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Left & Right Realism - Outline the Key Features

By tygrelilly Nov 11, 2008 2420 Words
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 economic depression (Durkheim 1895). As society actively supports the self aspiring individual and applauds rags to riches tales because of the focus we see every day on money and status, when certain expectations are not met then an individual experiences a loss of belief and sense of purpose in society which leads to a feeling of hopelessness. Crime is an indication that certain societies are not working, so crime therefore, is from a society with unclear guidelines in right and wrong behaviour. Following on from this research, Merton was able to put forward the notion that individuals were encouraged to pursue unattainable goals, leading to strain theory (Merton 1930). He suggested that frustration is more likely to be experienced by those at the lower end of the social classes such as the unemployed, people with disabilities and the oppressed ethnic minorities. According to strain theory, some people in these vulnerable groups, as a result of frustration and failure to achieve success, may resort to crime in order to achieve their goals which are more often than not money and status orientated (McLaughlin 2004). Left realists therefore, believe that society and social conditions caused crime and that individuals who were at the bottom of the social class ladder and living on the outside of society were forced into criminal acts as they seemed to lack any rights and power with regards to decision making, therefore feeling as though they have no choice but to commit criminal activity in order to make money or to vent their frustrations. It is fair to state that it is not the powerful that lose most from crime. On the contrary, crime is more of a problem for the vulnerable groups in society, such as ethnic minorities, and single young women living in the deprived areas of towns and cities. The working classes are therefore more likely to be victims of crime (McLaughlin 2004) Some Criminologists have seen left realism as 'very influential with the 'New' Labour Government elected in 1997’ (Hopkins 2001), and as a party, New Labour has held much more liberal views and approaches towards dealing with crime. Their main campaign for the 1997 election was for education, believing that if we start with children we can eliminate further social problems in the future. Right realists hold an entirely different view as they believe criminal acts are voluntary and made of free will. Wilson argued that crime flourishes in areas where social control breaks down. Most of us want to commit minor 'incivilities' but are prevented by comments of others in local community i.e. if a dog fouls in the street, we are more inclined to clean this up for fear of disapproval by members of the public and the fear of a monetary fine. If these incidents go unchecked the crime rate will increase. Individuals are intelligent enough in order to not commit crime if they know that they will not gain from it (Wilson 1996). This clearly reiterates the right realist view that people are naturally criminal and those strong deterrents will not work for some individuals. So, eliminating poverty or removing the gaps between the social classes will not stop crime. Right realists state that we need to be stricter in punishment and operate with a zero tolerance policing. They argue that a moral decline leads to a lack of self control at home and that whilst they believe that there is a genetic link to criminal behaviour, they believe that criminals are unable to be cured. Wilson also suggested that by adopting more traditional family values would in effect manage to eliminate many criminal acts. He emphasised that we as individuals must take responsibility for our own criminal acts, and that the decline of moral values in society have managed to contribute to the breakdown of the ‘normal’ family unit, lack of discipline in schools and also the steady decline in religious beliefs. He also raised the question that social improvement would not necessarily ease crime by arguing that research has shown it actually increases crime and that poverty is not therefore linked. Some people are motivated by wanting much more than they already have and also the power that they feel whilst committing a crime is enough to ensure that they carry on. It is fair to comment that a strong government, focussing on separating the innocents from the criminals is the only way to deal with crime. Much higher levels of surveillance, police and government control and a ‘zero tolerance policy' will prevent crime. Their answer is to strengthen key institutions such as marriage and family life and to introduce harsher forms of punishment as an attempt to put off potential criminals. The government at the time of the 1980's agreed with this, although it is fair to note that Great Britain was being ruled by the Conservative Party under Margaret Thatcher who believed that individuals need to look after themselves (Thatcher 1987). Both of these realist theories share similar goals and theories; however they are also polar opposites in their solutions. One common theme they share is that both theories want to find a practical solution to crime. Right realism concentrates much more on the individuals' responsibility towards his or her criminal behavior, and the importance of a strong family unit and personal values and ethics. Whilst it is true that left realism does blame increasing social inequalities, they also are able to see the need for crime control and a need to implement real policies. It is also true to state that both theories share the same views of predatory crime and street crime. Neither theory feels the need to explore the crimes of the higher as they feel more of a need to focus on the crimes of the working. The type of criminals explored in both realist theories is also similar although there is a slight disagreement in the reasons as to why the lower classes are committing crimes. Some further differences between the theories however; are the clearly different solutions posed in order to reduce crime with right realists wanting a stricter and harsher crackdown on punishments which has left realists campaigning for changes within society. Some criminologists however have stated that they do not believe deterrents are not going to be successful in tackling crime. But for society to function without these proposed deterrents is to take away the fact that criminals are different to innocent people and they would therefore have no rules to follow within society. This would lead to many individuals committing crimes knowing that the punishment if caught will have no effect on their day to day life and will carry on with their life of crime. Modern society is based on rules and regulations that most individuals follow so we would see a further societal collapse if these are taken away. The conflicting debates within left and right realism quite clearly are a direct contribution to their strengths and weaknesses. Both theories are so far divided and extreme that neither one can claim to hold the perfect solution to the problem of criminology, in the same way that the Labour Party or the Conservative Party cannot possibly have the all answers to run Great Britain in the ‘correct’ way. Whilst conservatism pushes the individual forward to wanting to achieve higher status and power, without state interference, they also hold the individual person responsible for his or her criminal behaviour. It is fair to state that this theory that a person holds it in their own hands to be whatever they aspire to be, this clearly plays a part in some of the relative deprivation that left realists link to criminal behaviour. Importantly, for left realists seem to place all responsibility on societal inequalities and do not believe that the individual can be held responsible for their actions as they have been ‘forced’ to carry out the criminal activities is unrealistic. It is true that there may be biological reasons that will be part of a reason that causes a person to commit a crime, but clearly the environment in which a person is raised has just a great an importance as any genetic traits. The problem with most criminological theories is that many focus on the reasons as to why crimes are committed and tend to move away from creating possible solutions in order to further prevent crime. Whilst Left & Realists theories are attempting to propose solutions, they are both too radical in order to help the modern society. It would make sense for the sides to work together in order to create a balanced and more sensible approach to crime and the surrounding factors and together create a balanced solution to crime prevention. Both theories each contain relevant points which if put together would create in effect, a ‘super theory’. Deterrents must be in place and people must have rules and regulations to follow, however small societies need to be tackled that currently experience high crime and deviance in order to see a significant reduction.

