Outline and evaluate the relationship between crime and social class 
Official crime statistics present the view that working class people commit the majority of crime in the UK and this is a pattern repeated across all Western societies. As a result, a great deal of Sociological research into crime has attempted to explain why working-class people commit crime. This is particularly true of earlier studies from the Functionalist perspective, as Functionalists are uncritical of official statistics and use them as the basis for all their studies. For example, Merton’s Strain Theory explained crime as a result of the inability of working-class people to achieve cultural goals through legitimate means, while Cohen’s work on Status Frustration explained crime as a way in which working-class boys compensated for their low social status, having failed at school. However, the statistics – and the view they present – has been criticised.
Much of the criticism has come from Marxists, who believe the official statistics are simply another method by which the working classes are demonised. From a Marxist point of view, it is in the interest of Capitalist societies to present the working classes as criminal in order to divert the attention of the public away from the much more serious injustices in society that are caused by the ruling classes. Marxists point out that the sort of categories used by the police to record crime (e.g. burglary, theft, violent crime) relate mainly to the sort of ‘street crime’ most associated with working class people, while crimes that are more associated with middle and upper classes (white collar crime; corporate crime etc.) are not recorded or dealt with by the police, therefore are omitted from official crime statistics.
This criticism of the statistics reinforces and expands on other existing Marxist beliefs. For example, Marxists argue that the law is biased in favour of the rich; the ruling classes make the laws, therefore activities and behaviours of the working-classes are more likely to be defined as criminal, particularly when those activities threaten the capitalist system (for example, the criminalisation of picketing following the Miners’ Strikes of the 1980s). Marxists believe that the bourgeoisie are the real criminals, as their activities and behaviours are much more damaging for society, yet these things are never defined as criminal and the public is conditioned not to think of them as such. Further to this, Marxists believe that the law is selectively enforced, meaning that even when the upper classes do break the law, they are less likely to be prosecuted. For example, a wealthy person who evades millions of pounds of tax is less likely to be prosecuted than a working-class person who falsely claims a few thousand pounds in benefits.
Marxists do accept that working class people do commit crimes, but many argue that this tends to be out of resistance or rebellion. For example, Hebdige argued that the criminal and violent behaviour of the skinheads was a reaction to the destruction of working class communities by profit-driven developers. Critics argue that these sort of views attempt to justify or romanticise some criminal behaviour and also fail to recognise that the victims of most working-class crime are other working-class people.
Marxist views are criticised for being reductionist (every problem has the same source: Capitalism) and it is pointed out that it is not only the activities of poorer people that are criminalised: Many capitalist activities (e.g. insider trading) have also been made illegal, while there are plenty of laws which benefit poorer people in society – for example, welfare laws.
Right Realist Charles Murray also made a link between crime and social class, though Murray’s views are in direct contrast to Marxist views. Murray believed that most crime originated in the underclass. For Murray, the underclass was a product of the welfare state: A section of society who had been made lazy and dependant by governments offering them money and support for doing nothing. Murray considered the underclass almost as a subculture, with different norms and values to the rest of society. From Murray’s point of view, these values tended to be negative (e.g. bad parenting, lack of family values), and led people towards crime and deviance. Murray’s views can be criticised for making generalisations about groups in society, particularly in assuming that poorer people have different values to wealthier people.
Interactionists like Becker have argued that those from lower class backgrounds are more likely to be labelled as criminal than those from wealthier backgrounds, as they have less power and influence in order to resist such labels. Studies on Moral Panics support this, as most Moral Panics around crime and deviance focus on groups associated with the working classes (e.g. mods and rockers, football hooligans, trade unions, hoodies) – also these sorts of labelling theories and studies have been accused of hand-picking examples that support their theories, particularly more exotic subcultures.
In conclusion, it is difficult to establish a concrete relationship between crime and social class. Much work and theory has been done on the crimes of lower classes and the statistics present a clear view that working class people are more criminal, but such statistics are social constructions; they only show crimes reported to and recorded by the police and are therefore to be treated with caution. The crimes of wealthier people are hidden by the statistics and therefore impossible to accurately measure, assess and compare. The true relationship between social class and crime may therefore never be known.
Crime & Deviance
A2 Unit: G673