Left & Right Realism - Outline the Key Features

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Crime is an issue that has existed for many years, however for individuals to carry out research and create theories into crime as a 'social science' has only emerged within the last few centuries. It is true to say that there are many factors and influences that may lead up to any individual person committing a criminal or deviant act, whether they are biological, psychological, sociological, cultural or gender based. It is necessary to take into consideration these factors to discuss the existence of a crime and typically, criminological research seems to only focus on one or two factors when we should be looking into all of them. Very early criminologists such as Beccaria and Bentham tried to explain crime within the classical school of criminology, focusing on the individuals' need for 'pain' or 'pleasure' and seeing behaviour as rational and self-interested in the pursuit of this, in other words, an individual would commit a crime because he or she wanted to. Another theory by Lombroso with regards to the problem of crime was within a biological context, and suggests that physical and biological traits were to blame for criminal behaviour and that human anthropology could possibly show a genetic correlation between individuals and criminal acts. In the early 20th century, research into criminal behaviour was able to move away from the physical/biological approach and started to delve deeper into the psychological factors and mental processes that influenced criminals. Freud successfully identified that the conflict between the subconscious drives (id, ego and super ego) could possibly result in criminal behaviour, and from this Eysenck managed to devise a form of personality testing that was able to show a link between individual’s personalities and criminal behaviour. Because criminologist theories were leaning more towards a psychological side, questions were raised as certain theorists wanted to study criminology with a more sociological approach, believing that criminal behaviour is acquired and learnt by outside social factors such as class, gender and race (Sutherland 1947). From this approach emerged a more radical perspective. The Labelling theory, which emphasizes on the nature of deviance, suggests that the legal justice system takes into consideration these factors and is not able to make an unbiased decision with regards to punishment i.e. sentences are judged based on an individual’s class status. Marxist criminology was similar to this as it held the view that the causes of crime are rooted in social conditions which empower the wealthy and the politically well organized, but those less fortunate suffer. As a reaction against the sociological positivist approach to crime, realist criminology emerged. (McLaughlin & Muncie, 2004) Realist Criminology separates into two sides. These are Left realism and Right realism. Both are significantly different, and have their own strengths and weaknesses but both have the same aim - to assess crime and to attempt to develop a practical solution to its associated problems. The emergence of Left Realism was brought to directly argue that the main causes of crime are due to deprivation in certain areas. Left Realism focuses on the theory that criminals are not ‘abnormal’ and that crime is a normal part of everyday living within a society. This is an approach shared by the Marxists and the Critical Criminologists. They believed that it was in the interests of the higher classes to define criminal acts as it focuses on the powerless and diverts their attention away from their exploitation (McLaughlin 2004). Left Realists have, whilst taking on board some of the issues raised by Marxism and Critical Criminology, distanced themselves away from a direct link and also completely away from Right Realists. Durkheim saw crime as being a feature of society, not of individuals and his famous study on suicide rates showed an increase in affluent times, not just during...
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