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Essay: Exploring How Inequality Contributes to Crime Rates: An Analysis of Marxism and Functionalism

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Literature Review

Hall et al (1978)

Stuart Hall’s research shows the capitalism crisis that occurred in the 1970’s. He looks at how the media covered up economic and social problems and stirred up a moral panic against black individuals and how they were portrayed as “black muggers”. This served the purpose of segregating the working class as well as encouraging the support of repressive laws.

NB :

deviancy amplification spiral

moral panic

Gilroy (1982)

Paul Gilroy’s research sheds light on the relationship between ethnicity, racism and attitudes.

He looks at how police attitudes towards the black community is directly linked to the racial history of the black community and the colonial period.

NB :


Cultural Struggle


Reason For Choice of Method

For this piece of research, the method I selected was in-depth interviews. I selected this method because of the delicate nature of the subject topic. Also, as a researcher, it was necessary to build a strong level of rapport with the subjects in order to get honest and unbiased results.

In order to get a generalised array of responses, candidate were selected by gender and race. This totalled as ten (10) individuals which when broken down were two (2) members from each race, one male and one female. This helped to have a somewhat representation of most people.

The limitations to the method was the limited amount of time & people I had access to. If all things were equal, candidate selection would have been completely random.

Pilot Study Results

In order to test the effectiveness of the chosen method, I carried out two interviews. I started of with five (5) rather vague topic areas and branched into other topic areas as both went on. This led to the selection of my final questions/topic areas. In the end, I had ten (10) open ended questions and topic areas.

As stated above, secondary and primary research has shown that society and the justice system operate on a basis of inequalities and bias. Amongst the majority of the candidate I carried out my research on, the belief that inequalities exist in society was quite common. It can be argued that there is an existing link between this inequality and criminality. When equal opportunity is not offered or given to all , it creates a window for crime to occur. Crime statistics show that working class individuals are more likely to commit crimes. This is because of the strains that result from not having equal opportunities such as good jobs & quality education. Functionalist theorists argue that society would be unhealthy with the right amount of crime. This is because structures such as police and courts would be redundant without any crime. Therefore, – does society use inequality to cause crime?  In the UK, the working class individuals and families are mainly made up pf ethnic minorities. This is an inequality that has been reinforced for generations, making hard to shift the paradigm. If an individual comes from a low income family, they are exposed to low quality education which in most cases leads to working class and lower income jobs. In most cases, this repeats itself from generation to generation. It’s seen as the status quo. Very rare individuals come from lower income families and make it into the middle class. This might be society makes it hard to progress between classes. Devices such as labelling are used to keep “societal balance”. According to marxist theorists, agendas like the one mentioned above, are all part of a capitalist scheme which is detrimental to the progress of society. They believe capitalism is crimogenic (promotes criminal activity).  While this argument is radical, to a certain extent, truth lies in this accusation. It can be said that the capitalist system uses Afro Caribbean individuals & other ethnic minorities as scapegoats to lure attention away from the “evils” of capitalism. Disparities in statistics such as an overrepresentation of black criminality shows that this may be the case.  So another question to ask is – why doesn’t the justice system protect ethnic minorities from this? In an ideal and equal society, the justice system should be able to create and enact certain laws to protect people from situations as such but instead the police and justice system are more focused on protecting the ideologies and the wants of the dominating class which is the middle class. This is mainly because majority of people in powerful positions are from middle class backgrounds. This all relates back to the reproduction of inequalities which keeps the middle class families in the middle class from generation and keeps working class families in the working class from generation to generation. In simple terms, the police and justice system are tools that are used to reinforce the agenda of the dominating class. Whilst carrying out my interviews, I asked all the candidates if they believed that social injustice was a causative factor of crime. Eight out of the ten had a general agreement that social injustice was a major factor whereas the other two raised points that were somewhat contradicted the unanimous opinion. It was : no one can commit a crime without making a conscious decision to do so. When explained further, they agreed that yes, social conditions can lead a person to make the decision to commit a crime but in the end, the decision still lies with that individual and their idea of what is morally acceptable and what is not. This brought light to another issue which is – what influences an individual’s perception of what is wrong or right and in reality is crime just a “social construct”?

The idea of what crime really entails depends on the norms and values of the society in context. Crime can be referred to as a social construct because the idea of crime does change and evolve as society changes and evolves. Therefore it goes back to saying that the idea of what is really crime depends on who controls the values and norms the society holds, which in most cases is the middle class. This has given way to the dominating class also controlling the media. The press and the media is seen as the 4th arm of government but is supposed to be free and fair from any bias but due to social inequalities, it can be biased. When the candidates were asked if they thought that the media influenced their views on black individuals, they all agreed that it did. Not only in the news but also in entertainment and the roles that black individuals are usually given. My research has shown that due to bias in the media, a stereotypical perception of black individuals has been created. I asked each person give me their stereotypical idea of a criminal and the majority said : Black, Male, Aggressive and Violent in nature. I further went on to ask what crimes they thought individuals from different races committed. Black individuals fell into to the category of either drug dealing or violent crimes like armed robbery or gang violence. It can be said that this stereotype mainly derives from entertainment where majority of the roles black men are given in the industry fit this stereotype, that is, the “ideal” criminal. Interactionist theorists argue that this way of thinking derives from newspapers distorting acts of crime to create public awareness. This then leads to public pressure being put on the police and courts. Eventually, this results in a state of moral panic where certain acts or groups of individuals are seen as threatening or detrimental to social stability. This is also known as a deviancy amplification spiral.  According to Stuart Hall (1978), this is a tool used to draw attention away from the evils of capitalism. In his research he argues that the 70’s there was significant period of a capitalism crisis. Here, black individuals have been portrayed as a problem to society. Hall says that policing has become more about painting certain crimes black instead of looking for the root problem and causative factors of them. Influence of the media created a perception that the society was “plagued”, especially because of recent bouts of youth revolting. This label of being more likely to commit crime as well as social inequalities they are exposed to by being

both working class and an ethnic minority has created a self fulfilling prophecy that has been accepted amongst young black males.

In this situation, black individuals, especially males have been used as the scapegoats to draw this attention away from the problems with capitalism. Paul Gilroy’s research shows that even in the field of sociology, researchers tend to ignore analysing the police and focus mainly on ethnic crimes. He says that police views on black individuals is biased and because of this, community policing is the result whereas the black community is the target. He goes on to directly link this to the history of the black community. Instead the police to see themselves as equal counterparts with the community, they have taken up the role of the “authoritarian”. This view shows the link between the history of the black community and how the police treat them as a result of this. There is also a direct correlation between this and Rastafarianism. Gilroy says that police behaviour is a re-enactment of the colonial times where the police play the role of colonial masters and the black community represent slaves and slavery.

Statistics show that the working class is mainly made up of black individuals and families, especially single mother families. Because of the lack of father figures, they are seen as more likely to be deviant. The popularity of this amongst black males has lead to the creation of subcultures that hold norms and values that go against that of the general society. Black people in the Britain can be said to be in a cultural struggle and it can be argued that involvement in crime is a response and means of revolutionising.

To conclude, reference must be made to the hypothesis itself : do the inequalities in society and justice system serve as causative factors for the high crime rates amongst black individuals?  From my research I’ve found that these inequalities can indeed lead to involvements in crime. Mainly, social inequalities such as material deprivation and racism can push working class, black individuals to criminality.

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