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
Critical
Criminology
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
unrealistic
– Crime cannot be seen as an expression of class
consciousness
– 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
exaggerated
– 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
Understanding
the Individual:
Rejecting the
Social
Uncritical
Common-sense
Management
of Crime
Control
Punitive
Morality
Control Theories of Criminality
• Very different notion of “human
nature” from most criminological
theories
• 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
1.
Attachment - Interest in each other: to parents, schools, and peers
2.
Commitment - Time and energy spent pursuing conventional actions
produces social capital that would be jeopardised by criminal activity
3.
Involvement - “Devil makes work for idle hands”
4.
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
criminality
Aims of Right Realism
Deterrence
Prevention
Punishment
Segregation
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
work
– 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
criminality
– Make crime too difficult or risky
Administrative Criminology
• “Establishment” criminology in UK and
USA
• An empirical project
• A rational choice perspective
• A reaction to the perceived failure of
criminology to intervene in causes of
criminality
Routine Activities Theory:
Marcus Felson
Crime event will occur when 3 things coincide in time and
space
Motivated
Offender
Crime
Suitable Victim
Lack of
Capable
Guardian
Aim: disrupt this coincidence: remove opportunities for
crime
Conservative and Right Realism:
Common Themes
• Not concerned with explanations for
criminality
• Rational Choice perspective
• Uncritical use of statistical evidence
• Unproblematic Criminal / Non-criminal
distinction
• 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
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