Back home

Academic Word List: Exercise 40

Read the following text, paying particular attention to the highlighted words.

Crime, Deprivation and Morality

Criminologists have scarcely addressed, let alone answered, the broad questions of explaining overall trends in crime. Positivist research has generated much data about specific relationships between individual or social characteristics and the likelihood of conviction. Radical approaches have been characterized more by theoretical or programmatic work than by grounded accounts or changing crime patterns. Even the recent "New Left realism" does not address the broader questions of causation, though its leading exponent Jock Young (1986) has rightly emphasised the need to return aetiological questions to the foreground. But so far their explanation of rising crime has largely focused on alleged deficiencies in police strategy, in particular on counter-productive militaristic tactics which exacerbate "public alienation" and therefore impede successful crime control (Kinsey et al., 1986, pp. 40- 2). Admittedly the vicious cycle of police militarization and public alienation is seen to be kicked into play by the economic crumbling of the inner city, but thereafter the weight of the explanation is placed on inadequate (or over-heavy) policing. As will be indicated below, I do not feel that much (if any) of the explanation can lie at the door of the police station.

More plausible is the analysis developed in Dahrendorf's Hamlyn Lectures on "law and order" (Dahrendorf, 1985, 1987). In this the main structural precondition of growing crime is seen as the growth of an underclass. The social prerequisite of the long trend in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries towards lower crime and disorder, and greater police acceptance, was the historical process of working-class incorporation. Uneven and limited though this might have been, the gulf between Disraeli's two nations in the early and mid-nineteenth century became blurred and attenuated by the twentieth. The sharp end of routine policing always falls on the economically marginal, those who live out their lives in public places which routine police patrols regulate, and those who are not integrated into the mainstream institutions of economic and political life. Incorporation of the working class reduced the adult part of this residuum to a politically insignificant, atomistic, albeit cyclically fluctuating stratum. The main grist to the mill of policing was working-class youth, but the perennial conflict between youth and the police is one with ever- changing persona and is not the basis of political conflict.

This changed with the re-emergence of long-term structural unemployment, leading to the de-incorporation of increasing sections of the working class, "who are being defined out of the edifice of citizenship" (Dahrendorf, 1985, p. 98). The underclass in Dahrendorf's account is not simply the product of unemployment. It is the consequence of the apparent structural inevitability of its position: "The majority class does not need the unemployed to maintain and even increase its standard of living. The main point about this category - for lack of a better word we shall call it 'under class' - is that its destiny is perceived as hopeless." (Dahrendorf, 1985, pp. 101-7).

Now there are problems with the simple postulation of a link between unemployment, crime, and disorder, as Mrs Thatcher is only too ready to point out. There is an enormous literature of research on the relationship, which the late Steven Box (1987) has usefully summarised and reviewed in his very important last book, Recession, Crime and Punishment. Box summarises some fifty research projects on the relationship between unemployment and crime. Most are aggregate studies, looking at the correlation over time or across space between levels of crime and unemployment. He sums it up:

The relationship between overall unemployment and crime is inconsistent. On balance the weight of existing research supports there being a weak but none the less significant causal relationship. However, properly targeted research on young males, particularly those from disadvantaged ethnic groups, which considers both the meaning and duration of unemployment, has yet to be done. (pp. 96-7)

