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Marxist explanations of crime and deviance

Updated on March 8, 2017

AO1 - Knowledge

Marxist ideology and control:

“Ideology” is a system of ideas and beliefs. Dominant ideology are ideas that suit the powerful bourgeoisie and their interests, and aim to put the powerless proletariat in their place.

“Capitalist ideology” is presented as fact and makes up our reality so that everyone accepts these ideas and they fail to question whether they are true or present our interests. Society is socialised or brainwashed into accepting the capitalist ideology, and it is way for the bourgeoisie to control the proletariat.

Althusser (1970):

He stated that the proletariat are controlled by two institutions:

1) Repressive State Apparatus (RSA) - Direct, obvious and formal controls such as the Government, police and criminal justice system. Can operate at a violent level

2) Ideological State Apparatus (ISA) - Indirect, less obvious and informal such as family, media education and religion. These institutions show the public who are criminal/deviant and they use these messages to scare and divide us. In order for RSA justification to work, ISA is needed.

AO3 - Evaluation

Feminist sociologists disagree with Marxism, and state that too much emphasis is focused on class inequality. Marxism tends to ignore the role of patriarchy that influences the criminal justice system at the top. Feminists also believe that Marxism ignores the importance of racism in the enforcement of laws (they should not focus solely on class) (-)

Marxists have been criticised for stating that communism would remove crime from society. Communism occurred in many Eastern European countries and Russia in the 1960’s and 1970’s, however crime was still prevalent and was still a problem. Therefore crime might always exist in a society no matter how the system is set up (-)

AO1 - Knowledge

Capitalism, Alienation and Criminality:

Marx describes alienation as a sense of powerlessness, lack of control and disconnectedness felt by the proletariat at work (due to exploitation). Alienation and competition is created by the capitalist system and drives people to commit crime.

Bonger (1916) stated that, “Much crime is caused by poverty; during economic depression, the crime rate amongst the poor increases.”

Capitalism creates a climate of competition and inequality due to unequal distribution of resources. This promotes greed, individualism, materialism, domination and racism, and NOT co-operation.

Capitalism creates crime due to desperation and it increases alienation which then further increases crime.

AO3 - Evaluation

Jones (2001) criticises Marxism and stated that capitalism does not always produce high crime rates. In Switzerland, the country has a very established capitalist system, but the crime rates are very low (-)

Jones (2001) criticises how Marxists view the ruling class. The ruling class do have a great deal of power, but it may be incorrect to see them as monopolising power. Instead the role of power might be more complex than Marxists are stating. For instance capitalists cannot always pass the laws and rules they want, for instance insider trading could benefit the ruling class a great deal (inside knowledge about takeovers and mergers). However this is illegal and even though the ruling class would benefit from this, they are not allowed to do it (-)

AO1 - Knowledge

Gordon (1973) – Rational choice:

The focus of public fear and government control is on urban and violent crime, at the expense of ignoring white collar crime which causes society a great deal of harm. Crime is a rational response to situations that people find themselves in. Capitalism creates the conditions for crime to occur. “Ghetto crime” occurs in poor neighbourhoods where legitimate jobs are insecure, low paid and demeaning. The poor turn to crime as a rational response.

Corporate crime occurs due to the competition in the capitalist economy. Corporate crime is an attempt to maximise profits and beat the competition. Again, crime is a rational choice.

AO3 - Evaluation

Left realists state that Marxists place too much emphasis on corporate crime, whilst ignoring other types of crime, and they view this as a weakness in the theory. Left realists claim that crimes such as burglary and violent crime cause more harm than Marxists have acknowledged. The victims of these types of crime tend to be working class and the consequences of such crimes can be devastating. Left realists claim that Marxists present a biased view of crime and offer no way of dealing with crime that is a cause for concern for the population. An example is that ordinary people might be scared of going out after dark due to being mugged, and this is a real problem compared to the crime of tax evasion (which causes less worry and concern) (-)

Marxism does have support from other sociologists and has influenced other sociological theories to develop. For instance Slapper and Tombs (1999) devised “Critical social science” as a theory and they believe that the key features of Marxist theory in relation to corporate crime are correct. Marxism has also influenced the development of neo Marxism too. (+)

AO1 - Knowledge

Chambliss (1976) – Crime and Capitalism

The capitalist economic system generates crime because:

1) The structure of capitalism creates the desire to consume, but we have the inability to earn enough money in order to consume the goods we want. This leads to a contradiction and therefore results in crime

2) Marx recognises that crime removes the proletariat from being a surplus work force, they are either in prison, or they are employed as people who can control crime (police)

3) Criminal acts occur throughout the whole class system, however the enforcement of laws leads to the idea that crime is concentrated in the lower social classes (which is not correct, because it ignores white collar crime).

AO3 - Evaluation

Functionalists such as Durkheim would reject Marxist views. Functionalists would reject the idea that there is conflict between the ruling class and the subject class, and therefore crime would not be committed based on this factor. Functionalists view society as being based on shared consensus and norms and values which are cohesive and hold society together. The ruling class and subject class need to work together and adopt the same norms and values in order to society to run smoothly and therefore crime would not be the result of conflict. Functionalists would also argue that crime is inevitable (which agrees with Marxists) but would advocate that crime is needed in society in order for it to evolve (-)

Gordon and Bonger criticise Marxist theory. They questioned the idea that capitalist society creates crime. Most people in society obey the law and have a value consensus and do not commit crime. Therefore they questioned the idea that capitalism causes crime, because if this was true there would be more crime prevalent in society. (-)


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