Aqa a2 Sociology Unit 4 Crime and Deviance with Theory and Methods



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Exam-style question


New Criminology is a neo-Marxist perspective developed in the 1970s by Taylor, Walton and Young in their book The New Criminology. The innovation of their approach, as implied in the title of their book, was to embrace elements of interactionism and labelling theory and, as such, New Criminology made a significant impact on the sociology of crime in the 1970s. However, many regarded it at the time as naïve, political and guilty of over-romanticising crime. Indeed, within a decade, one of its authors, Jock Young, had developed Left realism and disparagingly renamed New Criminology ‘Left idealism’.

This is a detailed beginning to an answer that unpacks New Criminology in some detail for an introduction. It brings in key strengths of synthesis with labelling theory and identifies its key criticisms.

New Criminology developed out of the traditional Marxist perspective on crime which links the causes of crime with inequalities created by the capitalist system. It shows that the traditional Marxist approach is a macro approach, seeing crime as stemming from the inherent inequalities of capitalism. However, by embracing elements of interactionism and labelling theory, New Criminology attempts a synthesis of both structure and process and can be viewed as containing elements of both a macro and a micro approach.



This is a well-constructed paragraph that explores ideas of structure and process, and relates this to macro and micro approaches. Having made a clear initial point, the tone of the paragraph becomes explanatory and critical, gaining AO2 marks in the process.

With their fully social theory of deviance, Taylor, Walton and Young show how the behaviour of the offender, society, social circumstances, social reaction (labelling) and the agents of control such as the police and the courts are linked. They argue that crime is a political act, as criminals see offending as an act against oppression and asserting class consciousness. However, non-Marxist sociologists view this analysis as over-simplistic, naïve and frankly wrong, arguing that criminals are motivated by factors such as greed, material gain, blocked opportunities or status, and would not identify with this New Criminology analysis.



There is good critical analysis of New Criminology here. The criticism is direct and to the point.

While most people viewed the arguments of New Criminology negatively, the final chapter in which Taylor, Walton and Young advocated a ‘fully social theory of deviance’ won widespread approval. Building up through seven points, they located crime in terms of its wider origins (capitalism), its immediate origins (e.g. deprivation), the actual act (individual motivations) and its social reaction (labelling). This shows New Criminology’s attempt to explain crime in terms of both structure and process and deserves credit for being so innovative and embracing elements of macro and micro sociology.



This aspect of New Criminology’s approach is worthy of praise, which is explicitly given in this paragraph, gaining AO2 marks.

Paul Gilroy has been linked to New Criminology and is sometimes referred to as a ‘Left idealist’ for his suggestion that black crime is politically motivated. He sees black crime as a justified and legitimate response to a white racist society. This shows crime as a legacy of the colonial struggle and as an active response. However, Gilroy is heavily criticised for glamorising and romanticising crime and ignoring the pain and hurt it causes. He also ignores the fact that a lot of crime is committed by blacks on blacks, just as New Criminology generally ignores the fact that most crime is committed by the working class on fellow members of the working class.



Gilroy’s ideas from the 1970s reflect the ideas of New Criminology closely and are worthy of inclusion here. His ideas are subject to evaluation so would gain AO2 marks. The useful last point makes a critical comment on New Criminology, gaining further AO2 credit.

New Criminology has come in for some specific criticisms, which raise important questions about its true usefulness. Some have argued that blaming crime on capitalism effectively removes responsibility from the criminal for his actions. This ignores the psychological and financial damage crime can cause. Feminists, such as Pat Carlen, have also criticised New Criminology for ignoring patriarchal structures and excluding women from any discussion.



The further criticisms addressed here would secure more AO2 marks.

In conclusion, while New Criminology can take some credit for shaking up criminology in the 1970s and attempting a synthesis between structure and process, its overt political nature has resulted in most commentators questioning its usefulness in terms of our understanding of crime. A critical indication of its lack of usefulness is the fact that one of its key members, Jock Young, subsequently distanced himself from this approach, regarding it as too idealistic. Young’s subsequent work attempts to explain crime in a more realistic manner through Left realism.



This is quite a long concluding paragraph, but it does make several critical points about New Criminology’s usefulness, thus referring explicitly back to the question.

Labelling theory

1 The ‘outsiders’.

2 The only difference is that deviants are the ones who got caught (and labelled as such).

3 Master status becomes the most important aspect of a person’s identity. Other people define that person by means of this label of identity, as well as the person defining himself by it. ‘Paedophile’ is an example of a deviant master status because of its overriding label of identity.

4 According to Becker it is ‘moral entrepreneurs’ who create the rules and laws. Marxists argue that it is the rich and powerful; functionalists argue that it is the consensus will of the people.

5 Becker saw deviant careers as being linked to the process of labelling and the formation of a master status. When the latter develops, the labelled individual may become isolated and excluded from mainstream society. As a consequence they may then come to associate themselves with similar deviant people. The resulting group may encourage further deviant behaviour (hence ‘career’) by providing a rationale and possibly encouragement.

6 By ‘primary deviance’ Lemert meant the act of deviance and by ‘secondary deviance’ he meant the subsequent social reaction involving a deviant label being attached. Lemert stressed that the act is insignificant; it is only the social reaction that is important.

7 Akers criticises labelling theory for ignoring motives and not differentiating between non-deviant and deviant people who are portrayed simply as victims of the labelling process. He argues that sometimes people choose to do bad things and this should be recognised.

8 Ciçourel’s concept of negotiation is an important idea that demonstrates how some people are more likely to be labelled than others. In his study of two US towns he discovered that it was easier for white middle-class juveniles to negotiate themselves out of being arrested and consequently labelled than those from the working class. His concept can equally be applied to explaining why women might be in a stronger position to negotiate than men, or why black male youths are in a particularly weak negotiating position.

9 The term ‘moral panic’ is associated with the work of Stan Cohen and his study of mods and rockers. The term ‘moral’ implies a decline in ethical awareness of threats to the norms, values, rules and regulations that govern society; ‘panic’ signifies that the problem has arisen suddenly, escalated in a dramatic fashion and become of great concern to society.

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