Hopkins Burke, R (2001) - An Introduction to Criminological Theory Beccaria C. (1764) “The Classical School & the Origins of Crime" in The Causes of Crime edited by J. Muncie and E. Mc Laughlin (2004) Durkheim, E (1895) "Sociological Criminologies" in The Causes of Crime edited by J. Muncie and E. Mc Laughlin. (2004) Eysenck H, J (1964) "Psychological Criminologies" in The Causes of Crime edited by J. Muncie and E. Mc Laughlin (2004) Lombroso C. (1895) "Biological Criminologies" in The Causes of Crime edited by J. Muncie and E. Mc Laughlin. (2004) McLaughlin E. & Muncie J, (2004) - The Causes of Crime p. 8-49 Merton R. (1938) "Sociological Criminologies" in The Causes of Crime edited by J. Muncie and E. Mc Laughlin. (2004) Sutherland E, H. (1970) "Psychological Criminologies" in The Causes of Crime edited by J. Muncie and E. Mc Laughlin. (2004) Wilson J. (1996) "On Deterrence" in Criminological Perspectives - Essential Readings edited by McLaughlin E, Muncie J & Hughes G. (2003) p. 339 Young J. (1996) "Relative Deprivation" in Criminological Perspectives - Essential Readings edited by McLaughlin E, Muncie J & Hughes G. (2003) p. 143 Joyce, P (2006) - Criminal Justice

Newburn, T (2007) – Criminology
Young J (1997) sourced in: & URL accessed on 16/10/2008 Merton R. (1938) sourced in: URL accessed on 16/10/2008 Thatcher M. (1993) sourced in: URL accessed 16/10/2008

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