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?