The Marxist approach to deviance is very varied, incorporating a wide number of sociologists who interpret Marx differently. The basic Marxist approach at its simplest is seen as the working class rebelling against the suppressive capitalist system. This is a positivist approach to understanding crime and deviance because deviant behaviour is explained as being produced by forces beyond individual’s controls. Neo-Marxists agree with traditional Marxists, however they believe that the explanation for deviance does not lie solely in the infrastructure of society, they also try to be aware of reactions to those who break the law.This is a social action theorist’s perspective; they accuse positivist’s ideas as being too deterministic, regarding the individual as being too trapped by circumstances and having no free will to resist the circumstances. Under the umbrella term of Marxism also comes a subcultural approach and Left Realism that provide a less idealistic explanation for deviance.
The basic Marxist approach to deviance focuses on the working class suppression by the capitalist system.It sees the Capitalists as using socialisation to maintain control in society, as well as creating laws that benefit and protect the capitalists. A good example of this comes from a study by Box, the study focused on the extent to which large corporations commit crime. Box found that large corporations have the power to avoid the criminalisation of their activities, such as pollution, dangerous machinery and over priced products, largely because ‘commissions’, rather than the police investigate them.Box sees these crimes as consequences of corporations of not being concerned about the effects on others. Marxists also see the capitalists as enforcing the law differently depending on who you are, for example ‘street crime’ is more likely to be pursued than ‘white collar crime’ and different groups are reacted to differently, e. g.
ethnic minorities. Finally, Marxists argue the capitalist system causes individuals to turn to deviance through middle class values and the cultural stress on competition and the acquisition of wealth.Neo-Marxists give an alternative slant on the Marxist approach to deviance. Although they agree on many points, Neo-Marxists differ due to the use of the internationalist theory of labelling which they incorporate into their perspective. Internationalist is a bottom up approach where the individual affects society, not vice versa. Taylor, Walton and Young see the Marxist approach as too deterministic, believing that criminals choose to break the law.
They see criminals not as victims of capitalism, but as people that are actively trying to alter capitalism.They lie down various guidelines that dictate aspects of crime and deviance that should be studies. These points included the circumstances surrounding the crime and the meaning of the act, both which are from an interactionalist perspective. The Neo-Marxist S. Hall illustrates the labelling theory, an interactionalist idea, which is used within the perspective. Hall looks at mugging, which he sees as a ‘moral panic’, the media drew attention to this ‘crime’, which was then stressed by politicians, judges and the police.The panic over mugging occurred when there was a crisis in the economy, and hegemony appeared (when the political leadership and ideological domination is challenged), the government chose to control this by force, using mugging and ‘immigrants’ to take the blame for the problem in society.
The police labelled certain groups and therefore crime was amplified. Media attention on mugging disguised the real reason for the crisis in economy and there was a rise in criminality. Mugging is not even a crime under the law, rather a term used to define various different forms of violence or theft.This study demonstrates the Neo-Marxist approach to deviance as well as illustrating the internationalist approaches Neo-Marxists use. It has been criticised for contradicting itself and also by not showing that the rise of crime was because of a crisis in British Capitalism. Gilroy also supports the theory of labelling in relation to Marxism.
He approaches black criminality, seeing it as a result of the social structure as a whole; blacks and Asians are blamed for society’s problem, which are in reality the responsibility of the capitalists.Left Realists, Lea and Young, criticise Gilroy’s approach, they do not see certain types of crime being specialized toward certain ethnic minority groups. Lea and Young also argue that Traditional Marxists and Neo-Marxists are too idealistic about the causes of crime. They believe Traditional and Neo Marxists place too much emphasis on white-collar crime and neglect street crime. Lea and Young draw on three theories as part of their over all idea about the causes of street crime.
Firstly Lea and Young believe relative deprivation can cause crime, individuals feel deprived compared to other groups, especially with the media stressing the importance of economic success and exposure to middle class values. As a result the deprived individuals come together into subcultures in order to adapt and cope with new lifestyles, one subculture response can be crime. Margnalization is another cause of deviance; those who do not feel represented or accepted often use violence as political action and a way to express frustrations. The left realists incorporate both Marxist and Interactionalist perspectives into their work.They see many of the causes of deviance lying in the structure of society and capitalism, however they also draw on Internationalist ideas such as looking at the individual’s effect and response on crime. However this study does not use any thing new in it, it relies on other studies such as subcultural theories and relative deprivation, therefore it has the same criticisms that relate to those studies.
On the other hand, it does bring the victim back into perspective as well as influencing social policy, such as bringing in traffic wardens so that the police can spend more time investigation crimes.Marxists approach crime from subcultural perspective too, as has already been touched on in Lea and Young’s study. Philip Cohen investigated subcultures in society, seeing them as a result of a changing society, economic stability has varied since the 1960s, as well as redevelopment of houses, loss of the extended family and a whole new ideology of affluence. Responses varied, Cohen says, youth cultures developed that either rejected or accepted the new values. Marxist subcultural theorists believe that the vast majority of crime is committed by the youth, hence it is important to understand youth culture as a key into understanding crime.Subcultural theories look at the symbolism of individual style as well as looking at the activities in relation to the wider structure of the economic and political system. Marxist subcultural theorists have been criticised by feminists for ignoring women, however women commit the least amount of crime.
Cohen criticises the school of thought for believe their explanation for deviance is ‘correct’, he does not believe actions are only taken to attack capitalism, as well as lacking an interest in ‘commercialism’, with the young being ‘creative agents’ not dictated by a consumer society.Of course Marxism does not provide the only theory for crime and deviance. Functionalism also gives a positivist theory of crime. Functionalists such as Durkheim believe crime is functional to society, allowing change to occur, as well as this it brings society together, as in the case of the Soham murders. Merton saw deviance arising from the class structure, and the strain between ‘goals’, the values held by society, and the ‘means’, the norms of society; the way the ‘goals’ are achieved. The strain can lead to a state of anomie, or normlessness and a response to this is crime.The environment can also be a factor in causing deviance.
Ecological theories of crime include ideas of ‘social disorganization’ where the mechanisms of society that prevent people from committing crime in certain areas are weak or absent. This is developed to mean the values laid down by society are rejected in certain areas, often the poorest areas of society. Other ecological explanations say it is the individuals exposure to those who break the law that cause them to turn to crime themselves, as well as placing problem families together that can amplify the problem.In conclusion, Marxists approach to deviance is a very wide perspective.
These theories, especially Neo-Marxist, are useful because they combine positivist and internationalist, therefore both qualitative and quantative methods of investigating, and so potentially getting very thorough results. They do tend to look at society very negatively, unlike functionalists for example. Marxist contribute a wide range and large number of theories towards the explanation for deviance, extending the explanation for crime even further and allowing further understanding into why crime exists and what can be done to prevent it.