Sociology Index


Left realism is a criminological perspective which emerged in response to the rise of neo-conservatism. Left realism can be contrasted with left idealism, which, while also believing that the structure of capitalism is the culprit in crime, tended to see working class crime as acts of rebellion or political resistance. This can be seen as a somewhat romantic or idealistic view. Neo-conservatism is the name of a robust strain in American intellectual life and American politics.

The right-wing politics of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher made it clear that left-leaning criminology had little impact on social policy and was going to have little significance in the future.

Some critical criminologists struggled to make their work relevant and did so by focusing on the working class as victims of street crime, state and corporate crime and women as victims of male crime. Left realism is also known as radical realism.

They asserted that official studies of crime underestimated victimization of the working class and women and supported community controlled research as a method of getting at the ‘reality’ of their experience.

Social policies to reduce victimization of marginal communities, involve communities in crime prevention, return political control to local communities and increased police accountability follow from this beginning point.

British and U.S. Left Realism: A Critical Comparison
Walter S. DeKeseredy, Department of Sociology & Anthropology, Carleton University
Martin D. Schwartz, Department of Sociology, Anthropology, Ohio University
Left realism has generated enormous interest and controversy in critical criminology over the past several years both in North America and in the United Kingdom. While there are important similarities between the writings from these countries, there are also some deep differences and divisions.

Realist Criminology: Crime Control and Policing in the 1990's 
Editor(s): J Lowman ; B D MacLean 
This book presents a left realist approach to crime control and law enforcement.
Abstract: Left realism is a school of critical criminology that arose in Great Britain in the 1980's to reassert the centrality of the victim in the development of a progressive criminology. Critical realism recognizes the seriousness of street crime for its victims. In Great Britain, left realists conduct local crime surveys (victimization Survey) to measure patterns of victimization and policing. This book presents the case for left realism; offers a critical assessment of left realism, based on an analysis of realist criminology in Canada and Cuba and its influence on issues such as prostitution and corporate law; discusses the relationship between left realism and feminism; and explores the implications of left realism for victimology.

Essentialism, Radical Criminology, and Left Realism - D Brown ; R Hogg.
Journal: Australian and New Zealand Journal of Criminology Volume:25 Issue:3 Dated:(Dec 1992)
This article reflects on recent radical criminological developments in Australia and Britain. The primary focus in on left realism, also known as radical realism.
The authors argue that the realist project, by appropriating the unifying category of crime around which to formulate policies and politics aimed to express the interests of the working class, continues elements of the essentialism of past radical criminologists. This argument is expanded upon in relation to radical criminology, left realism, and the left critiques of left realism. The article also makes an assessment of the relevance of left realism in the Australian context.

Criticism and Criminology: In Search of Legitimacy.
GEORGE PAVLICH, University of Auckland, New Zealand.
Critique claims legitimacy either on the basis of an ability to secure universal emancipation, or increase managerial efficiency. Both claims are problematic since contemporary knowledge-producing arenas no longer embrace the certainties driving modernity's critical genres and technical efficiency disallows fundamental critique. In trying to recover legitimate genres of critique, I refer to recent developments within critical criminology and I explore how Lyotard's work can help us to reconceive critical practices in criminology.

Left realism, local crime surveys and policing of racial minorities.
Brian D. Maclean, Kwantlen College, Richmond Campus, Vancouver, Canada.
Abstract: The inner-city riots of 1980s Britain provoked an important set of debates in the progressive criminological literature about police accountability and the policing of racial minorities. Two main oppositional political strategies emerged. In a more generalized approach, the strategy employed by the left realist school made use of the local crime survey in order to gather data on crime and policing practices that were used in public forum to make police accountable.

Left realist criminology: Strengths, weaknesses and the feminist critique
Martin D. Schwartz, Walter S. DeKeseredy, Journal Crime, Law and Social Change 
Abstract Although there is an already large British literature both supporting and attacking left realism, and a growing North American interest on the subject among criminologists, there has been surprisingly little written which attempts to locate both the strengths and weaknesses of the left realist position on crime control. Perhaps the place where the left realists may be weakest is in response to a feminist critique. Actually, it is not only left realism but the socialist left in general which has been unsuccessful in providing adequate responses to the issues brought forth by feminists. This paper attempts to locate the position of left realism within the left criminology debate, and to find its strong and weak points.