NOTES ON SELECTIONS FROM: Taylor I, Walton P, Young J  (1973) The New Criminology, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul

[ I have been very selective here again. Taylor et al go systematically through a number of conventional approaches to crime and deviancy, including social disorganisation theories, subcultural theories and the like. I have focused especially on their criticisms of  the approaches that interested me at the time -- phenomenology/ethnomethodological accounts, and conflict theories. I have taken notes of their own emerging interest in marxist theories too. You will have to go back to the original to find the other chapters on the other theories, although the brief notes in the Conclusion give you a slight clue of what the authors are doing, as they go back over the good and bad points of all the conventional approaches once again]

Chapter six  'American Naturalism and Phenomenology'

This chapter offers some criticisms of Matza and of his humanism especially. The techniques of neutralisation  [see file], and the notion of drift  [see another file] have to be recast as strategies, solutions to powerlessness, and this is half recognised by Matza himself. [The mechanism to do this depends a great deal on the work of CW Mills, and his concepts such as  'vocabularies of motives' which vary according to class position. The CCCS work also dabbled in this approach before they discovered Gramsci]. There is not enough attention on the society that produces, say, poverty, and such an emphasis is needed rather than Matza's one on how poverty leads to demoralisation. Matza's recognition of the difficulties of the values of straight society are a kind of  'implicit critique', but a self-conscious [properly theoretical ] critique is needed instead. Asking for motives can involve tapping into false consciousness: the reaction to fatalism is an idealistic one for Matza, but it can be seen merely as a one-dimensional response [that is, one which does not threaten the system]. Delinquency is really much more active than Matza allows -- it is no less than 'a practice of redistributing private property' (page 187). We need to approach it with a more pluralistic set of values, rather than the hierarchical ones of the current system. 

In Matza's later book, Becoming Deviant, he seems to imply that deviancy is a matter of choice, dependent on networks of affiliations and significations. State action in banning such choices leads to issues of power, and to an amplification spiral as choices become exercised in an increasingly self-conscious and secret manner. Signification here refers to deviance accepting the label. This is a phenomenological, formal, abstract analysis, though, when what is needed is a concrete one, especially of the State, and of more formal possibilities of social change. Matza ignores material factors: it is a phenomenology of anxiety, an account of drift from the inside only. 

Ethnomethodological analysis, such as that offered by Philipson and Roche [see file], attacks the notion of social class as a secondary concept. Instead, this approach focuses on how objectivity is accomplished, through membership, or on the practical reasoning involved in societal reaction, as in Cicourel's  study of police officers and social workers. There are problems with these practical reasonings, however, which are simply equated with formal phenomenological processes such as typification. Their practical goals are ignored -- these actually stem from power. Analysing this power is the only alternative to naive empiricism. Ethnomethodological analysis also ignores the  'life plan' within which individual projects are located: studying this soon gets us into the issue of ideologies, and the system within which individual actions take place, the social totality. 

Chapter seven 'Marx, Engels and Bonger on crime and social control' 

Engels, in his Condition of the Working Class in England, argued that crime represented demoralisation, arising from brutalisation. Marx offered an ironic functionalism, in arguing that crime is useful in producing the legal profession  (in Theories of Surplus Value). This irony points to the legal crimes of capitalism, and this in turn raises the possibilities of a crime free society. The idea that law is an expression of the common will (Durkheim's position) is a myth, and this has been nicely criticised in the German Ideology. Here , crime is an example of the dialectical struggle between will and constraint, emanating from the superstructures, almost as a societal reaction argument. The lumpenproletariat are parasites  [Hirst was to accuse Taylor Walton and Young of not recognising this, of course -- see file], but crime is tied to the whole issue of proletarianism and proletarian consciousness. Crime is still not seen as fully rational, however there is an element of defensiveness and false consciousness about it -- to explore further, we need Marx's theory of conflict in general. The pursuit of the alienation problematic leads us to ask questions such as to makes the rules, and why? It points to consciousness, and its determinants in production: thus reactions to labelling, for example, which takes place in consciousness can be explained by marxism. 

If we turn to the work of Bonger [who he?], we find an orthodox Marxist approach which attempts to explain crime has been caused by social and economic forces. 'Criminal thought' is an independent variable though -- there are actual connections here with bourgeois Sociology [which is bad? Or maybe it is another way of incorporating bourgeois Sociology into marxism?], even though Bonger does emphasise the demoralisation/brutalisation point. However, his whole analysis is cast in idealist terms -- capitalism is evil, while socialism is better. 

[So we need to develop a marxist analysis, but Bonger's route is not the way to do it? This chapter is interesting for raising many of the terms which were to be debated in the confrontation with Hirst: if you just read Hirst, you might be forgiven for thinking that Taylor et al are really naive about marxism -- but they seem to be just as aware of some of its problems as Hirst himself! Mind you, you can never be sure just when these things were written -- the Hirst critique appears in a volume which was published after this one,but when it was actually written is another matter.] 

Chapter 8 New Conflict Theorists 

Conflict theory appeared in sociology as a formal opposite of functionalism, as in the work of Dahrendorf. It is actually rather an old approach in criminology, were an aspect of group conflict has always been an attempt to criminalise opponents. Both conflict theorists and functionalists conflict as operating within a process of social integration  [so they're not as different as they seem, and both are very different from marxism]. Some recent American criminologists, such as Turk and Quinney  [who they again? Sorry to reveal my ignorance here, folks] have resurrected Dahrendorf: like him, they see class struggles as disputes about power and authority, so that Turk is able to analyse how this abstract and universal 'authority' is used to criminalise people. For him, conflict arises from different norms, and this can produce criminal alternatives: if alternatives are  'unsophisticated' [that is, if they cannot be justified in legalistic terms?] they can be demonised. 

