Marxist theories of postmodernity

Marxists see postmodern society as merely the product of the most recent stage of capitalism, therefore to understand postmodernity you have to examine its relationship with capitalism. Harvey argues capitalism goes through periodic crises and postmodernity arose out of the crisis in the 1970s.

Flexible accumalation

The crisis meant that a new way of ACCUMALATING profits had to be created. ICT and technology developed which allowed firms to communicate efficiently; workers had to become more flexible to meet employers needs; production had to become more niche and easily switchable between different products – work became FLEXIBLE. These changes brought about the common characteristics of postmodernity – e.g niche markets promoted cultural diversity.

Flexible accumulation also turned leisure, culture and identity into commodities. Music, fashion, gaming…it’s all a source of profit. Jameson argues that it commodifies virtually all aspects of life, including identity.

Harvey argues that this more developed capitalism has led to the compression of time and space. Foreign holiays, for example. The birth of holiday/travel agencies has meant I can travel anywhere in the world with a couple of transactions and a passport. Space has been compressed. Living in England I could travel to France in less than an hour by plane, a journey that would have taken me almost half a day 50 years ago. Time has been compressed.  Harvey argues capitalism has been able to shrink the globe.

Politics and progress

Harvey and Jameson argue that flexible accumulation has brought political changes. in particular, it weakened the working class and socialist movements and they got replaced with feminism, eco-warriors etc. Think about it. Which is more in the public eye: threats of the northern hemisphere flooding caused by global warming OR bosses paying workers too little? However, they are hopeful that these movements will group together to create a “rainbow alliance” and bring about change.


Ethnicity and Crime

The whole debate about ethnicity and crime stems from ethnic differences in crime statistics. The stats show that ethnic minorities (Black and Asian) are more likely to commit a crime than a white person. Sociologists began to look deeper into  the matter and found that the stats were basically an exaggeration. But there were other sociologists who were in support of the statistics. Then the question that always stirs up emotions was born:

Are ethnic minorities actually commiting more crimes or do the stats simply reflect discrimination?

Let’s start with the argument that supports the belief that ethnic minorities are commiting more crimes. Left Realists Lea and Young argue that crime is the result of three factors: marginalisation, relative deprivation and status frustration. They argue that ethnic minorities are more likely to experience these than whites. This is caused by racism which makes them feel marginalised and these racist attitudes can sometimes prevent blacks and Asians getting jobs leading to relative deprivation and poverty. Then you got the media spitting out images of goods they can’t afford but they are told they need making them frustrated with their current status.

They then go on to say how this causes ethnic minorities, males in particular, to join gangs in order to raise their status. If you can’t gain respect by working in a bank, you can sure get some by stealing from one! It’s also a two-birds-one-stone situation because you can use that stolen money to buy a Ferrari Enzo and mansion so you feel less deprived. Happy days! But if money can’t shift all that anger built up inside, Lea and Young say ethnic minorities will vandalise or riot to express the frustration of being marginalised.

This is why ethnic minorities are heavily represented in crime stats. But what about the police that will arrest a brother for walking wrong, do I hear someone ask? To that, Lea+Young respond that 90% of recorded crimes are reported by a member of the public rather than a police arrest. This negates the whole racist arrest argument… or does it? Victim surveys conducted in England and Wales found that victims would identify their offender as a black man even if they were not sure. In my sociological opinion, this is because the media and police force have successfully joined forces to label blacks as inherently criminal. The public believe it and therefore report more crimes committed by ethnic minorities despite an uncertainty. The police see it as approval of their belief so they target ethnic minorities and the vicious cycle continues.

Hence why other sociologists are critical of Lea and Young’s theory. The first argument that supports discrimination in the criminal justice system focuses on how cases with ethnic minority offenders are treated at different stages within the system. Bowling and Phillips found that the police had ingrained negative stereotypes about ethnic minorities – probably heightened by their canteen culture. Figures showed that blacks were 3.6x more likely to be arrested than whites. However, when these cases reached the Crown Prosecution Service are vast majority were dropped and for the few that actually got to court, the jury were less likely to find the offender guilty – 60% of white offenders were found guilty as opposed to 52% of blacks and 44% of  Asians. The figures suggest two options: a) ethnic minorities are somehow bribing juries or b) the police are targeting and arresting ethnic minorities on weak, racist grounds that are of little or no value in a court of law. (I’ll let you decide which option’s more likely…)

Neo-marxists agree and argue that the stats do not reflect actual levels of crime. Instead they see crime stats as a social construct that shapes ethnic minorities as inherently more criminal. Gilroy sees ethnic criminality as a load of rubbish and argues that ethnic minorities aren’t committing crimes but are simply protesting against a racist society. Remember how the West charged into Africa, burned down homes, tore families apart and forced everyone to work on farms? Well, the previous generations of ethnic minorities were a part of the anti- imperialist actions against this injustice. Gilroy argues they would pass these beliefs onto their children. So when these second-generation ethnic minorities began to experience oppression and racism, they rioted or vandalised against it. A good example would be the riots caused by the Mark Duggan shooting. The big hole in this theory is intra-racial crime. What point is an Asian making by shooting another Asian? Surely the previous generation would have taught them about loyalty to your own kind?

