What Are the Strengths and Weaknesses of Realist Criminologies?

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What are the strengths and weaknesses of realist criminologies?

To answer this question, I begin by exploring how right and left realisms emerged as criminological theories in response to radical criminologies. I examine fundamental realism principles, including consideration of commonalities and differences, eg, how they view the cause of crime, their policy implications, etc. From here, I move on to explore their strengths and weaknesses, including what they overlook. Finally, I evaluate how right and left realisms measure up as paradigm examples of theory when compared to the criminologies they superseded.

Realist criminologies emerged in the 1980s as a reaction to radical criminologies of previous decades. The latter shifted the focus of criminology from classicism, with its principles of rational choice and free will (Muncie and McLaughlin, 2004, p7), and from positivism, which propounded that individuals are not responsible for their own actions for biological, psychological and sociological reasons (Muncie and McLaughlin, 2004, p9). In broad terms, radical criminologies such as interactionism, labelling, Marxism and critical criminology concentrate on processes of criminalisation (Muncie and McLaughlin, 2004, p34). These theories study structural factors such as societal relationships and power dynamics, claiming that these perpetuate criminal/deviant behaviour – people become their ascribed labels (Muncie and McLaughlin, 2004, p36). However, such theories have little or no practical political edge, and thus are limited in how well they translate into effective policy. Realist theories represented a significant break from these radical criminologies. They developed in a context of public/political concern with law and order (Muncie and McLaughlin, 2004, p45). The Conservative party was in government and took a tough stance against crime, setting measures to tackle what was perceived to be a growing problem –...
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