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Posted on July 27th, 2012, by

The development of criminology was accompanied by the emergence of various theories, which targeted at the interpretation of cause and essence of crime as well as effective measures of its prevention. At the same time, the development of various theories contributed to the formation of different views of crime, its causes and measures of prevention. The difference was so significant that some theories may be viewed as antagonistic. In this respect, it is possible to refer to the left and right realism theories, which have absolutely different theoretical ground and their key concepts oppose to each other. On the other hand, the diversity of theoretical views of crime contributed to the better understanding of its causes, effects and measures which could be undertaken to prevent the growth of crime rate. The latter is particularly important in the contemporary world, when the development of human society has reached an unprecedentedly high level, but the problem of crime still persists. Moreover, such crimes as street crime become even more serious problem than they have ever been before. At this point it is important to underline the growing disparity between the efforts of the state to establish a strict control over the firearm ownership and use, on the one hand, and the large number of street crimes, which involve firearms and expose ordinary citizens to a serious risk to their life and health.

Street crime and cultural theory

In fact, street crime may be viewed as a historically determined crime which has developed along with the development of cities and urbanization of the contemporary world. To put it more precisely, the growth of cities led to the growth of the number of crimes at large and street crime in particular. Obviously, in the earlier epochs, the poor development of cities made the development of street crime en mass practically impossible, while the 20th century, especially the first half of the century, was marked by the emergence of street crime. Specialists (Brantingham and Brantingham, 1991) working on the problem of street crime have different views on causes and essence of street crime, but one of the most widely spread theories, which is often used to explain street crime, is the cultural theory.

According to the cultural theory, street crime can be explained by the formation of a specific culture within society which tends to the anti-social and criminal behavior. To put it more precisely, the development of cities and urbanization stimulated the formation of the unique urban culture, which, though was extremely diverse and incorporated a variety of subcultures. In such a situation, street crime may be viewed as an activity which is a characteristic of a subculture which deviates from the dominant culture and which principles and ideas form a positive image of crime or which perceive the crime as a norm. In other words, street crime is the product of an urban subculture which has fragmented away from the mainstream culture and formed its own values and meaning of life.

In such a context, street crime is a part of the cultural life of marginalized groups of urban population, which are unwilling or unable to live in accordance with the existing norms formed by the mainstream culture. In fact, these marginalized groups do not even perceive street crime as a deviation from the norm, instead, they perceived as an essential part of their lifestyle or even as a tool of the survival in a highly criminal environment, where values of the mainstream culture are devaluated. Consequently, robbery, for instance, is a crime only from the point of view of the mainstream culture. The measures undertaken by law enforcement agencies, such as arrests and jail terms are not perceived by the marginalized cultural group as justice. Instead, this cultural group perceives the punishment for the crimes as a form of the oppression from the part of the dominant cultural group.

Obviously, the cultural theory views street crime rather as an outcome of the contradictions between the mainstream and marginalized cultures. At first glance, this explanation is quite logical since it allows understanding of the existence of areas where crime rates are exorbitant, but, on the other hand, this theory does not refer to socioeconomic sphere, laying emphasis on the cultural aspect of crimes, though socioeconomic factors, such as poverty, are also of a paramount importance.

 

Street crime and left realism

In this respect, left realism, in contrast to the cultural theory, lays emphasis on socioeconomic factors as the major cause of street crime. To put it more precisely, according to left realism, street crime may be perceived as a socioeconomic problem by nature, because the pauperization and marginalization of certain groups, especially in large urban areas, are explained by social inequality between different classes of urban population (Reiman, 2006).

As a result, the growing socioeconomic disparity leads to the marginalization of certain groups of people, which are forced to break the law and organize criminal groups to improve their socioeconomic position and protect their interests.

In such a context, street crime is a kind of social protest and, what is more, it is the result of the antagonism between opposing classes of society, the conflict between which is practically inevitable because the prosperity of the ruling elite inevitably provokes pauperization of lower classes, which being marginalized, join the army of street criminals.

In such a way, street crime is a response of the oppressed social class to the pressure from the part of the state, which, according to the left realism theory, protects interests of the ruling, privileged class (Reiman, 2006).

Obviously, unlike the cultural theory, the left realism theory expands the view on street crime and its causes. To put it more precisely, it reveals socioeconomic essence of street crime that is apparently one of the main factors contributing to street crime. On the other hand, the focus on socioeconomic causes of street crime and the antagonism of upper and lower classes as well as the oppression of certain groups by the state with the help of law enforcement agencies does not explain street crime which are not provoked by socioeconomic factors. For instance, such crime as rape may be provoked by purely psychological factor, which does not refer to social inequality, injustice and other causes which are commonly accepted within the left realism theory.

 

Street crime and right realism

Finally, it is necessary to dwell upon the right realism theory which is antagonistic to the left realism theory. On analyzing street crime in the context of the right realism theory, it is important to underline the fact that street crime, as well as a crime at large, is a deviation from the existing social norms and, therefore, street crime has to be prevented and punished because it contradicts to the basic social norms. In this respect, it should be said that the right realism theory lays emphasis on the social contract principle, which implies that the society lives in accordance with the contract which regulates the life of all people within the society on the basis of the existing laws and legal norms. The right realism theory admits the possibility of social inequality, which the theory views as natural, while street crime has nothing in common with social protest or the struggle for the better socioeconomic life of certain classes. Instead, street crime is the violation of the social contract and, therefore, it threatens to interests of absolutely all people within the society, regardless of their social position (Siegel, 2003).