Therefore, Hall offers an alternative argument. They argue that the whole “black criminality” scandal serves the interest of capitalism. In the 1970s there was a capitalist crisis that led to high unemployment, high inflation, widespread strikes and intense student protests. Sound familiar, Cameron? Well, before all this happened the state was able to  keep control and power through consent – pump out some malarky that some people are leaders and others followers or some other nonsense. But the public wasn’t buying it anymore. They were beginning to realise that the real source of their problem was…dare I say it?…CAPITALISM! And that scared leaders more than anything. So they had to find a way to restore control but it had to be done with force rather than consent. That’s when, quite suspiciously, the state pronounced there was currently a sharp rise in this “new” crime called muggings. I put “new” in quotes because in reality this crime had been around for ages but simply had no official name and, while we’re on the topic, showed no signs of an increase whatsoever. But the media, politicians and police pooled their resources together to successfully associate muggings with blacks.  Black muggings soon became the symbol of the social disorder caused by capitalism. Blacks became the state’s scapegoat. The public began blaming the blacks in their midst for their problems which led to a public divide which in turn weakened opposition to the state. Miraculously, the state had been able to restore power over the masses and even find support for policies that gave them greater control, all by labelling blacks as criminals.

Now for the rounding argument: actual crime or discrimination? In my opinion, it’s a mixture of both. I think ethnic minorities are more likely to commit crime mainly because all that frustration from discrimination has to go somewhere. But discrimination in the criminal justice system has led to the actual difference becoming distorted. However, that is just my opinion, what do you think?

Gramsci and hegemony (new/neo-Marxists)

Gramsci is a humanist Marxist. Humourless Marxists relate more to action theories as they believe the study of society should focus on the effect capitalism has on individuals. For example, how alienation is caused on the proletariat due to mindless production.

Gramsci focuses on how society is centred around ideas and the ability to control these ideas. He argues that the ruling class maintain dominance in society in two ways. The first is through coercion. This is stuff like the army, police or cruel justice system. A good example would be how China has made it illegal for the media to promote ante socialist ideas and how they are forcefully prohibiting religion. Fortunately, the number of laws to protect the rights of the media and people’s right to express religion makes this difficult to implement in the West. Therefore, Gramsci argues that the ruling class have to use consent or hegemony to control the product area. Now, hegemony is a set of ideas and values that are used to persuade the subordinate classes that the ruling class dominance is legitimate. The ruling class are able to spread this hegemony because they control institutions such as the media, education and religion. For example, some Marxists argue that the structure of the education system creates a submissive workforce. Teachers are dominant and have the right to control their students’ fashion, language and time. This conditions children for the world of work where bosses control their behaviour.

However, Gramsci’s optimistic that there is still hope for a revolution because the ruling class hegemony is incomplete for two reasons.

  1. The ruling class are minority. In order for the hegemony to be successful the ruling class need to gain support from the other classes – the middle-class. However in order to get their support, the ruling class are going to have to compromise on the hegemony.
  2. The proletariat have what Gramsci calls a dual consciousness. The proletariat are not only influenced by ruling class ideas, they have their own. The proletariat see things that the ruling class don’t, like poverty and unemployment and exploitation. This means they are not blinded by the ruling class who attempt to present their ideas as the best way to run society for everyone.

This means that there is always the possibility of the ruling class hegemony being undermined, particularly in an economic crisis whether negative effects of capitalism are more prevalent. However, Gramsci does argue that the only way for revolution to take place is for the proletariat to produce organic intellectuals – people that have seen beyond the hegemony – to bring the masses out of their false class consciousness by creating a counter hegemonic bloc (an opposing set of ideas that benefit everyone).


  • Structural Marxists it is Gramsci of placing too much emphasis on ideas rather than state coercion and economic factors
  • Other Marxists such have adopted Gramsci’s approach and stress the role of ideas and consciousness as the basis for resisting domination and changing society. Willis found that working class boys were beginning to see through the ruling class hegemony in education by recognising meritocracy is a myth

Theories of Late Modernity

Late modernists completely disagree with postmodernists. They don’t believe society has entered a postmodern era but argue that the rapid changes in society are evidence of the features of modernity becoming intensified. We are still in modernity but have entered its late phase. Therefore, modernist theories are still useful for understanding society. Late Modernists also take the belief of the Enlightenment Project and argue objective knowledge can be discovered to improve society.

