Left Realism and Crime

  • Created by: Amy
  • Created on: 24-01-13 21:21

Left Realism and Crime

Left Realism developed in response to weaknesses of earlier theories of crime. They criticise right realism for ignoring the causes of crime, and they criticise neo-Marxists for focusing too much on corporate crime and ignoring working class crime: crimes by the working class against the working class is a real problem, especially for victims. Therefore, left realism argue we need to take crime seriously.

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Crime and relative deprivation- Young

Left realists argue that crime is linked to deprivation.

However, when employment and living standards were high in the 1960s, crime rates soared; suggesting deprivation alone does not lead to crime.

Instead, left realists link crime to relative deprivation, where someone feels deprived in relation to others or compared with their own expectations. This alone also does not necessarily lead to crime, but coupled with individualism, crime is likely to occur as relationships and communities are weakened and selfish desires pursued.

Individualism is the focus on and concern with the self, to a demand for individual freedom and autonomy. 

The combination of relative deprivation and individualism is the main cause of crime in late modern society, because they do not care about the community as a whole and are individualised thus they perform crimes against their community to get what they are deprived of.

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Relative deprivation and individualism in a late m

Some individuals may experience marginalisation, where they are cut off from mainstream society and are unable to play a full an active role in society. This includes the unemployed, homeless, ethnic minorities etc. This marginalisation can lead to a feeling of powerlessness, leading to frustration and violence.

In a broader context late-modernity has seen the decline in traditional manual jobs over the last 30 years has led to higher levels of unemployment amongst lower working class males, and African-Caribbeans in the UK. This has led to feelings of both relative deprivation and marginalisation.

Essentially they are excluded from wider society: they cannot get work, they are stuck in the poorest parts of the city, and are more likely to be excluded through spells in prison. However, they are included by the media which constantly feeds them a supply of messages and images about what they should have in an increasingly materialistic society.

This helps to fuel their feelings of relative deprivation and marginalisation. According to Young, the lower working class are stuck in a bulimic society: it promotes material goods as desirable but they cannot afford them so turn to crime to acquire them. (They cannot consume these consumer goods: therefore they are starving.) However, this does assume everyone shares the goals and aspirations of society. (Note the similarity here with Merton’s strain theory: see topic 3.)  

However, many people feel a sense of relative deprivation, but most do not turn to crime. Furthermore, although street crime is very serious for the victims, Marxists (topic 5) argue left realists ignore crimes of the powerful, such as corporate and state crime.

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Lea and Young: the vicious circle of crime

To tackle crime effectively, the police rely on information from the community. This depends on good relations between the police and the community.

However, low clear up rates, particularly in inner city areas, have caused the police to lose support, particularly from the young and ethnic minorities. The police stop receiving information, leading to military style policing, where the police ‘swamp’ an area with police and intensify stop and searches. This leads to further resentment from the community, less information and an intensification of military policing, creating a vicious circle of crime e.g. Brixton 1981.

Solution: the police must be more accountable to local communities and focus on local concerns, thereby building better relationships with the community and getting more information.

The police should change priorities: less focus on minor drug crimes and more on domestic violence or racist assaults. The police alone cannot deal with crime and a multi-agency approach is needed where the police work with agencies such as public services, education, housing, community groups etc to deal with crime.

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Preventing crime: Social Crime Prevention

Social crime prevention reflects the left realist view that the underlying causes of crime, such as poverty, poor housing and unemployment, need to be tackled. If these problems can be dealt with crime should be reduced. It is a more long-term crime prevention strategy compared to situational crime prevention 

E.g. The Perry pre-school project in the USA. A group of disadvantaged 3-4 year old black children were given an educational enrichment programme along with regular home visits for a period of two years.

Compared with other disadvantaged 3-4 year old black children those who took part were, by 40, less likely to have been involved in crime or drugs, and more likely to have gained good qualifications at school and secured employment in adulthood, reducing costs of benefits and prison. Therefore, tackling the causes of crime early can have significant social and economic benefits in the long term. 

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Evaluation of left realism


  • recognises crimes where offender and victim are of the same social class
  •   focus on relative deprivation and individualism to explain crime
  • recognises importance of police/community relations to control crime


  •  ignores corporate crime; focus too much on street crime
  • most people feel some sense of relative deprivation, but don’t turn to crime – too deterministic
  •  accepts definitions of crime, rather than challenging them
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The bottom of card 3:

However, many people feel a sense of relative deprivationbut most do not turn to crime. Furthermore, although street crime is very serious for the victims, Marxists (topic 5) argue left realists ignore crimes of the powerful, such as corporate and state crime.

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