Much of this debate has been vitiated by the assumption that if unemployment is causally related to crime, this must be an invariable law: true at all times and places. But it is more plausible to suppose that the meaning of unemployment will vary according to a number of factors, e.g. its duration, social assessments of blame, previous experience of steady employment, perception of future prospects, comparison with other groups, etc. It would be too much, therefore, to expect that there would be a universal and invariant relation. Some support for the link between offending and perceptions of the justice of unemployment is suggested by the research evidence on the connections of income inequality and crime. All the fifteen studies of this reviewed by Box suggest a strong association (over time or cross-sectionally) between economic inequality and crime in general (though this is not true of five studies on homicide specifically) (Box, 1987, pp. 86-98). This plausibly supports the view that it is relative deprivation which is causally related to crime, and that in conditions where unemployment is perceived as unjust and hopeless by comparison with the lot of other groups, this will act as a precipitant of crime. Two recent studies, one American (Thornberry and Christenson, 1984) and one British (Farrington et al., 1986), have both used a novel methodology to establish that at least in the present climate unemployment is linked to crime. They have looked at the commission of offences reported over time by a sample of youths in longitudinal surveys. What is shown is that crime-rates (especially for property offences) were higher during periods of unemployment than of employment. This suggests that holding constant other variables, the same youths commit more crimes while unemployed.

That there should be a link between (a) unemployment and (b) relative poverty, and crime is hardly surprising. Both exacerbate the incentives to commit offences and erode the social controls which would otherwise encourage conformity (relative fearfulness of sanctions, perception of the justice of the system, involvement in conventional activities and relationships, etc.). So it is clearly right to argue as Dahrendorf does that the emergence of an underclass excluded apparently permanently from dominant economic life is a potent condition of rising crime. This is all grist to the mill of orthodox social democratic analyses of crime.

But it cannot be the whole story. First, there is the problem of rising crime during the so-called period of affluence. It is this indeed which prompted the first "new realisms" in criminology: the right-wing realism of James Q. Wilson and his associates in the United States (Wilson, 1975); and the "administrative realism" attributed by Jock Young to our own Home Office Research Unit (Young, 1986). If the rate of crime increases when the adverse social conditions which have been linked to it are becoming ameliorated, the answer must lie elsewhere: either in the failure of the criminal justice system to deliver sanctions with sufficient certainty or positiveness (the "New Right" analysis), or in changes in the availability of criminal opportunities in the environment (administrative criminology).

Dahrendorf accepts both these as possible contributions, but encompasses them within a much broader idea: the growth of anomia, the failure of a social structure to instil adequate commitment to its conventional moral codes, as crystallized into the criminal law. This is more profoundly a matter of the deeper cultural instilling of conformist values than of the effective threat of post hoc sanctions by the criminal justice system. The idea of the failure of the agencies of socialization to instil discipline and moral values because of the effects of post-war "funk" and permissiveness is a favourite stalking-horse of the right-wing populist criminology championed by Norman Tebbit and others (and in a more sophisticated version in Douglas Hurd's Tamworth and other speeches). The Government has eagerly seized on the "evidence" provided by the new affluent and rural as well as urban "lager lout" folk-devils to deny any link between inner-city deprivation and crime. Instead, the finger is pointed at a common moral malaise due to over-liberalization and erosion of discipline (Patten, 1988). Because of this pedigree, the opinions of the Left and of liberals have shied away from examination of the issue of morality in relation to crime. This is a great loss, because at root there is an integral relation between the ideas of crime and morality. Older Marxist criminologies (notably Bonger's) saw the link between economic conditions and crime precisely as lying in the culture of egoism which was stimulated by economic advance under capitalism (Bonger, 1916). This is more evident than ever in recent years with the amorally materialistic culture which has been encouraged by the present Government's economic and social policies. (Labour is beginning to pick up this theme: Guardian, 2 January 1989, p. 3.) But uncomfortable questions must also be raised about the less traditional and disciplinarian approaches to education, to family, and to other social institutions which Left and liberal opinion have championed. What values do we want to underpin social relations and criminal law? How can these be instilled? These problems are ones well recognized and analysed, though not answered, by, for example, Durkheim's discussion of anomie (Fenton et al., 1983) and Dahrendorf's of anomia. As both emphasise, moral education cannot proceed effectively in an economically unjust society. This much is social democratic orthodoxy. But can less authoritarian forms of moral discipline be effective and if so, how are they to be achieved?

(Crime and Policing by Robert Reiner)

Now try the exercises: Exercise a, Exercise b

^

Back to AWL Exercises: Contents