Dahrendorf predicts the inevitability of conflict -- conflict and social protest dominates social life rather than stabilisation and adjustment. Sociologists need to take a stance in this conflict, but unlike conflict theory, they need to avoid relativism and use marxism as a kind of floor [I think this means that this problem arises because conflict theory was too general, and saw clashes over power and authority everywhere in society -- arguments between neighbours over the height of the hedge became as important as, or no different from, massive struggles between organised classes over the future of capitalism. Keeping a set of priorities, with marxism, avoids this problem]. Overall, we need a proper sociology of crime rather than just criminology: we should use notions of such as Mills' 'power elite' to explain how pluralism can turn into structured subordination. 

Chapter nine Conclusions 

The problems with criminology mean it requires more Sociology in general. In particular, there is an emerging focus on the State and on social structure, although these are only formal requirements so far. We have pursued an immanent critique of existing theory in this book, and now we need it some concrete specification of the social arrangements where criminalisation does not take place. Specifically, this needs: 

  1. An account of the wider origins of the deviant act, not just an account of its social locations but an analysis of power -- we need a political economy of crime 
  2. An examination of  the immediate origins of crime -- subcultural theories are useful here especially those which refer to crime as a conscious choice 
  3. A focus on the actual act and how belief and action are linked together. Why is there deviancy at all, and why are there particular types of deviancy, as in the variants offered by Cloward and Ohlin  [see file
  4. A study of the immediate social reaction, including matters such as the mobilisation and direction of police power 
  5. A study of  the wider origins of the development of social reaction, the role of conflict groups and the implicit notions about the State. We need a political sociology, and wider accounts, such as Marx's work on alienation 
  6. A trace on the outcome of the social reaction, allowing for choice, and the rejection of the label and so on. This would lead us to examine consciousness and its states 
  7. Finally, an exploration of the nature of the whole process of deviance -- how these different elements merge together. We should try to develop a theory of totality rather than single theories, and bear in mind the dialectical possibilities [instead of going for simple causes or orthodox determinations] 
A New Criminology is needed which will not be compartmentalised, and which will bring politics back in, just as the classic writers did. We need to be politically committed ourselves, and to work on alternatives rather than just description. We might explore some Scandinavian options, for example, where there are trade unions for prisoners: such policies are non-correctional and do not operate with a pathological view of the criminal, but with a social one. In capitalism, deviancy should be seen as normal, an assertion of diversity: radicals should attempt to organise against the power to criminalise.

My Comments

Reading all this again after many years, I still find it quite inspiring. I admire the attempt to build some overall theory of crime of deviancy by keeping all the good bits of earlier theories while adding in bits of marxism, as in 'immanent critique' .Of course we know it can't really be done because there are far too many doubts and reservations about this kind of thing, more or less along the lines that Hirst was to develop in his objections to using theory as a kind of all-purpose interpreting machine (see his critique here).

There are other difficulties concealed in this exercise too. It has become rather common, especially in marxist work I think, to construct the other theories as straw persons before you incorporate them into your own overarching scheme. Thus, to take one case on which we have some material, labelling theory is always seen as 'ignoring power relations', which helps marxist analysts have the last word. The trouble is, I am not sure it is true. No modern theorist would be daft enough to just 'ignore' important aspects addressed by other people's theories -- did Merton never really read Marx, and  in the German too, then? Is Howard Becker, no less, supposed to be some ignorant klutz who has never heard of marxism? If you look at his own reconsideration of labelling theory, you will find that he is of course completely aware of the importance of power and does not simply ignore it. He may not treat it in the ways marxists think he should -- but, as Plummer says in his defence, in this file, why the **** should he? ( well, OK he doesn't say it quite like that). Becker deals with power in a way which is consistent with his general approach in symbolic interactionism, as all followers of organised perspectives do -- why do marxists 'ignore' detailed personal  interactions?

Of course, marxist retorts are available, and some of the more interesting ones, turning on politics, appear in these files too. If you don't develop marxist analysis EITHER you end up subtly supporting capitalism OR at least you miss out on a chance to help the poor and oppressed. An equally dubious set of assumptions lurk in this argument too, of course -- why must academics be involved in politics? is there any evidence that they can actually help, or have indeed ever actually helped, the poor and the oppressed? why should the poor and the oppressed be unable to act until marxist academics have won their rather esoteric battles in congenial seminar rooms with their bourgeois colleagues? Is such activity really and honestly free of at least a  little contamination by academic micropolitics, by careerism, self- aggrandisement, boundary defence and promotion -seeking, lurking under the banner of helping the oppressed? As always, you decide, O Reader!

Finally, here's my usual argument which combines the two points really. Why don't academics show any curiosity about their own entanglements with power and oppression, when they routinely deal with students, for example? Fiery radicals, ready to march at a moment's notice to fight the oppression of the State, happily spend most of their time meekly doing the bidding of the very same State in its educational policy. They are quick to see how others criminalise the culturally diverse, and then blow me if they don't settle back for a bit of criminalising themselves if their students have plagiarised their essays or missed a deadline! What about criminogenic universities? How about thinking of alternatives that will deliver a crime-free teaching system?