The area of criminology, which I have chosen to write about, from the choice given within this essay title, is that of 'Left realism', so we will be evaluating the contribution made to criminology which the Left realists have made. Left realists emphasise the role played by the powerful in society, also the crimes they've committed; but in addition it was largely they who shaped the criminal laws, criminalizing types of behaviour which were more common amongst the less powerful. In much of left influenced theory, the criminal is presented as the 'victim' of society rather than as the positive and cognitive offender.
More positively, they widened the scope to point out that the study of crime, like that of all social activities, should encompass all the 'actors': the criminals and law-breakers, the enforcers, the police, and the other organs of state control. Many theories consider crime at a societal level, shaped by wider social aspects (a macro level) and not just and not just the immediate micro level, shaped by smaller local aspects (Lilly, Cullen & Ball, 1995). Left realism aims to look at the micro and macro levels.
It considers crime as it would be perceived by many, either through their own experiences or through those of family and friends, and through media images. It then tests these feelings about criminality and tries to include them in its explanations. Left realism also widens the plane of the debate to the plight and situation of victims and to the informal, community systems of social control. Part of the impetus of the whole school came from feminist writing, concerning victimisation, particularly of women but also more generally the victimisation of the disadvantaged, often by the disadvantaged.
Each of these victim studies exposed the conflicts within the working class. With this, radical and critical criminologists had seen the working class as a unified whole, victimised by the powerful. Recognition of an intra-class and sex-based victimisation was a major force in moving critical and radical criminologists towards a realist debate. The roots of this school also leads us to one of its central points; that crime is a real problem, often a problem for the poor and marginalized. The most important writers in this field are British; these include such prolific authors as, Jock Young, Roger Matthews, Pat Carlen and John Lea.
Jock Young and Roger Matthews, co-wrote two of the books considered as essential, to the area of Left realist theory, these are; 'Rethinking criminology: The realist debate' and 'Issues in realist criminology' (Simpson, 2000). It is seen by many that the essential element in left realism is its holistic approach to the question of criminology. The ideal is to identify the links between all 'facets' and the 'actors'. The recognition of all aspects and actors in the subject is then used both for macro and micro study of the subject. In this approach, which marks the schools out from all the others.
This is not to devalue other aspects of the school but to recognise that many of these almost flow from the holistic approach; this is the strong theoretical aspect at the centre. Left realism therefore, is said to start from the proposition that crime, like other social events, involves various subjects (offenders, victims etc. ) who are engaged in a variety of social actions and reactions. Most earlier theories concentrated on just one or two aspects: the criminal, or the criminal and the victim, or the criminal and the state, particularly the crime control agencies.
Left realism takes over some ideas, which emanate from these theories, but rejects any notion that crime can be studied from a narrow range of its aspects. Left realism is unwilling to compartmentalise the debate in this way and insists there is a multiple relationship, which should not be severed. More specifically, it recognises four main aspects: offenders; victims; formal control (the police and other agencies of social control); and informal control (the public). These four points are posited as the corners of a square.
The essence is to study the interrelationships between them: the approach is sometimes characterised as 'the square of crime' (Young, 1992). Positivist criminology has tended to centre wholly on the criminal and the reasons why he or she committed offences, whether these be, social or biological. Labelling theory and radical criminology centred on the state as constructing both the area of behaviour to be 'delineated' as criminal and the way in which 'actors' would become embroiled in the system, as well as the reaction of the state to certain behaviours.
Whilst recognising the worth of each of these approaches, left realists accept neither because they are too restricted. Full understanding requires consideration of; why people commit crimes; why the state delineates certain activities as unacceptable; why it controls behaviour in certain ways; the interaction between all the 'actors', offender, victim, enforcement officer etc. ; how moral and social approval and disapproval interplay both with offending and with the definitions of offending; social interaction of groups in society and their impact on offending; structural aspects of offending; reasons for administrative decisions.
All these questions interlink to give a full and meaningful comprehension of crime. Such totality of knowledge is beyond our reach but approximations can, at least, be sought. In pursuit of this the importance of the 'square' of crime will be considered in relation to various aspects of the issue (Simpson, 2000). Like those on the right, left realists recognise the rise in crime. They also accept that there has been a rise in the fear of crime. However, neither of these is seen as unproblematic or to have only a single, or narrow dimension.
Thus the notion that the crime rate has risen may be simple, but its significance for an understanding of the reality of crime is highly complex. In part, this is because the crime rate is affected by the way in which the four corners of the square develop and react, the way in which the various aspects come together to provide a fuller understanding of the intricate social relationships between the poles of the 'square' (Lilly, Cullen & Ball, 1995). So an increase in the normal offending group, young males; is likely to lead to an increase in offending.
