Paul Walton and Jock Young “The
New Criminology”
– Crime are acts criminalised by the ruling class in their
interest: in a society without widespread inequality (i.e.
socialism), the power to criminalise would be removed
• Viewed the simplicity of left idealism as
– Crime cannot be seen as an expression of class
– Most working class crime is against the working class
– Idealistic forms of Marxism losing political currency in
a climate of the rise of the New Right
– Need to consider issues of The State, Society,
Offenders and Victims
Left Realism’s “Targets”
• Orthodox criminology
– Crime is not the result of under-socialization
– Socialization into capitalist world of egalitarianism and
material deprivation causes crime
– Crime is not an individualized response, but a group /
cultural response
• Reliance on Official Statistics
– working class criminality is re-emphasised and
– Reflects “over-policing”, but over-emphasises real
differences: under-estimating middle and upper class
crime, but also working-class crime
– A critical application of statistical evidence, particularly
self-report and victimisation studies can inform theory
Conservative Criminology
the Individual:
Rejecting the
of Crime
Control Theories of Criminality
• Very different notion of “human
nature” from most criminological
• Traditionally:
– How do social structures work to push
people to commit crime?
• Control Theories:
– Why don’t people commit crime?
• Human nature essentially anti-social
– need to understand how this is controlled
Thomas Hobbes
Travis Hirschi
“Delinquent acts result when an individual’s
bond to society is weak or broken”
Criminality can be directly equated, in all circumstances, to low selfcontrol
Social bonds act to contain individuals
4 elements of social bond
Attachment - Interest in each other: to parents, schools, and peers
Commitment - Time and energy spent pursuing conventional actions
produces social capital that would be jeopardised by criminal activity
Involvement - “Devil makes work for idle hands”
Belief - Broad agreement with societal values
Right Realism
• Politically conservative: consensus position
• Not really concerned with identifying causal explanations
for offending
– "To people who say "crime and drug addiction can only be
dealt with by attacking their root causes", I am sometimes
inclined, when in a testy mood, to rejoin: "stupidity can only
be dealt with by attacking its root causes". I have yet to see a
"root cause" or encounter a government programme that has
successfully attacked it...". James Q. Wilson
• Non-problematic acceptance of official definitions of
crime, measurement of offending, and identification of
Aims of Right Realism
Punishment the key concept
James Q. Wilson
• American criminologist and academic:
advisor to numerous US presidents on crime
since mid-1960s
• “Thinking about Crime”
– root causes of criminality cannot be identified
– increasing punishment as a deterrent unlikely to
– All we can do is to reduce the impact of crime
on people’s lives
James Q. Wilson: “Solutions”
• At a societal level
– A call for re-moralization of society:
emphasizing societal bonds
• At a micro-level
– Adjust the cost / benefit balance of
– Make crime too difficult or risky
Administrative Criminology
• “Establishment” criminology in UK and
• An empirical project
• A rational choice perspective
• A reaction to the perceived failure of
criminology to intervene in causes of
Routine Activities Theory:
Marcus Felson
Crime event will occur when 3 things coincide in time and
Suitable Victim
Lack of
Aim: disrupt this coincidence: remove opportunities for
Conservative and Right Realism:
Common Themes
• Not concerned with explanations for
• Rational Choice perspective
• Uncritical use of statistical evidence
• Unproblematic Criminal / Non-criminal
• Management of crime opportunities:
surveillance / dispersal of control
Criticisms of Right Realism
• Right Realism is an expression of political expediency: an
appeal to base fears of
– The working class
– Ethnic Minorities
– The criminal classes
• The rejection of search for causes is actually a
rejection of theory
• Deterrence is an impractical basis for a criminal
justice system
– Result in denial of civil liberties for the majority
New Labour and Law and Order
• A central plank of the New Labour project
– Competency, rather than ideology
– Competence = toughness
– “Tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime”
• In Office
“What Works” Agenda
Reduction in Crime Figures, though fear up
No reduction in sentencing severity
Some more liberal steps: Human Rights Act;
Macpherson Report; some Youth Justice
changes; multi-agency work; restorative justice
– Managerialism

Left and Right Realism - MMU Understanding Criminology