Understanding Criminology: Current Theoretical Debates

By Sandra Walklate | Go to book overview
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chapter four
Understanding 'left realism'

What is 'left realism'?

Left realism UK style: a critique

Left realism US style

The modernist dilemma

Left realism and New Labour: politics, policy and process


Further reading

One way of appreciating the relevance of any social theory is to locate the emergence and development of that theory in its political and social context. The 'left realist' approach to criminology is no exception. Chapter 3 has already indicated the presence and influence of a 'conservative criminology' promoted under the auspices of right realism that arguably informed some Home Office policy thinking during this time. So, it is against this general background of social, policy and political events that the term 'radical left realism', later to be referred to as simply 'left realism', was coined by Young, to connote an alternative way of talking about the crime problem to that offered by the general conservatism of the early 1980s.

Arguably, it is not until 1985 onwards (Matthews and Young 1992), in the aftermath of the Merseyside and Islington Crime Surveys formulated and conducted under the umbrella of left realism, that this theoretical position really emerged as espousing a relatively coherent set of ideas with a concomitant policy agenda. Since that time there has been both a consolidation and a critique of these ideas. Their presence and influence has extended beyond the UK as they have been modified and applied in different international contexts.

This chapter will endeavour to analyse and trace the development of these ideas since 1979. In so doing, particular attention will be paid first of all to the conceptual development of the central left realist ideas found primarily in the work of Lea, Matthews and Young. Second, these ideas


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