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June 6, 2013 / C H Thompson

Left-realism continued 2 – relative deprivation and marginalisation

All the above factors show how crime (from left-realist perspective) needs to be understood in the context of relative deprivation and marginalisation. Relative deprivation is best explained by watching the Mazda car advert below in the context of Pete Townsend’s definition of relative  poverty.

Peter Townsend, pioneered a relative deprivation approach to poverty that covered a wide range of aspects of living standards, both material and social. For Townsend:

Individuals, families and groups in the population can be said to be in poverty when they lack the resources to obtain the types of diet, participate in the activities, and have the living conditions and amenities which are customary, or at least widely encouraged or approved, in the societies to which they belong. Their resources are so seriously below those commanded by the average individual or family that they are, in effect, excluded from ordinary patterns, customs and activities. (Townsend, 1979)

Being employed is a key factor in avoiding relative deprivation as it limits social exclusion – marginalisation. Left-realists position is without a consistent income people are placed on the margins of society (marginalisation) and one way of addressing being marginalised is to join a criminal subculture.

As you can see this is very similar to Merton’s concept of anomie (rather than Cohen’s subculture, as he stresses a non-utilitarian dimension to subcultures). It’s important to point out here, Lea and Young aren’t saying there’s a causal link between deprivation and crime as Marxists do, but it is the sense of injustice coming from being deprived – in other words this view looks at the contradictions causes when expectations are not met by the opportunities offered by society (that’s why it’s early I mentioned Lea and Young were looking at the social causes of crime).

Therefore watching adverts like the Mazda MX-5 advert above merely reminds you if you’ve haven’t got the tools (eg car) of such a lifestyle (throwing a Frisbee around in the sun, while wearing out your expensive car tyres) then you’re living on the margins of society and so are relatively deprived.

Other than addressing issues of relative deprivation what else do Lea and Young suggest?

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