An introduction to crime and deviance

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Traditional Marxism:

Criminogenic capitalism:

  • For Marxists, crime is inevitable in capitalism because capitalism is criminogenic- by its very nature it causes crime.

  • Poverty may mean that crime is the only way the working class can survive.

  • Crime may be the only way they can obtain the consumer goods encouraged by capitalist advertising, resulting in theft.

  • Alienation and lack of control over their lives may lead to frustration and aggression, resulting in non-utilitarian crimes such as violence.

  • The need to win at all costs or go out of business, along with the desire of self-enrichment, encourages capitalists to commit white collar and corporate crime e.g. tax evasion.

Snider: 'Corporation Crime'

  • Snider argues that corporation crime is the most serious crime in modern industrial countries. She showed this by carrying out research and found out that street crime in the USA cost $4 billion to fix whereas corporation crime cost $80 billion to fix.

  • She also argues that the state wants to attract and protect investment, hence that is why they fail to regulate with laws such as health and safety in the workplace.

  • Finally she argues that there is little prosecution of corporation crime due to it being costly and there being little chance of success.

Gordon: 'Law Enforcement'

  • Gordon argues, crime is a rational response to the capitalist system and hence it is found in all social classes- even though the official statistics make it appear to be largely working-class phenomenon.


  1. Economic infrastructure influences social relationships, values (max profit and wealth).

  2. Economic self interest above collective well being.

  3. Competition encourages individual achievement at expense of others e.g. aggression.

How does law enforcement support capitalism?

  • By punishing the w/c, blaming them and drawing attention away from the 'system'.

  • Imprisoning the w/c neutralises opposition 'legitimately'.

  • Defining criminals as enemies of the state justifies to keep them hidden- if made public they could question the whole 'system'.

The state and law making:

  • Marxists see law making and law enforcement as only serving the interests of the capitalist class e.g. Chambliss argues that laws to protect private property are the cornerstone of the economy. Chambliss illustrates this with the case of the introduction of English law into Britain's East African colonies. The British introduced a tax payable in cash to force the African population to work for them. Since cash to pay the tax could only be earned by working on the plantations, the law served the economic interests of the capitalist plantation owners.

  • The ruling class also have the power to prevent the introduction of laws that would threaten their interests e.g. there are few laws that challenge the unequal distribution of wealth. Snider argues that the capitalist state is reluctant to pass laws that regulate the activities of businesses or threaten their profitability.

Selective enforcement:

  • Marxists argue that although all classes commit crime, when it comes to the application of the law by the justice system, there is selective enforcement. While powerless groups such as the working class and ethnic minorities are criminalised, the courts tend to ignore the crimes of the powerful.

Ideological functions of crime and law:

  • Pearce argues that laws that appear to benefit the working class often benefit the ruling class too e.g. by keeping workers fit for work. Furthermore, because the state enforces the law selectively, crime appears to be largely a working-class phenomenon. This divides the working class by encouraging workers to blame the criminals in their midst for their problems, rather than capitalism.

Evaluation of traditional Marxism:

  • Traditional Marxism shows the link between law making and enforcement and the interests of the capitalist class. By doing so, it puts into a wider structural context the insights of labelling theory regarding the selective enforcement of the law.

  • It largely ignores the relationship between crime and important non-class inequalities such as gender.

  • It is too deterministic and over-predicts the amount of crime in the working class; not all poor people commit crime despite the pressures of poverty.

  • Not all societies have high crime rates; Japan has a homicide rate of 1.0 per 100,000 whereas the US have a homicide rate at 5.6 per 100,000. However, Marxists point out that societies with little or no state provision, e.g. USA, tend to have higher crime rates.

  • Left realists argue that Marxism focuses largely on the crimes of the powerful and ignores intra-class crimes (where both the criminal and victim are working class) such as burglary, which cause great harm to victims.

Neo-Marxism: Critical Criminology

  • Neo-Marxists are sociologists who have been influenced by many of the ideas put forward by traditional Marxism, but they combine these with ideas from other approaches.

  • Taylor et al agree with traditional Marxists that:

  • Capitalist society is based on exploitation and class conflict and characterised by extreme inequalities of wealth and power.

  • The state makes 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 which would reduce the extent of crime or even rid society of crime entirely.

  • However, the views of Taylor et al also differ significantly from those of traditional Marxists.


  • Taylor et al argue that traditional Marxism is deterministic. They reject theories that claim crime is caused by external factors such as subcultures.

  • Taylor et al take a more voluntaristic view. They see crime as meaningful action and a conscious choice by the actor. They argue that crime often has a political motive, e.g. redistribution of wealth. Criminals are not passive puppets whose behaviour is shaped by the nature of capitalism: they are deliberately striving to change society.

  • Taylor et al share with traditional Marxism the goal of a classless socialist society and social equality, but they also emphasise the importance of individual liberty and diversity. They argue that individuals should not be labelled deviant just because they are different, as in capitalist society- instead, they should be free to live their lives as they wish.

A fully social theory of deviance:

  • Taylor et al aim to create a ‘fully social theory of deviance’- a comprehensive understanding of crime and deviance that would help to change society for the better. This theory would have two main sources:

  • Traditional Marxist views on the unequal distribution of wealth and the power to enforce the law.

  • Ideas from interactionism and labelling theory of the meaning of the deviant act for the actor and society and what effect this has on the individual.

In their view, a complete theory of deviance needs to unite six aspects:

  1. The wider origins of the deviant act in the unequal distribution of wealth and power in capitalist society.

  2. The immediate origins of the deviant act- the particular context in which the individual decides to commit the act.

  3. The act itself and its meaning for the actor- e.g. was it a form of rebellion against capitalism?

  4. The immediate origins of social reaction- the reactions of those around the deviant e.g. police and community, to discovering the deviance.

  5. The wider origins of social reaction in the structure of capitalist society- especially the issue of who has the power to define actions as deviant and why some acts are treated more harshly than others.

  6. The effect of labelling on the deviant’s future actions- e.g. why does labelling lead to deviance amplification in some cases but not others?