The right realism theory implies the existence of social contract between the state and citizens, which regulates relationship between people and between people and the state. In actuality, unlike the left realism theory, the right realism theory does not view the state as a powerful tool which is used by the ruling class to oppress citizens, who attempt to change the existing social order and, therefore, who attempt to commit crimes, including street crimes. In stark contrast, the right realism theory tends to view the existing social order as a result of the social contract that means that all people agreed to such an order and the state performs the role of the mediator in relationships between people. In such a context, the state is viewed not as an oppressor but as an institution which controls the fulfillment of the existing laws and legal norms which is granted with the power by people and which protects interests of people. Instead, people who commit street crimes are viewed as marginal, whose anti-social behavior contradicts to the established social contract. Consequently, street crimes threaten not only to victims of offenders but also to other people because the contract is established between all people and the state and any violation of the contract naturally threatens to the normal relationship between people and the state. As a result, the right realism does not even attempt to justify street crime as the left realism does since street crimes, according to the right realism, are crimes above all, while social protest cannot contradict to the existing legal norms and, what is more, it cannot threaten to the life, health and property of people.

By the way, the latter is particularly important because, as a rule, street crimes are property crimes, while for the right realism theory is one of the fundamental concepts and property crimes are viewed by the right realism as a challenge to the basics of the existing social order. Needless to say, the right realism underlines the importance of the prevention of street crimes, but the solution of this problem does not always meet or even contradicts to the solution of the left realism theory. To put it more precisely, the right realism theory justifies the punishment of street crimes and totally reject the idea of the left realism that street crimes are provoked mainly by socioeconomic reasons and that their solution is impossible without the elimination of social inequality and injustice. In such a way, the right realism does not rely on the solution of the existing socioeconomic problems as an effective solution of the problem of street crime. Instead, it is rather concerned on the effective measures of the prevention of crime through the strengthening of law enforcement agencies and their wider interaction with local communities, which allow law enforcement agencies work more effectively and minimizes the risk of street crimes because it increases the risk for offenders of being detained.

Obviously, the right realism theory is deprived of biases of the left realism theory since the right realism has a broader view of street crime, which can be determined by a variety of factors. On the other hand, the right realism apparently lacks the explanation of reasons for the violation of social contract and, therefore, for street crime. It is important to underline that the right realism theory perfectly explains the nature of the existing social order, justifies it and underlines the negative effect of street crimes on the life of society. In such a way, the right realism logically explains that street crimes are unacceptable and should be prevented because they violate social contract, but, on the other hand, the right realism theory mainly focused on interests of the majority of population, which interests are protected by the social contract. However, the right realism theory practically ignores problems of marginalized people who commit street crimes, it does not really attempt to understand causes and factors which make them commit street crimes and, what is more, the right realism does not offer any solution of their problems.

Conclusion

Thus, various theories explain street crime, its essence and causes, in different ways. Neither theory discussed above is perfect, but all of them help better understand the nature and causes of street crime. In fact, the cultural theory, the left and right realism theories are very important since they offer quite different views of street crime. The diversity of views of street crime is determined by the different theoretical background. At the same time, the different theoretical backgrounds can have both strengths and weaknesses and the cultural theory, the left realism and the right realism have their own strengths and weakness.

In this respect, it should be said that the cultural theory has consistent advantages compared to left and right realism theories because it focuses on the cultural and psychological domain, which are viewed by the cultural theories as primary causes of the street crime. In such a context, the strength of the cultural is revealed in its orientation of cultural and psychological spheres since, today, it is obvious that psychological factors produce a profound impact on the behavior of people. Consequently, psychological factors should be taken into consideration while researching causes of street crime and its solution. On the other hand, the cultural theory has a substantial weakness because it totally ignores social factors, which are not less significant than psychological factors. Therefore, the cultural theory cannot be as a sufficient theory for explanation of street crimes.

At this point, the cultural theory should be complemented by more socially-oriented theories and the left realism theory and the right realism theory may be used for this purpose. However, they also have their own strengths and weaknesses. For instance, the left realism theory attempts to explain reasons which force offenders commit street crimes. The left realism theory lays emphasis on socioeconomic problems which make the life of a part of society unbearable that leads to street crimes. In such a way, the left realism theory indicates to the importance of the solution of socioeconomic problems as an important factor that can provoke the growth of street crime. But the left realism theory pays little attention to psychological factors, which practically totally replaced by social factors.

At this point the right realism theory is similar to the left realism and the lack of the focus on psychological and cultural factors contributing to the growth of street crimes may be viewed as the major drawback of both theories.

Another weakness of the right realism theory is the one-sided view of the problem of street crime. To put it more precisely, the theory views street crime as a violation of the social contract by a marginal group, but the theory does not really attempt to understand factors that force this group to commit street crimes. Instead, the right realism theory lays emphasis on the prevention of crime and the punishment of offenders. At the same time, the right realism theory has a significant strength since it perfectly explains the importance of the maintenance of the existing social order and the necessity of the prevention of street crimes which may be destructive for the existing social order.

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