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Deviance - Neo Marxist and Radical Perspectives

Neo Marxist sociologists of crime and deviance accept that society is characterized by competing groups with conflicting interests. They are all critical of existing capitalist societies and share a concern about the unequal distribution of power and wealth within such societies. In 1973, Ian Taylor, Paul Walton and Jock Young published The New Criminology which was intended to provide a radical alternative to existing theories of crime and deviance. They accept that the key to understanding crime lies in the material basis of society. They see the economy as the most important part of any society. They believe that capitalist societies are characterized by inequalities in wealth and power between individuals and that these inequalities lie at the root of crime. They support a radical transformation of society where sociological theories of crime are of little use unless they contribute in a practical way to the liberation of individuals from living under capitalism. According to Taylor, criminals choose to break the law. They reject all theories that see human behavior as directed by external forces. They see the individual turning to crime as the meaningful attempt by the actor to construct and develop his own self-conception. The New Criminology denies that crime is caused by biology, by anomie, by being a member of a sub culture, by living in areas of social disorganization, by labelling or by poverty. It stresses that crimes are often deliberate and conscious acts with political motives. Many crimes against property involve the redistribution of wealth. Deviants are not just the passive victims of capitalism; they are actively struggling to alter capitalism. They wished to see the overthrow of capitalism and its replacement with a different type of society. They referred to the type of society they wish to see as socialist rather than communist. They placed greater emphasis on freedom in any future society. In the final chapter of The New Criminology Taylor identify seven aspects of crime and deviance which includes the following.

The criminologist first needs to understand the way in which wealth and power are distributed in society. He /she must consider the circumstances surrounding the decision of an individual to commit an act of deviance. It is necessary to consider the deviant act itself to discover its meaning for the persons concerned. The criminologist should consider in what ways and for what reasons other members of society react to the deviance. The reaction then needs to be explained in terms of the social structure. This means that the researcher should attempt to discover who has the power in society to make the rules and to explain why some deviant acts are treated much more severely than others. Taylor accepts that it is necessary to study the effects of deviant labels. However, they emphasize that labelling may have a variety of effects. The amplification of deviance is only one possible outcome. Deviants may not even accept that the labels are justified. They might see their actions as morally correct and ignore the label as far as possible. The relationship between these different aspects of deviance should be studied so that they fuse together into a complete theory. Paul Walton argued that the central aim of The New Criminology was an attempt to undermine correctionalism – the belief that the sociology of crime and deviance should be used to try to get rid of deviant or criminal behavior. To Walton many traditional theories of crime acted as little more than an academic justification for existing discriminatory practices in the penal and criminal justice system. The New Criminology advocated greater tolerance of a variety of behavior. The New Criminology did succeed in opening a new radical approach to criminology. He accepts that realist criminology, feminist criminology and postmodern criminology are all committed to creating a more just and equitable society. They are a continuation of the traditions of The New Criminology.Jock Young defends its role in attacking conventional theories of crime and deviance. He stresses that The New Criminology emphasized the importance of explaining both the actions of offenders and the workings of the criminal justice system. It did not put sole emphasis on the way in which the state defines some people’s behavior as criminal and ignores the crime of others. In this respect Young sees The New Criminology as a precursor to his later approach of left realism.

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