Evaluation of critical criminology:

  • Feminists criticise it for being ‘gender blind’, focusing excessively on male criminality and at the expense of female criminality.

  • Left realists criticise Neo-Marxists in two ways; 1. Firstly, critical criminology romanticises working-class criminals as ‘Robin Hoods’ who are fighting capitalism by re-distributing wealth. However in reality these criminals simply prey on the poor. 2. Secondly Taylor et al do not take such crime seriously and they ignore its effects on working-class victims.

  • Burke argues that critical criminology is both too general to explain crime and too idealistic to be useful in tackling crime. However, Stuart Hall et al have applied Taylor et al’s approach to explain the moral panic over mugging in the 1970s.


  • Right realism sees crime as a growing problem that destroys communities, undermines social cohesion and threatens society’s work ethic. Right realists criticise other theories for failing to offer any practical solutions to the problem of rising crime.

  • They also regard theories such as labelling as too sympathetic to the criminal and too hostile to the forces of law and order. Right realists are less concerned to understand the causes of crime and more concerned with providing realistic solutions.

The causes of crime:

  • Right realists reject the idea put forward by Marxists and other structural or economic factors such as poverty. For right realists, crime is the product of three factors: individual biological differences, inadequate socialisation and the underclass, and rational choice to offend

Biological differences

  • Wilson and Herrnstein put forward a biosocial theory of criminal behaviour. In their view, crime is caused by a combination of biological and social functions. Biological differences between individuals make some people innately more strongly predisposed to commit crime than others. Similarly, Herrnstein and Murray argue that the main cause of crime is low intelligence, which they also see as biologically determined.

Socialisation and the underclass

  • Charles Murray argues that the crime rate is increasing because of a growing underclass or ‘new rabble’ that is defined by their deviant behaviour and those who fail to socialise their children properly. According to Murray, the underclass is growing both in the US and the UK.

  • Lone mothers are ineffectively socialisation agents especially for boys. Absent fathers means that boys lack male role models and as a result, young males turn to other, often delinquent, role models on the street and gain status through crime rather than supporting their families through a steady job.

  • For Murray, the underclass is not only a source of crime. Its very existence threatens society’s cohesion by undermining the values of hard work and personal responsibility.

  • Murray argues that crime is increasing in both the USA and the UK as a result of welfare dependency as individuals become dependent on the state which leads to a decline in marriage and growth of lone parent families.

Rational choice theory

  • Right realists argue that crime comes from rational choice theory, which assumes that individuals have free will and the power of reason. Clarke argues that the decision to commit crime is a choice based on a rational calculation of the likely consequences.

  • If the perceived rewards of crime outweigh the perceived the costs of crime, or if the rewards of crime appear to be greater than those of non-criminal behaviour then people will be more likely to offend.

  • Right realists argue that currently the perceived costs of crime are low and this is why the cry rate has increased.

  • Felson’s routine activity theory discusses that for a crime to occur, there must be a motivated offender, a suitable target and the absence of a ‘capable guardian’.

Tackling crime

  • Right realists do not believe it is fruitful to try to deal with the causes of crime since these cannot be changed easily. Instead they seek to devise practical measures to make crime less attractive. Their main focus is on control, containment and punishment of the offenders rather than eliminating the underlying causes of offending.

  • Wilson and Kelling’s (1982) article Broken Windows argue that it is essential to maintain the orderly character of neighbourhoods to prevent crime taking hold. Any sign of deterioration, such as graffiti, must be dealt with immediately.

  • They advocate a ‘zero tolerance’ policy towards undesirable behaviour such as prostitution. The role of the police should be to focus on controlling the streets so that law-abiding citizens feel safe.

  • Crime prevention theories should reduce the rewards and increase the costs of crime to the offender e.g. by ‘target hardening’, greater use of prison and ensuring punishments follow soon after the offense to maximise their deterrent effect.

Criticisms of right realism

  • Right realism ignores wider structural causes such as poverty.

  • It overstates offenders’ rationality and how far they make cost-benefit calculations before committing a crime. While it may explain some utilitarian crime, it may not explain much violent crime.

  • Its view that criminals are rational actors freely choosing crime conflicts with its view and their behaviour is determined by their biology and socialisation.

  • It is preoccupied with petty street crime and ignores corporate crime, which may be more costly and harmful to the public.

  • Advocating a zero tolerance policy gives police free rein to discriminate against ethnic minority youth, the homeless etc. It also results in displacement of crime to other areas. Jones notes how right realist policies have failed in the USA to prevent crime rate rising.

Left Realism

  • Left realism developed as a response to two main factors; 1. The need to take the rising crime rate seriously and to produce practical solutions. 2. The influence of right realism on government policy.

  • Like Marxists, left realists see society as an unequal capitalist one. However, left realists are reformist rather revolutionary socialists: they believe in gradual social change rather than a violent revolution to shake up the capitalist system.

  • They believe we need to develop explanations of crime that will lead to practical strategies for reducing it in the here and now, rather than waiting for a revolution to abolish crime.

Taking crime seriously

  • They accuse other sociologists for not taking crime seriously:

  • Traditional Marxists have concentrated on crimes of the powerful. Left realists agree that this is important but they argue that it neglects working class crime and its effects.

  • Neo-Marxists romanticise working class criminals as Robin Hoods, stealing from the rich as an act of political resistance to capitalism. Left realists point out that in fact working-class criminals mostly victimise other working-class people, not the rich.

  • Labelling theorists see working class criminals as the victims of discriminatory labelling by social control agents. Left realists argue that this approach neglects the real victims- working-class people who suffer at the hands of criminals.

  • Young argues that the increase in crime rate has led to an aetiological crisis- a crisis in explanation- for theories of crime. However, left realists argue that the increase is too great to be explained in this way and is a real one: more people are reporting crime because more people are actually falling victim to crime.

  • Taking crime seriously also involves recognising who is most affected by crime. Local victim surveys show that disadvantaged groups have a greater risk of becoming victims, especially of burglary and violence.

The causes of crime

Relative deprivation

  • For Lea and Young, crime has its roots in deprivation. They identify how deprived someone feels in relation to others, or compared with their own expectations. This can lead to crime when people feel resentment that others unfairly have more than them and resort to crime to obtain what they feel they are entitled to.