Similarly a change in the number of people who own desirable goods, or who are on the streets at high crime rate times will increase in the number of potential victims and again is likely to increase the number of offences. But its considered that to look at the effects in this disjointed way loses the force of left realism. It is important to register the impact of each point of the square, but it is essential to attempt to see how they fit together to form a social whole, a social relationship. The explanation for the crime rate must try to include all these considerations and the way in which they interact.
It has been noticed that left realists also acknowledge that rising crime rates have a destructive effect. Part of that effect occurs because of the fear to which the increase gives rise. There is a strong claim that some of the fear of crime is irrational, in that the groups least likely to experience victimisation, are most fearful of it; but the fear felt by these groups, may not be as illogical as it first appears; it may be partly because of their fear that they conduct their lifestyles in ways which tend to reduce their victimisation (Pearson, 1993).
Furthermore, although they are not victimised by street crimes as readily as are their male and young counterparts, they are more frequently victimised in more hidden ways; domestic violence, rape, harassment and sexual violence or street crimes which are for various reasons less likely to be reported (Jones et al, 1986). More important for the left realists is the different impact on which crimes have on various people. An attack on one person or a group may have very different effects from that on other groups.
A woman who is attacked may suffer greater physical and psychological effects merely because of feeling unable to defend herself and so being made aware of her physical vulnerability. In left realism, the notion of impact goes wider than this, because certain groups, particularly the poor and often racial minorities, are seen to be most at risk of high levels of victimisation, also victimisation tends to be focused geographically into the poorest areas.
These groups are often least able to cope with the impact of such victimisation, because they have no financial or other resources: due to their poverty they are less likely to be insured and so unable to replace goods stolen. They are also the groups, which suffer most from social ills such as poverty, physical and mental illness, bad housing, unemployment, and racism. Adding criminal victimisation to these other problems extends their generally negative experience and enhances its impact. A central element for left realism is the cause of crime.
Writers from this school often give priority to the need to remove or reduce the causes of crime, over the need for the investment in dealing with offending after it occurred. The causes they emphasise rest on viewing the wider social context of offending behaviour. The immediate causes thus need to be studied in relation to their wider social placing, the reactions of state and informal control systems to social problems, and the behaviour of the offender and the impact on the victim. Left realism accepts there are many factors, which help to cause crime, and that no one explanation of any individual's choice to offend is likely.
Crime, it is said, can occur at any level in the 'economic chain' and will be discernable whether the state is poor or not. Clearly the poor, and disadvantaged are more likely to be offenders, but they are not alone, as the rich who wish to acquire more wealth, can, and do turn to crime to attain the higher level of wealth they desire. And therefore left realists believe that the way in which relative deprivation affects crime, to an extent, depend on anomie (Durkheim, 1868). Realists have noted that offenders are not simply predators, nor are the victims and the public simply innocents.
There is, as they describe, a shape to crimes; each offence or group of offences is seen to have a particular structure. Over time left realists believe that crimes occurring can have an effect on the interrelationships between the four aspects of the square. Victimisation can have a real affect on people's lives, causing a real shift in behaviour. Realism sees all offenders as having chosen to offend. Realists reject positivism, thus believe offending is not determined by circumstance, situation, biology or psychology.
Left realists take into account, not only temporal shifts in the causes of crime, and their relationships with the square; but also spatial dimensions are taken into account also. Like other aspects, the control of crime will be unsuccessful unless it addresses the problem from all sides. It must involve action being taken to resolve problems at each point of the square: changes in policing, better community involvement, empowering and supporting victims, and dealing with causes of offending. These all are qualities of the left realists' view on how to control crime.
All in all, left realists have made a significant contribution to modern day criminology, and criminological thinking: They claim that their theory is strongly based on the social reality of crime and on providing realistic, affordable and acceptable solutions to the problem; moreover, left realists stress local rather than national studies on the grounds that these record not only the description of crimes but also explanations of the reality of crime; they also began to ask more questions concerning issues such as; racial harassment and domestic violence; age sex, ethnicity; and the full impact of the crime on particular victims.
Their essential criticism of earlier views is undoubtedly well founded (Sparks, 1992), this referring to the attempts do dispel claims that fears of crime are either irrational or that they are constructed outside the realities recognised and experienced by people.
Left realists have reasonably justified the empowering of the public, since more than 90% of serious crimes of which the police become aware, are reported by the public and most of the information necessary to a solution of such crime is also gained from the public (Lea et al 1987); they have brought to light some of the facts and raised questions about victimisation, which other theories have not, due to a concentration on victims; finally the central aspect of the approach is a call for the need to reduce relative deprivation through a package set to decrease feelings of marginalisation.