Evaluate the usefulness of Marxist theory
Evaluate the usefulness of Marxist theory to our understanding of crime and deviance (40 marks) Synopticity – Crime & Deviance sociological theory Marxist explanations of crime and deviance, like their work on other areas like the family and education, rest on an economic and structural analysis of society that sees a class struggle between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. This struggle comprises the attempts by the proletariat to free themselves from the domination of the bourgeoisie as they seek to take over the means of production.
David Gordon argues that crime is an inevitable product of capitalism and the nequality that it generates. He argues that inequalities in wealth and income create poverty and homelessness for the working class and crime is a rational response to these problems. This idea is supported by research which shows property crime rising during recession. Gordon suggests capitalism encourages values such as greed and materialism which are conducive to all classes committing crime.
Such values promote non-economic crimes such as violence, rape, child abuse, vandalism and hooliganism because inequalities in wealth and power lead to frustration, hostility, nw and alienation for some members of the working class who may commit crime in an attempt to retrieve power and status. This theory argues that it is surprising that there is not more working class crime. The idea explained is one of continual conflict and of crime being a continuation or extension of the class battle. However, critics point out that such a view is a bit sweeping, and that the whole of the working class isn’t in revolt or criminal.
To see all crime as a rebellion against the system ignores individual motivation, choice and the act that many people do choose not to break the law; indeed the majority are law abiding. This point was later took up by the New Left Realists, Taylor and Young, who tried to offer a neo-Marxist analysis which allowed for the fact that people, criminal or otherwise, do make choices and don’t have to break the law. They turned to aspects such as deprivation and marginalisation to explain much of youth crime. As well as focusing on working class crime Marxists have looked at crime in a wider focus.
One sees elsewhere, as with the education system, that Marxists link xplanations of internal processes, such as selection, streaming and such, to a wider sort of conspiracy theory tied to the power structure of society. In the education system control of the system is in the hands of the bourgeoisie who order the system for their own needs. Similarly with crime and deviance one sees in writings by people They talk of things like ‘crimes of the powerful’, noting how some crimes, such as those linked to price rigging, health and safety and so on are seen in a much lesser sight by society.
The image we have of the criminal is of the young black male ugger and off working class street crime, and the crime of the middle class is ignored. Marxists further argue that the powerful in society control the law-making system along with everything else and thus are able to pass laws which might appear to be fair and reasonable but which actually work to help preserve their position of power and authority. Yet, these Marxists tend to have a rather simplistic view of the distribution of power in capitalist societies.
While the group which Marxists define as a ruling class might have a disproportionate amount of power, it may be misleading to see this group as onopolising power. A range of non-Marxist theories suggest that the distribution of power is more complex than Marxists tend to believe. Stephen Jones points out that the activities of capitalists are sometimes criminalised. He gives the example of insider trading. If it weren’t illegal, capitalists would be free to make substantial profits out of their knowledge about proposed mergers and takeovers. The illegality of such activity suggests that capitalists can’t always get the laws they want.
The major problem with Marxist analyses of crime and deviance is with their weeping generalisations, trying to apply actions to all people that clearly apply to only a minority. Similarly, their assumption that everything is driven by the economic class struggle is hard to sustain. A convincing case can be made that Marxism provides one of the best explanations of many phenomena identified within societies, but the politics of the world has changed and Marxism is no longer the major social movement for liberation from oppression that it used to be, so it is argued that Marxism’s conceptual apparatus has become less relevant.
In a society where most eople have undergone considerable improvements in their standard of living and where peasant struggles which might have been applicable in the 19th century when Marx was writing seem to be no longer of much relevance. This thus suggests that Marxist theories aren’t useful to our understanding of crime and deviance in contemporary society. Other writers on crime and deviance strongly disagree with the Marxist analysis.
For instance Functionalists might attribute more to imperfect socialisation and see crime as a necessary element of society to help bring about social change but also to einforce the collective conscience of society. Interactionists criticise Marxists for ignoring the processes involved in criminality and the system, for instance Becker and Lemert focus much more on processes of labelling to identify how and why people are called delinquent and criminal.
Many feminist writers, such as Oakley, argue more in common with Marxist writings but with an emphasis more on the evils of patriarchy rather than capitalism. Indeed, they criticise Marxists for ignoring the role of patriarchy in influencing the way the criminal Justice system operates. crime, at the expense of other types of crime. They argue that crimes such as burglary, robbery, and other violent crimes cause greater harm than Marxist theories seem to imply.
The victims of such crimes are usually working class, and the consequences can be devastating for them. To left realists, Marxism offers a rather one-sided view of crime and, in doing so, offers no way of dealing with the types of crimes which are of most concern to most members of the population. In conclusion, one can see that Marxist explanations of crime and deviance are no longer seen as relevant or provable in the modern world and that many from lternative perspectives argue that Marxist thoughts are out of date and invalid.
Indeed, Postmodern criminology rejects Marxist criminology as a ‘metanarrative’ which is neither believable nor defensible. Nonetheless, although it has fallen somewhat out of fashion in recent years, Marxist criminology continues to influence some sociologists who don’t call themselves Marxists. In a study of corporate crime, Slapper and Tombs describe their approach as ‘critical social science’. They stop far short of advocating communism, but still believe that key features of Marxist analysis are essential to explain corporate crime.