  • Lea and Young identified a paradox that today’s society is more prosperous and crime-ridden. Although people are better off, they are now more aware of relative deprivation due to the media, which raises everyone’s expectations for material possessions. Those who cannot afford them may resort to crime instead.

  • For Young, ‘the lethal combination is relative deprivation and individualism’. Individualism is a concern with the self and one’s own individual rights, rather than those of the group. It causes crime by encouraging the pursuit of self-interest at the expense of others.

  • For left realists, increasing individualism is causing disintegration of families and communities by undermining the values of mutual support and selflessness on which they are based. This the informal controls that such groups exercise over individuals, creating a spiral of increasing aggression and crime.


  • Marginalised groups lack both clear goals and organisations to represent their interests. Groups such as workers have clear goals and organisations put pressure on employers and politicians. As such, they have no need to resort to violence to achieve their goals.

  • By contrast, unemployed youths are marginalised. They have no organisation to represent them and no clear goals, just a sense of resentment and frustration. Being powerless, to use political means to improve their position, they express their frustration through criminal means such as violence.


  • The left realist view of criminal subcultures is similar to the views of Merton, Cloward and Ohlin and Cohen. For left realists, a subculture is a group's collective solution to the problem of relative deprivation.

  • However, different groups may produce different subcultural solutions to this problem. Weber outlines a 'theodicy of disprivilege'- turning to religion as it offers spiritual comfort and an explanation to their situation. Such religious subcultures may encourage respectability and conformity.

  • Within the African community in Bristol, Pryce identified a variety of subcultures or lifestyles, including hustlers, Rastafarians, 'saints' and working class 'respectables'.

  • For left realists, criminal subcultures still subscribe to the values and goals of mainstream society such as materialism and consumerism.

Late modernity, exclusion and crime

  • Young argues that we are now living in the stage of late modern society, where instability, insecurity and exclusion make the problem of crime worse. He contrasts today's society with the period preceding it, known as the 'Golden Age' of modern capitalist society. This was a period of stability, full employment, security and most importantly, lower crime rates.

  • Since the 1970s, instability, insecurity and exclusion have increased. De-industrialisation and the loss of unskilled jobs has led to an increase in unemployment and poverty, especially amongst the young and ethnic minorities. These changes have destabilised families and communities and contributed to rising divorce rates.

  • Young also notes the growing contrast between cultural inclusion and economic exclusion as a source of relative deprivation:

  • Media-saturated late modern society promotes cultural inclusion: even the poor have access to the media's materialistic messages.

  • Similarly, there is a greater emphasis on leisure, which stresses personal consumption and immediate gratification and leads to higher expectations for the 'good life'.

  • At the same time, despite the ideology of meritocracy, the poor are systematically excluded from opportunities to gain the 'glittering prizes of a wealthy society'.

  • Young's contrast between economic exclusion and cultural inclusion is similar to Merton's idea of anomie- that society creates crime by setting cultural goals, while denying people the opportunity to achieve them by legitimate means.

Tackling crime

  • Left realists argue that we must both improve policing and control, and deal with the deeper structural causes of crime.

Policing and control

  • Kinsey, Lea and Young argue that police clear-up rates are too low to act as a deterrent to crime and that police spend too little time actually investigating crime. The police depend on the public to provide them with information about crime. However with the police losing support, especially from inner cities, the flow of information dries up and the police have to rely on military policing such as using random stop and searches. This alienate communities who see the police as victimising local youth.

  • Left realists argue that policing must therefore be made more accountable to local communities and must deal with local concerns. The police need to improve their relationship with local communities by spending time investigating crime and involving the public in policing policies.

  • Left realists also argue that crime control cannot be left to the police alone- a multi-agency approach is needed. This would involve agencies like local councils as well as voluntary organisations, as well as the public.

Tackling the structural causes

  • Left realists argue that the causes of crime lie in the unequal structure of society and major structural changes are needed if they want to reduce levels of offending. We must become more tolerant of diversity and cease stereotyping whole groups of people as criminal.

Left realism and government policy

  • Left realist views on government policy has strong similarities with the New Labour stance of being 'tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime'. E.g. New Labour's New Deal for unemployed youth and their anti-truanting policies attempt to reverse the exclusion of those young people who are at greatest risk of offending.

  • However, Young regards many of these policies as nostalgic and doomed attempts to recreate the conditions of the 'Golden Age' of the 1950s. Young also criticises the record of governments. He argues that they have largely only addressed the symptoms such as anti-social behaviour- they have been tougher on crime than on tackling its underlying causes.

Evaluation of Left Realism

  • Left realism has succeeded in drawing attention to the reality of street crime and its effects, especially on victims from deprived victims.

  • Henry and Milovanovic argue that it accepts the authorities' definition of crime as being street crime committed by the poor, instead of defining the problem as being one of how powerful groups do harm to the poor.

  • Marxists argue that it fails to explain corporate crime, which is much more harmful even if less conspicuous.

  • Interactionalists argue that, because left realists rely on quantitative data from victim surveys, they cannot explain offenders' motives. Instead, we need qualitative methods to reveal their meanings.

  • Their use of subcultural theory means that left realists assume that value consensus exists and that crime only occurs when this breaks down.

  • Relative deprivation cannot fully explain crime because not all those who experience it commit crime. The theory over-predicts the amount of crime.

  • It focuses on high-crime inner-city areas gives an unrepresentative view and makes crime appear a greater problem than it is.

Comparing right and left realism

  • Both left and right realists see crime as a real problem and fear of crime as rational. On the other hand, they come from different ends of the political spectrum; right realists are neo-conservatives whereas left realists are reformist socialists. This is reflected in how they explain crime- right realists blame individual lack of self-control, while left realists blame structural inequalities and relative deprivation.

  • Political differences are reflected in the aims and solutions to the problem of crime; the right prioritise social order, achieved through a tough stance against offenders whereas the left prioritises justice, achieved thorough democratic policing and reforms to create greater equality.


