It has long been debated in criminological circles whether or not the law as presently constituted is the result of a society-wide agreement concerning wrongful behavior. Canadian criminology underwent a revolution as foreign influences with regard to the nature and origin of crime permeated academic criminology (Menzies & Chunn, 1999). It is vital to note that in the UK and Canada, there is a general consensus regarding the criminality of acts such as murder or burglary. However, the problem arises when the multiplicity of acts deemed as criminal is considered. It is hard to conclude that all the legal statutes governing moral behavior mirror the people’s will (Tierney & O’Neill, 2013). As a result, various contemporary schools of thought, namely the new deviance theory, left realism, and the new criminology, have emerged in the UK and Canada to help expound on the complexities of criminology. The current schools of criminological theory prove that the formulation of legal statutes and the decision to legalize specific acts are not neutral processes but rather a reflection of the interests of society’s elite.
New Deviancy Theory
New deviancy is a school of criminological theory created as a response to the prevalence of positivist thought. Positivists argued that criminal activity occurred as a result of physical, individual, and social factors. The new deviancy theory advocates for the influence of creativity and free will. In essence, criminal activity is a behavioral response to prevailing dominant forces in society. The definition of a crime is dependent on the presence of a specific action by a group or an individual and the presence of a group whose different values prompt the labeling of the act in question as criminal (Tierney & O’Neill, 2013). It is vital to note that new deviancy proponents challenged fundamental aspects of sociology which proposed that a crime was the violation of a community’s cherished norms (Pavlich, 2001). They further argued that society does not possess a set of objectively shared norms that can be used to define deviance.
The new deviancy theory argues for the evaluation of deviance in its own terms and the application of scientific methods in the assessment of subjective meanings that frame deviant activity. It is vital to note that the resultant findings would yield a better understanding of deviance and the functioning of normal society. The theory proposes that society’s functioning is dictated by the powerful in view of the fact that they have immense control over its ideological apparatus such as the mass media, education, government, and religion. In essence, the cultural, moral, and political values held by the powerful are adopted by society and used as a backdrop against which deviant behavior is defined.
There are a few aspects of the new deviance theory that critics argue fail to adequately explain the origins of crime. For instance, empirical evidence supporting the idea that labeling increases crime is scarce. Therefore, it is difficult to support the theory’s assertions without making explicit references to scientific findings. In addition, not every individual who engages in deviant activity is labeled a criminal. This is the case in instances where the definition of criminal activities varies depending on the laws passed in the area. Therefore, the theory does not offer a comprehensive explanation for the causes of deviance in society.
Proponents of left realism argue that the failure to acknowledge crimes committed by the powerless in society facilitates the generation of ideological policies that target the disenfranchised. In addition, such notions impede the creation of a truly egalitarian society that prioritizes the principles of social justice. In addition, they argue that the failure to acknowledge the severity of female victimization and working-class challenges has facilitated the right-wing’s control over knowledge regarding crime (DeKeseredy, 2020). The premise behind their arguments is the belief that deviant individuals make political assertions that are allowed to permeate the societal fabric, effectively changing what people considered normal (Pavlich, 2001). The mono-dimensional nature of consumer societies has driven people to focus on the latest fashion or the most modern appliance, which inevitably stops people from focusing on critical civic concerns.
Left realism, in its current form, is focused on the process by which individuals are labeled as criminals. It is worth noting that the theory views deviance as the result of societal negotiation. The proponents of this theory surmised that the societal processes which led to the labeling of individuals as deviant were politically instigated (Pavlich, 2001). In essence, society’s most powerful had access to the resources required to label others. Therefore, they had the power to resist labels while labeling the disenfranchised in society as deviant.
There are several issues that arise with regard to the proposals made by left realists. For instance, they have created a false dichotomy between themselves and other criminologists. The adoption of a reformist socialist agenda designed to implement radical changes to political institutions and to create a justice system that accepts the complexities associated with industrial states is untenable. The idea that communities should decide the types of actions to criminalize is likely to jeopardize the activities of the established justice system. Finally, it is vital to note that left realism almost exclusively addresses street crime committed by working-class citizens. This narrow view limits the theory’s generalizability in a diverse population.
The New Criminology Perspective
This theoretical school of criminology bases its arguments on observations made by Karl Marx. For instance, it uses his evaluation of the elements of a bourgeois political economy to propose the origin of crime. In essence, the individual is excluded as the cause of deviance. Instead, his or her exposure to the social and political systems which provide and maintain the conditions necessary for deviant behavior are to blame (Sikand & Reddy, 2017). The theory is centered around the belief that society’s elite use criminal law as a tool to control specific threats to their power and positions. The powerful essentially use the legal apparatus to define correct behavior forcing individuals who do not meet the threshold to remain subjugated. It is vital to note that the new criminology veers away from the definition of crime as the purposeful violation of laws. Instead, the new criminology views deviance as the conscious creation of standards aimed at serving the will of those with the capacity to manipulate the formulation of legal statutes. Therefore, the definition of criminal activity is a function of social position.
It is vital to note that the theory perceives crime as an inextricable part of capitalism and its political features, which guarantee success for exploitative elites. While the less privileged may disagree on the definitions of crime, they are forced to obey given that the powerful in society enforce laws dissuading deviance through the police. The new criminology alluded to the fact that if the elite did not control the deviance definition process, a restructured criminal code would emerge. While the theory does not advocate for the declassification of crimes such as homicide, rape, or robbery, it uses a scientific approach to demystify the origin of elite-engineered non-consensual crimes such as the use of certain drugs and prostitution. The new criminology focuses on clarifying the origins and applications of criminal law. In addition, it is determined to expose the mechanisms through which social control agencies collude with the elite and proposes new definitions intended to correct the imbalance that resulted from their control of legislation.
The new criminology’s critics argue that the theoretical approach it applies is not new. Its origins can be traced to the criminological-sociological theory. It also possesses elements from social pathology, conflict theory, and functionalism. The critics further argue that the theory places excessive emphasis on crime’s political nature. The belief that the poor commit crimes that are politically instigated is untrue. This application of selective determinism argues that only the behavior of the disenfranchised is socially determined, which essentially means individuals in this category have no control over their lives. The excessive politicization has increased focus on the criminal while ignoring the victim entirely.
The formulation of legal statutes was evidently not a neutral process designed to reflect the common good. The new deviance theory, left realism and the new criminology perspective demonstrate that legal processes were influenced by society’s most powerful people and were designed to maintain their entitled positions. Even though critics have outlined some weaknesses with the highlighted theories, it is clear that they offer logical explanations as to the origins of crime and the process through which specific activities are labeled as crimes. The aforementioned schools of criminological theory are integral parts of criminology in the UK and Canada because they inform the formulation of policies designed to combat crime and promote justice.
DeKeseredy, W. S. (2020). Critical Criminologies. In H. N. Pontel (Ed.), Oxford research encyclopedia of criminology and criminal justice (pp. 1-27). Oxford University Press. Web.
Menzies, R., & Chunn, D. E. (1999). Discipline in dissent: Canadian academic criminology at the millennium. Canadian Journal of Criminology, 41(2), 285–297. Web.
Pavlich, G. (2001). Critical genres and radical criminology in Britain. British Journal of Criminology, 41(1), 150–167. Web.
Sikand, M., & Reddy, K. J. (2017). Role of psychosocial factors in criminal behaviour in adults in India. International Journal of Criminal Justice Sciences, 12(1), 24–44. Web.
Tierney, J. & O’Neill, M. (2013). Criminology: Theory and context. Routledge.