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April 20, 2011 / C H Thompson

Neo-Marxist perspective of crime

Neo-Marxist perspectives of crime differ to Marxist approaches.  As discovered previously, Marxist’s expanded criminology by moving away from discussing what crime and deviance was to exploring the power of some social groups to criminalise.

Taylor et al : ‘The New Criminology’

  • The starting point of Taylor et al’s ‘New Criminology’ is a rejection of the traditional Marxist view that workers are driven to crime by economic necessity. Instead, they believe that crime is a voluntary act. In particular they argue that crime often has a political motive, for example, to redistribute wealth from the rich to the poor.  Criminals are not passive puppets whose behaviour is shaped by the nature of capitalism.  Instead they are deliberately striving to change capitalism.


  • Taylor et al are trying to create what they call a ‘fully social theory of deviance’ which has two main sources:
    • Traditional Marxist ideas about the unequal distribution of wealth and who has the power to make and enforce the law.
    • Ideas from interactionism and labelling theory about the meaning of the deviant act for the deviant, societal reactions to it, and the effects of the deviant label on the individual.
    • In their view, a fully social theory of deviance needs to bring together six aspects:
  1. The wider origins of the deviant act in the unequal distribution of wealth and power in capitalist society
  2. The immediate origins of the deviant act – the particular context in which the act takes place
  3. The act itself and its meaning for the individual – e.g. was it a form of rebellion against capitalism ?
  4. The immediate origins of the social reaction – the reactions of those around the deviant, such as the police, family and community, to discovering the deviance.
  5. The wider origins of the social reaction in the structure of capitalist society – especially the issue of who has the power to define actions as deviant and to label others, and why some acts are treated more harshly than others.
  6. The effects of labelling on the deviants future actions – e.g. why does labelling lead to deviance amplification in some cases but not in others ?

For Taylor et al, these six aspects are interrelated and need to be understood as part of a single theory. Using points 2, 3 and 6 above we can better understand Stuart Hall and Paul Gilroy’s neo-Marxist view of crime and deviance.

  • Stuart Hall’s ‘Policing the Crisis’ is a study of a moral panic over ‘mugging’ in the 1970s
  • In the 1970s a moral panic over mugging happened in Britain
  • Mugging is a concept which was imported from the US in the 1970s and tended to refer to being robbed by black men
  • During the 1970s several newspapers repeatedly reported incidents of mugging


  • This moral panic was built upon the idea of a collective fear of an ‘enemy within’
  • Stuart Hall’s ‘full social theory of deviance’ looked at the idea of the Black mugger as a scapegoat for other social ills of the period
  • Wave after wave of strike action brought about civil unrest and the subsequent challenge to social order and the power of the state
  • Stuart Hall’s point is by making the Black mugger someone to fear, it solidified a fractured UK society around the state
  • Subsequently society allowed the state to randomly stop and search Black youths
  • This labelling of Black youths led to a process of deviancy amplification
  • Therefore Hall’s idea are more comprehensive as they merge labelling, societal reaction, moral panics and deviancy amplification into a complete ‘social theory of deviance’ as pointed out by Taylor et al

Paul Gilroy took up this social theory of deviance in his book ‘There ain’t no black in the Union Jack’

  • Another example is Paul Gilroy’s: ‘There Ain’t no Black in the Union Jack’
  • Gilroy rejected the view that Blacks’ resorted to crime due to poor socialisation, he said it was a result of ethnic minorities defending themselves against an unjust society
  • Gilroy saw the resultant riots in Toxteth and Southall in 1981 as political acts – this links well to Taylor et al’s point 3 above
  • The riots did remove of the ‘sus’ laws brought in by 1970s ‘muggings


(+) Attempts to be less deterministic by giving criminals the choice of free will

(+) Considers interactionist ideas and looks into the meanings of criminal acts

(+) It is less reductionist as it looks at the full picture of crime

(-) Realists say that this approach romanticises working-class crime as being commit by ‘robin hood’ like heroes

(-) The working class commit crime against themselves and not just against the ruling class

(-) It’s not mentioned crime that has been committed with a political motive

(-) The theory has over-emphasised class inequality

(-) Feminists argue that the theory is ‘gender blind’ by only focusing on crimes committed by men


Revision podcast Neo-Marxist Perspective


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