Gender patterns in crime

  • Heidensohn observes that gender differences are perhaps 'the most significant feature of recorded crime'. Most crime appears to be committed by males.

Official statistics show that:

  • Four out of five convicted offenders in England and Wales are male.

  • By the age of 40, 9% of females had a criminal conviction, as against 32% of males.

Among offenders, there are some significant gender differences. For example, official statistics show that:

  • A higher proportion of female than male offenders are convicted of property offences (except burglary) and of violence or sexual offences.

  • Males are more likely to repeat offences, to have longer criminal careers and to commit more serious crimes.

Such statistics raise three important questions:

  • Do women really commit fewer crimes, or are the figures an invalid picture of gender patterns of crime?

  • How can we explain why those women who do offend commit crimes?

  • Why do males commit more crimes than females?

Do women commit more crime?

  • Some sociologists argue that they underestimate the amount of female as against male offending. Two arguments have been put forward to support this view:

  • Typically female crimes such as shoplifting are less likely to be reported. It is less likely to get media attention than violent crimes usually committed by men.

  • Even when women's crime are reported, they are less likely to be prosecuted or if they are prosecuted, they are more likely to be let off likely.

The chivalry thesis

  • The thesis argues that most criminal justice agents, such as the police, are men and men are socialised to act in a 'chivalrous' way towards women.

  • The criminal justice system is thus more lenient with women and so their crimes are less likely to end up in official statistics. This gives an invalid picture that exaggerates the extent of gender differences in rates of offending.

  • Evidence from self-report studies suggests that female offenders are treated more leniently. Flood-Page et al found that, while only one in 11 female self-report offenders had been cautioned, the figure for males was over one in seven self-report offenders.

  • Women are also more likely than men to be cautioned rather than prosecuted. For example, The Ministry of Justice found that 49% of females recorded as offending received a caution in 2007, whereas for males the figure was only 30%.

Evidence against the chivalry thesis

  • Farrington and Morris' study of sentencing of 408 offences of theft in a magistrates' court found that women were not sentenced more leniently for comparable offences.

  • If women appear to be treated more leniently, it may simply be because their offences are less serious. Furthermore, women offenders are less likely to show remorse, and this may help to explain why they are more likely to receive a caution instead of going to court.

Bias against women

  • Many feminists argue that the criminal justice system is biased against women. Heidersohn argues, the courts treat females more harshly than males when they deviate from gender norms. For example:

  • Double standards- courts punish girls but not boys for premature or promiscuous sexual activity.

  • Women who do not conform to accepted standards of monogamous heterosexuality and motherhood are punished more harshly.

  • Pat Carlin argues that when women are jailed, it is less for 'the seriousness of their crimes and more according to the court's assessment of them as wives, mothers and daughters.

  • Feminists argue that these double standards exist because the criminal justice system is patriarchal.

Explaining female crime

  • Sociologists take the view that social rather than biological factors are the causes of gender differences in offending. This is put forward in three main explanations of gender differences in crime; sex role theory, control theory and the liberation thesis.

Functionalist sex role theory

  • Parsons traces differences in crime and deviance to the gender roles in the conventional nuclear family. While men take the instrumental, breadwinner role, performed largely outside the home, women perform the expressive role where they take the main responsibility for socialising the children in the home.

  • It tends to be the boys that reject feminine models of behaviour that express emotion. Instead boys distance themselves from such models by engaging in 'compensatory compulsory masculinity' through aggression and anti-social behaviour, which can slip into delinquency.

  • Because men have much less of a socialising role than women in the nuclear family, socialisation can be more different for boys than for girls. According to Cohen, this relative lack of an adult male role model means boys are more likely to turn to all male street gangs as a source of masculine identity.

  • New Right theorists argue that the absence of a male role model leads to boys turning to criminal street gangs as a source of identity.

  • Although the theory tries to explain gender differences in crime in terms of behaviour learned through socialisation, it is ultimately based on biological assumptions about sex differences.

  • Feminists locate their explanations in the patriarchal nature of society and women's subordinate position in it.

Heidensohn; Patriarchal control

  • Heidensohn argues that the most striking thing about women's behaviour is how conformist it is- they commit fewer crimes than men. In her view, this is because patriarchal society imposes greater control over women and this reduces their opportunities to offend.

  • Control at home- Women's domestic role imposes severe restrictions on their time and movement and confines them to the house for long periods, thus reducing opportunities to offend. Dobash and Dobash argue that men exercise control through their financial power e.g. denying women funds for leisure activities, thereby restricting their time outside the home.

  • Control in public- Women are controlled in public by the threat of male violence against them, especially sexual violence. The Islington Crime Survey found that 54% of women avoided going out after dark for fear of being victims of crime, against 14% of men.

  • Control at work- Women's behaviour at work is controlled by male supervisors and managers. Sexual harassment is widespread and helps keep women 'in their place'. Furthermore, women's subordinate position reduces their opportunities to engage in major criminal activity e.g. the 'glass ceiling' prevents women rising to senior positions where there is greater opportunity to commit fraud.

Carlen: class and gender deals

  • Using unstructured interviews, Carlen conducted a study of thirty nine 15-46 year old working class women who had been convicted for a range of crimes. She argues that most convicted serious female criminals are working-class.

  • Carlen argues that working class women are generally led to conform through the promise of two types of rewards or 'deals':

  • The class deal: women who work will be offered material rewards, with a decent standard of living and leisure opportunities.

  • The gender deal: patriarchal ideology promises women material and emotional rewards from family life by conforming to the norms of a conventional domestic gender role.

  • If these rewards are not available or worth the effort, crime becomes more likely. Carlen argues that this was the case with the women in her study.

  • In terms of the class deal, the women had failed to find a legitimate way of earning a living and this left them feeling oppressed and the victims of injustice. E.g. thirty-two of them had always been in poverty.

  • In terms of the gender deal for conforming to patriarchal family norms, most of the women had either not had the opportunity to make a deal, or saw few rewards and many disadvantages in family life. E.g. some had been abused physically by their fathers.

