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April 20, 2011 / C H Thompson

Neo-Marxist perspective of crime

Gramsci’s new approach to Marxism (neo-Marxism) still emphasises the deterministic qualities of the economic base but instead cuts the superstructure in two halves – political society and civil society. The significance of this ‘split’ becomes apparent further on into this discussion.

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.

This ability to criminalise was critically examined by Stuart Hall. In his book ‘Policing the Crisis’ Hall (1972) explored the rise of ‘mugging’ as a means through which the state use of moral panics can deflect the public’s concerns away from economic and political crisis. You can listen (9:00 to 10:30) to Stuart Hall discussing the conceptual value of moral panics for sociologists

In this process the real problems of UK are defined by the state as being one of lawlessness rather than one of social deprivation, social-class, gender or racial inequalities.

Hall’s argument is the British state faced a crisis of hegemony brought about by Britain’s economic decline through a succession of industrial disputes and social unrest brought about largely by working-class resistance. This resistance was increasingly seen as corrosive to social unity, particularly as a divided society is harder to establish political control over.

Hall viewed the state’s reaction to this crisis of hegemony as an authoritarian one.  In an attempt to regain its legitimacy, the state landed apportioned blame on to youth crime, particularly ‘race’. This was achieved by the state creating a moral panic over mugging, which in turn created scapegoats or folk-devils about black muggers – deviancy amplification. Therefore the state’s construction of who is deviant (a scapegoat) establishes a moral consensus. Is Stuart Hall hypothesis still relevant? This article on how being black means you’re more to be arrested while this article discusses how black drivers are more likely to be stopped.

The complexities of Stuart Hall’s argument are discussed in more detail in this article as well as in slide presentation below.

Revision podcast Neo-Marxist Perspective

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