Giddens: disembedding & reflexivity

A defining characteristic of late modernity is rapid social change and Giddens argues this is the result of two factors – disembedding and reflexivity.

Disembedding refers to our ability to interact with one another without having to make face-to-face contact. This is thanks to the  beauty of  the internet. With Facebook & Skype we can break down geographical barriers and connect with people all around  the world.

Giddens also believes we are in a time where our behaviour  is no longer defined by tradition values. Think of the common date. Back in the good ol’ days, a man would open the door for a lady, pull out her chair at the dinner table, always pay the full bill at a restuarant and never go for a kiss on the first date. Now, we are no longer defined  by tradition which means we have to be reflexive. Does she look like the type that wants doors opened for her? If I insist on paying the bill, will she assume that I think she can’t afford it? She was touching my hand a lot at dinner, should I go for the kiss? We are constantly re-evaluating our ideas and actions as new information is provided – nothing is permanent.

The combination of the two has contributed to globalisation.

Modernity and risk

Giddens also argues that in society we face a number of high consequence risks – major threats. Like the threat of nuclear war, economic crashes or environmental risks like global warming. However, he believes – unlike postmodernists – that we can make rational plans to reduce these risks and achieve a better society.

Beck: risk society

Like Giddens, Beck believes that late modern society has become a “risk society” where we are threatened by manufactured risks. He also extends reflexivity and argues that we constantly take into account the risks attached to our actions – reflexive modernisation – and do our best to minimalise them – risk consciousness. Unfortunately, most knowledge of risks is given by the media which often give a distorted view of risks.

Risk, politics & progress

Beck argues that we do have the ability to better society  because we can rationally evaluate risks and take political action to reduce them. E.g environmentalists that challenge industrial development.

Evaluation of theories of late modernity

  • Reflexivity suggests we can all re-shape our lives, but a poor person living in a heavily polluted area may not be able to afford to move elsewhere.
  • Rustin critiques Beck and argues that capitalism with its love of profits that is the greatest risk.
  • Hirst argues political movements like environmentalism cannot bring about significant change as they are too fragmented to challenge capitalism.

Evaluation of labelling

  • Emphasis on negative effects of labelling gives criminals a victim status. Realists see this is ignoring the real victims of crime
  • Ignores that individuals may actively choose deviance
  • Why do people commit crimes prior to labels?
  • It implies no labels = no deviance. The people who commit crimes but are not labelled on deviant? People are unaware they are deviant until labelled?
  • It fails to examine links between labelling and capitalism, so focuses on middle range officials such as police who apply labels rather than the capitalist class that make the rules.


The left picture is an example of disintegrative shaming. A type of labelling where not only the crime is labelled as bad but also the offender. This can lead to the offender becoming excluded from society and as Lemert argues can lead to secondary deviance.Untitled










The next picture is reintegrative shaming. (Although, the whole billboard thing is bad anyways). This is where the act itself is labelled as bad rather than the offender. “So she did a bad thing but she is not a bad person”. Reintegrative shaming prevents the individual from being stigmatised; lets the individual know the negative impacts of their actions and makes it easier to be accepted back into mainstream society . This reduces the chance of secondary deviance.

Primary and Secondary Deviance

Primary and secondary deviance is best explained through examples, so I’m going to use the character of Tommy to explain what Lemert means by primary and secondary deviance.

So Tommy is five years old and his mother has taking him to WH Smith. Now everyone knows that WH Smith has a pick and mix stand and Tommy loves his chocolate. So when mummy isn’t looking, Tommy takes some chocolate mice and carries on like nothing happened. Unfortunately, the clerk saw him eat the chocolate and he gets into trouble with mummy.

This is primary deviance. The clerk doesn’t call the police because it’s justified as childhood behaviour. When Tommy gets older, he would describe it as a “moment of madness”. No one has labelled Tommy as a thief. It is not affected his status or how society views Tommy, therefore according to Lemert primary deviance is pointless to study as it has no effect on the individual or society.

However, as Tommy gets older he continues to steal and at the age of 18 Tommy steals a car from the local Mercedes dealership. Tommy gets caught and sent to prison for 10 years but when he comes out he is still viewed as “that thief”. This makes it hard Tommy to get a job and because he needs money to survive, Tommy joins the neighbourhood gang and once again reverts to crime.

This is what Lemert calls secondary deviance – crime caused by a societal reaction. Society viewed Tommy as nothing more than a thief, so “thief” became Tommy’s master status. This puts Tommy in a self-concept crisis because he doesn’t know how he fits into society any more – no one likes him, he cannot get a job – therefore self-fulfilling prophecy occurs and Tommy fulfils his label. He joins neighbourhood gang in order to be around people who accept his master status. Therefore, Tommy reverts to crime because of his label.