  • Many of the women had reached the conclusion that 'crime was the only route to a decent standard of living. They had nothing to lose but everything to gain.' Carlen concludes that poverty and being brought up in care or an oppressive family life were the two main causes of their criminality.


  • Heidensohn shows the many patriarchal controls that help prevent women from deviating.

  • Carlen shows how the failure of patriarchal society to deliver the promised 'deals' to some women removes the controls that prevent them from offending.

  • Carlen's sample was small and may be unrepresentative, consisting as it did largely of working-class and serious offenders.

The liberation thesis

  • Adler argues that, as women become liberated from patriarchy, their crimes will become as frequent and serious as men's. Adler argues that changes in the structure of society has lead to changes in women's offending behaviour, e.g. through greater opportunities in education because of a lack of patriarchal control.

  • As a result, women now commit typically 'male' offences such as white collar crimes. This because of women's greater self confidence and assertiveness, and the fact that they now have greater opportunities in the legitimate structure.

Criticisms of the liberation thesis

Critics reject Adler's thesis on several grounds:

  • The female crime rate began in the 1950s- long before the women's liberation movement, which emerged in the late 1960s.

  • Most female criminals are working class- the group least likely to be influenced by women's liberation, which has benefited middle class women more.

  • There is little evidence that the illegitimate opportunity structure of professional crime has opened up to women.

  • However, Adler's thesis does draw attention to the importance of investigating the relationship changes in women's position and changes in patters of female offending.

  • However, it can be argued that she overestimates both the extent to which women have become liberated and the extent to which they are now able to engage in serious crime.

Why do men commit crime?

Masculinity and crime

  • Messerschmidt argues that masculinity is a social construct or 'accomplishment' and men have to constantly work at constructing and presenting it to others.

  • Messerschmidt argues that different masculinities co-exist within society, but that one of these, hegemonic masculinity, is the dominant, prestigious form that most men wish to accomplish.

  • However, some men have subordinated masculinities e.g. gay men, who have no desire to accomplish hegemonic masculinity. Messerschmidt sees C&D as resources that different men may use for accomplishing masculinity e.g. class differences among youths leads to different forms of rule breaking to demonstrate masculinity.

  • White middle-class youths have to subordinate themselves to teachers in order to achieve middle-class status, leading to an accommodating masculinity in school. Outside school, their masculinity takes an oppositional form e.g. through vandalism.

  • White working-class youths have less chance of educational success, so their masculinity is oppositional both in and out of school. It is constructed around sexist attitudes, being tough and opposing teachers' authority.

  • Black lower working-class youths may have fewer expectations of a reasonable job and may use gang membership to express their masculinity, or turn to serious property crime to achieve material success.

  • Messerschmidt argues that while middle class males commit white collar crime to accomplish hegemonic masculinity, poorer groups may use street robbery to achieve a subordinated masculinity.

Criticisms of Messerschmidt

  • Is masculinity an explanation of male crime, or just a description of male offenders? Messerschmidt is in danger of a circular argument that masculinity explains male crimes because they are crimes committed by males.

  • Messerschmidt fails to explain why not all men use crime to accomplish masculinity.

  • He over-works the concept of masculinity to explain virtually all male crimes, from joy riding to embezzlement.

Winlow: post-modernity, masculinity and crime

  • Globalisation has led to a shift from a modern industrial society to a late modern de-industrialised society. This has led to a loss of many manual jobs. Meanwhile, there has been an expansion of the service sector including pubs and bars.

  • Winlow's study of bouncers in Sunderland, an area of de-industrialisation and unemployment. Working as bouncers in the clubs provided young men with both paid work and the opportunity for illegal business ventures in drugs and alcohol as well as the opportunity to demonstrate their masculinity through the use of violence.

  • Winlow notes that in modern society, there has always been a violent, conflict subculture in Sunderland, in which 'hard men' earned status through their ability to use violence. However, the absence of a professional criminal subculture meant there was little opportunity for a career in organised crime.

Bodily Capital

  • Under postmodern conditions, an organised professional criminal subculture has emerged as a result of the new illicit business opportunities to be found in the night-time economy. In this subculture, the ability to use violence becomes not just a way of displaying masculinity, but a commodity with which to earn a living.

  • The men use their bodily capital to maintain their reputation e.g. the bouncers seek to develop their physical assets by bodybuilding.

  • Winlow notes that this is not just a matter of being able to use violence and win fights, but of maintaining the sign value of their bodies, 'looking the part' so as to discourage competitors from challenging them. This reflects the idea that in postmodern society, signs take on a reality of their own independent of the thing they supposedly represent.

  • Winlow's study shows how the expression of masculinity changes with the move from a modern, industrialised society to a postmodern, de-industrialised one. At the same time, this change opens up new criminal opportunities for men who are able to use violence to express masculinity, by creating the conditions for the growth of an organised criminal subculture.


Ethnicity and criminalisation

  • Black people, and to a lesser extent Asians, are over-represented in the system.

  • Black people make up just 2.8% of the population, but 11% of the prison population.

  • Asians make up 4.7% of the population, but 6% of the prison population.

  • By contrast, white people are under-represented at all stages of the criminal justice process.

  • Such statistics simply tell us about involvement with the criminal justice system e.g. differences in stop and search may be simply be due to policing strategies or to discrimination by individual officers.

Alternative sources of statistics

  • We can call on two other important sources of statistics that can throw a more direct light on ethnicity and offending. These are victim surveys and self-report studies.

Victim surveys

  • We can gain information about ethnicity and offending from such surveys when they ask victims to identify the ethnicity of the person who committed the crime against them.

  • Victim surveys also show that a great deal of crime is intra-ethnic - that is, it takes place within rather than between ethnic groups e.g. according to the British Crime Survey (2007), in 90% of crimes where the victim was white, at least one of the offenders was also white.

However, victim surveys do have several limitations:

  • The rely on victims' memory of events. Evidence suggests that white victims may 'over-identify' blacks- saying the offender was black even when they are not sure.

  • They only cover personal crimes, which make up only about a fifth of all crimes.

  • They exclude the under 16s: minority ethnic groups contain a higher proportion of young people.

  • They exclude crimes by and against organisations, so they tell us nothing about the ethnicity of white-collar criminals.

  • As a result, victim surveys can only tell us about the ethnicity of a small proportion of offenders, which may not be representative of offenders in general.

Self-report studies

  • Self report studies ask individuals to disclose their own dishonest and violent behaviour. Based on a sample of 2,500 people, Graham and Bowling found that blacks (43%), and whites (44%) had very similar rates of offending, while Indians (30%), Pakistanis (28%) and Bangladeshis (13%) had much lower rates.

  • The findings of self-report studies challenge the stereotype of black people as being more likely than whites to offend, though they support the widely held view that Asians are less likely to offend. However, self-report studies have their limitations in relation to ethnicity and offending.

  • Overall, the evidence on ethnicity and offending is somewhat inconsistent e.g. while official statistics point to the likelihood of higher rates of offending by blacks, this is generally not borne out by the results of self-report studies.

Ethnicity, racism and the criminal justice system


  • There has been many allegations of oppressive policing of minority ethnic since the 1970s, including : 'mass stop and search operations, armed raids and a failure to respond effectively to racist violence.'

Stop and search

  • Members of minorities ethnic groups are more likely to be stopped and searched by the police. Police can use this power if they have 'reasonable suspicion' of wrongdoing.

  • Compared with white people, black people are seven times more likely to be stopped and searched and Asian people over twice as likely. It should be noted that only a small proportion of stop and searches result in arrest.

  • Statistics from 2006/7 shows that Asians were over three times more likely to be stopped and searched than other people under the Terrorism Act.

  • It is therefore unsurprising that members of minority ethnic communities are less likely to think the police acted politely when stopping them.

Explaining stop and search patterns

  • Police racism- Phillips and Bowling point out that many officers hold negative stereotypes about ethnic minority as criminals, leading to deliberate targeting for stop and search. Such stereotypes are endorsed and upheld by the 'canteen culture' of rank and file officers.

  • Ethnic differences in offending- An alternative explanation is that stop and searches simply reflect ethnic differences in levels of offending. However, it is useful to distinguish between low discretion and high discretion. In low discretion stops, police act on relevant information about a specific offence e.g. a victim's description of the offender. In high discretion stops, police act without specific intelligence. This is where officers use their stereotypes, that disproportionality and discrimination are most likely.

  • Demographic factors- Ethnic minorities are over-represented in the population groups who are most likely to be stopped such as the young. These groups are all more likely to be stopped, regardless of their ethnicity, but they are also groups who have a higher proportion of ethnic minorities in them, and so minorities get stopped more.

Arrests and cautions

  • Figures for England and Wales in 2006/7 show that the arrest rate for blacks was 3.6 times the rate for whites. By contrast, once arrested, blacks and Asians were less likely than whites to receive a caution.

  • One reason for this may be that members of ethnic minorities groups are more likely to deny the offence and to exercise their right to legal advice. However, not admitting the offence means they cannot be let off with a caution and are more likely to be charged instead.


  • The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) is the body responsible for deciding whether a case brought by the police should be prosecuted in court. Studies suggest that the CPS is more likely to drop cases against ethnic minorities. Bowling and Phillips argues that this may be because the evidence presented to the CPS by the police is often weaker and based on stereotyping of ethnic minorities as criminals.


  • When cases do go ahead, members of minority ethnic groups are more likely to elect for trial before a jury in the Crown Court, rather than in a magistrates' court, perhaps due to mistrust of magistrates' impartiality. However, Crown Courts can impose more severe sentences if convicted.


  • It is therefore interesting to note that black and Asian defendants are less likely to be found guilty; in 2006/7, 60% of white defendants were found guilty as against only 52% of blacks and 44% of Asians.

  • This suggests discrimination, in that the police and CPS may be bringing weaker or less serious cases against ethnic minorities that are thrown out by the courts.


  • In 2006/7, custodial sentences were given to a greater proportion of black offenders (68%) than white (55%) or Asian offenders (59%), whereas whites and Asians were more likely than blacks to receive community sentences. This may be due to differences in the seriousness of the offences, or in defendants' previous convictions.

  • However, a study of five Crown Courts found that, even when such factors were taken into account, black men were 5% more likely to receive a custodial sentences on average three months longer than white men.

Pre-sentence reports

  • One possible reason for harsher sentences is the pre-sentence reports (PSRs) written by probation officers. Hudson and Bramhall argue that PSRs allow for unwitting discrimination. They found that reports on Asian offenders were less comprehensive and suggested that they were less remorseful than white offenders. They place this bias in the context of the 'demonising' of Muslims in the wake of the events of 11 September 2001.


  • In 2007, just over a quarter of male prison population were from minority ethnic groups, including 15% Black and 7% Asian. Among British nationals, 7.4 per 1,000 black people were in jail compared with 1.7 per 1,000 Asians and 1.4 per 1,000 white people.

  • As such, blacks were five times more likely to be in prison than whites. Black and Asian offenders are more likely than whites to be serving longer sentences.

  • Within the total prison population, all minority groups have a higher than average proportion of prisoners on remand (awaiting trial). This is because ethnic minorities are less likely to be granted bail while awaiting trial.

  • Finally, we can note the existence of similar patterns in the US where two out of five prisoners held in local jails are black, while one in five are Hispanic.

Explaining the differences in offending

There are two main explanations for ethnic differences in the statistics:

  • Left realism: the statistics represent real differences in rates of offending.

  • Neo-Marxism: the statistics are a social construct resulting from racist labelling and discrimination in the criminal justice system.

Left Realism

  • Lea and Young argues that ethnic differences in the statistics reflect real differences in the levels of offending by different ethnic groups. Left realists see crime as a product of relative deprivation, subculture and marginalisation.

  • They argue that racism has led to the marginalisation and economic exclusion of ethnic minorities, who face higher levels of unemployment, poverty and poor housing. At the same time, the media's emphasis on consumerism promotes a sense of relative deprivation by setting materialistic goals that many members of minority groups are unable to reach by legitimate means.

  • One response is the formation of delinquent subcultures, especially by young employed black males. This produces higher levels of utilitarian crime such as theft as a means of coping with relative deprivation. Furthermore, these groups are marginalised which leads their frustration to produce non-utilitarian crime such as violence.

  • Lea and Young acknowledge that the police often act in racist ways and that this results in the unjustified criminalisation of some members of minority groups. However, they do not believe that discriminatory policing fully explains the differences in the statistics.

  • Lea and Young thus conclude that the statistics represent real differences in levels of offending between ethnic groups, and that these are caused by real differences in levels of relative deprivation and marginalisation.

  • Similarly, Lea and Young argue that we cannot explain the differences between minorities in terms of police racism.

  • However, Lea and Young can be criticised for their views on police racism e.g. arrest rates in Asians may be lower than blacks not because they are less likely to offend, but because police stereotypes the two groups differently, seeing Asians as passive and Blacks as dangerous.

  • Furthermore, these stereotypes may have changed since 9/11, because police now regard Asians too as dangerous.


  • Gilroy and Hall illustrate the view that differences in offending between ethnic groups are the outcome of a process of social construction and that it stereotypes ethnic minorities as inherently more criminal than the majority population.

Gilroy: the myth of black criminality

  • Gilroy argues that the idea of black criminality is a myth created by racist stereotypes of African Caribbeans and Asians. In reality, these groups are no more criminal than any other. However, as a result of the police and criminal justice system acting on these racist stereotypes, ethnic minorities come to be criminalised and therefore to appear in greater numbers in the official statistics.

  • In Gilroy's view, ethnic minority crime can be seen as a form of political resistance against a racist society, and this resistance has its roots in earlier struggles against British imperialism.

  • Most blacks and Asians in the UK originated from former British Colonies, where their anti-imperialist struggles taught them how to resist oppression. E.g. through rioting. When they found themselves facing racism in Britain, they adopted the same forms of struggle to defend themselves, but their political struggle was criminalised by the British state.

However, Lea and Young criticise Gilroy on several grounds:

  • First-generation immigrants in the 1950s and 60s were very law-abiding, so it is unlikely that they passed down a tradition of anti-colonial struggle to their children.

  • Most crime is intra-ethnic (both the victim and offender are of the same ethnicity), so it can't be seen as an anti-colonial struggle against racism. Lea and Young argue that, like the critical criminologists, Gilroy romanticises street crime as somehow revolutionary, when it is nothing of the sort.

  • Asian crime rates are similar to or lower than whites. If Gilroy were right, then the police are only racist towards blacks and not Asians, which seems unlikely.

Hall et al: policing the crisis

  • Hall et al argues that the 1970s saw a moral panic over black 'muggers' that served the interests of capitalism. They argues that the ruling class are normally able to rule the subordinate classes through consent. However, in times of crisis, this becomes more difficult. In the early 1970s, British capitalism faced a crisis. High inflation and rising unemployment were provoking widespread industrial unrest and strikes.

  • At such times, when opposition to capitalism begins to grow, the ruling class may need to use force to maintain control. However, the use of force needs to be seen as legitimate or it may provoke even more widespread resistance.

  • The 1970ss saw the emergence of a media-driven moral panic about the supposed growth of a 'new' crime- mugging. In fact there was no evidence of a significant increase in this crime at the time.

  • Hall et al argues that the emergence of the moral panic as a specifically 'black' crime at the same time as the crisis of capitalism was no coincidence- in their view, the moral panic and the crisis were linked. The myth of the black mugger served as a scapegoat to distract attention from the true cause of problems such as unemployment.

  • The black mugger came to symbolise the disintegration of the social order- the feeling that the British way of life was 'coming apart at the seams.' The moral panic served to divide the working class on racial grounds and weaken the opposition to capitalism, as well as winning popular consent for more authoritarian forms of rule that could be used to suppress opposition.

  • However, Hall et al do not argue that black crime was solely a product of media and police labelling. The crisis of capitalism was increasingly marginalising black young through unemployment, and this drove some into a lifestyle of hustling and petty crime as a means of survival.

Hall et al have been criticised on several grounds:

  • Downes and Rock argue that Hall et al are inconsistent in claiming that black street crime was not rising, but also that it was rising because of unemployment.

  • They do not show how the capitalist crisis led to a moral panic, nor do they provide evidence that the public were in fact panicking or blaming crimes on blacks.

  • Left realists argue that inner-city residents' fears about mugging are not panicky, but realistic.

Ethnicity and victimisation

  • Racist victimisation occurs when an individual is selected as a target because of their race, ethnicity or religion. Racist victimisation is nothing new, but was brought back into greater public focus with the racist murder of the black teenager Stephen Lawrence in 1993 and the subsequent inquiry into the handling of the police investigation.

Extent and risk of victimisation

  • The police recorded 61,000 racist incidents in England and Wales in 2006/7- mostly damage to property or verbal harassment.

  • However, most incidents go unreported. The British Crime Survey estimates there were around 184,000 racially motivated incidents in 2006/7.

  • The police also recorded 42,600 racially or religiously aggravated offences in 2006/7, mostly harassment. 10,600 people were prosecuted or cautioned for racially aggravated offences in 2006.

  • The 2006/7 British Crime survey shows that people from mixed ethnic backgrounds had a higher risk (36%) of becoming a victim of crime than did blacks (27%), Asians (25%) or whites (24%).

  • Ethnic groups with a high proportion of young males are thus likely to have higher rates of victimisation. However, some of these factors (such as unemployment) are themselves partly the result of discrimination.

  • These statistics do not capture the victims' experience of victimisation. Sampson and Phillips note that racist victimisation tends to be ongoing over time, with repeated 'minor' instances of abuse and harassment interwoven with periodic incidents of physical violence.

  • The resulting long-term psychological impact needs to be added to the physical injury and damage to property caused by offenders.

Responses to victimisation

  • Responses have ranged from situational crime prevention measures such as fireproof doors, to organised self-defence campaigns aimed at physically defending neighbourhoods from racist attacks

  • Such responses need to be understood in the context of accusations of under-protections by the police, who have often ignored the racist dimensions of victimisation and failed to record or investigate reported incidents properly.


Media representations of crime

  • The media over-represents violent and sexual crime. One review by Marsh of studies of news reporting in America found that a violent crime was 36 more times likely to be reported than a property crime.

  • The media portrays criminals and victims as older and more middle class than those typically found in the criminal justice system. Felson calls this the ‘age fallacy’.

  • Media coverage exaggerates police success in clearing up cases. This is partly because the police are a major source of crime stories and want to present themselves in a good light.

  • The media exaggerates the risk of victimisation, especially to women, white people and higher status individuals.

  • Crime is reported as a series of separate events without structure and without examining underlying causes.

  • The media overplay extraordinary crimes and underplay ordinary crimes- Felson calls this the ‘dramatic fallacy’. Similarly, media images lead us to believe that to commit crime one needs to be daring and clever- the ‘ingenuity fallacy’.

News values and crime coverage

  • The distorted picture of crime painted by the news media reflects the fact that news is a social construction- news does not simply exist ‘out there’ waiting to be gathered in.

  • Rather, it is the outcome of a social process in which some potential stories are selected while others are rejected. As Cohen and Young note, news is not discovered but manufactured.

  • News values are the criteria by which journalists and editors decide whether a story is newsworthy enough to make it into the newspaper or news bulletin. If a crime story can be told in terms of some of these criteria, it has a better chance of making the news. Key news values influencing the selection of crime stories include: Immediacy, dramatisation, higher status individuals, violence and risk.

  • One reason why the news media give so much coverage to crime is that news focuses on the unusual and extraordinary and this makes deviance newsworthy by definition, since it is abnormal behaviour.

  • This usually leads to a 'crackdown' on the group. However, this may create a self-fulfilling prophecy that amplifies the very problem that caused the panic in the first place.

Mods and rockers

  • Cohen examines the media's response to disturbances between two groups of largely working-class teenagers, the mods and the rockers, at English seaside responds from 1964 to 1966. Mods wore smart dress and rode scooters; rockers wore leather jackets and rode motorbikes.

  • Although the disorder was relatively minor, the media over-reacted. In his analysis, Cohen uses the analogy of a disaster, where the media produces an inventory or stocktaking of what happened. Cohen says this inventory contained three elements:

  • Exaggeration and distortion- the media exaggerated the numbers involved and the extent of the violence and damage, and distorted the picture through dramatic reporting.

  • Prediction- the media regularly assumed and predicted further conflict and violence would result.

  • Symbolisation- The symbols of the mods and rockers were all negatively labelled and associated with deviance.

  • Cohen argues that the media's portrayal of events produced a deviance amplification spiral by making it seem as if the problem was spreading and getting out of hand. This led to calls for an increased control response from the police and courts. This produced further marginalisation and stigmatisation of the mods and rockers as deviants.

  • The media further amplified the deviance by defining the two groups and their subcultural style. This led to more youths adopting these styles and drew in more participants for future clashes. This encouraged polarisation and helped to create a self-fulfilling prophecy of escalating conflict as youths acted out the roles the media had assigned them.

  • Cohen notes that in large scale modern societies, most people have no direct experience of the events themselves and thus have to rely on the media for information about them.

The wider context

  • Cohen argues that moral panics often occur at times of social change, reflecting the anxieties many people feel when accepted values seem to be undermined. He argues that the moral panic was a result of a boundary crisis, where there was uncertainty about the where the boundary law between acceptable and unacceptable behaviour in a time of change.

  • From a functionalist perspective, moral panics can be seen as ways of responding to the sense of anomie or normlessness created by change. By dramatising the threat to society in the form of a folk devil, the media raises the collective consciousness and reasserts social controls when central values are threatened.

  • In addition, commentators have claimed to identify numerous other examples of folk devils and moral panics in recent decades e.g. single parents.

Criticisms of the idea of moral panics

  • It assumes that the societal reaction is a disproportionate over-reaction- but who is to decide what a proportionate reaction, and what is a panicky one? This relates to the left realist view that people's fear of crime is in fact rational.

  • What turns the 'amplifier' on and off: why are the media able to amplify some problems into a panic, but not others? Why do panics no go on increasing indefinitely once they have started?

  • Do today's media audiences, who are accustomed to 'shock, horror' stories, really react with panic to media exaggerations? McRobbie and Thornton argue that moral panics are now routine and have less impact.

Global cyber-crime

  • As Jewkes notes, the internet creates opportunities to commit both 'conventional crimes' such as fraud and 'new crimes using new tools', such as software piracy. Wall identifies four categories of cyber crime:

  • Cyber-trespass- crossing boundaries into others' cyber property. It includes hacking and sabotage, such as spreading viruses.

  • Cyber-deception and theft- including identity theft, 'phishing' and violation of intellectual property rights.

  • Cyber-pornography- including porn involving minors and opportunities for children to access porn on the Net.

  • Cyber-violence- doing psychological harm or inciting physical harm. Cyber-violence includes cyber stalking, hate crimes against minority groups etc.

  • Policing cyber-crime is difficult partly because of the sheer scale of the Internet and the limited resources of the police and also because of its globalised nature, which poses problems of jurisdiction.

  • However, the new ICT also provides the police and state with greater opportunities for surveillance and control of the population. As Jewkes argues, ICT permits routine surveillance through the use of CCTV cameras, electronic databases, digital fingerprinting and 'smart' identity cards.


Crime and Globalisation

  • Globalisation refers to the increasing interconnectedness of societies, so that what happens in one locality is shaped by distant events and vice versa.

The global criminal economy

  • As Held et al suggest, there has also been a globalisation of crime- an increasing interconnectedness of crime across national borders. Globalisation creates new opportunities for crime, new means of committing crime and new offences. The same process has also brought about the spread of transnational organised crime.

  • Castell argues that there is now a global criminal economy worth over £1 trillion per annum. This takes a number of forms:

  • Arms trafficking to illegal regimes, guerrilla groups and terrorists.

  • Trafficking in nuclear materials

  • Smuggling of illegal immigrants, e.g. the Chinese Triad make an estimated $2.5 billion annually. Etc.

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