Thinking critically about rural crime: toward the development of a new left realist perspective
Like all criminological schools of thought, left realism emerged within a particular political economic context. Its life began in the 1980s during the Thatcher years, and as Hayward (2010: 264) observes, the writings of British progressives Jock Young, John Lea, and Roger Matthews sent ‘shock waves through radical criminology, opening up personal disputes and ideological cleavages that endure to this day’. These tensions are not limited to the United Kingdom. For example, left-wing attacks on the Canadian realist project range from being accused of ‘an exercise in dubious politics and the cult of personality’ (O’Reilly-Fleming 1995: 5) to fostering ‘a form of intellectual colonization where junior Canadian critical criminologists can be more familiar with developments overseas than with what has happened in their own country’ (Doyle and Moore 2011: 7). Such criticism is evidence that left realism has made its mark on progressive ways of thinking about crime and will continue to do so long into the future. Until the publication of Lea and Young’s (1984) What Is to Be Done about
Law and Order? and Elliott Currie’s (1985) Confronting Crime: An American Challenge, critical criminology was mainly concerned with ‘crimes of the powerful’ (Pearce 1976), such as white-collar and corporate crime. Undoubtedly, more people die in the workplace than on the streets because employers violate occupational health and safety standards (Reiman and Leighton 2010). However, as left realists point out, failing to take seriously muggings, robberies, and the like allows right-wing politicians in several countries to manufacture ideological support for ‘law and order’ policies that are detrimental to the powerless and preclude the development of more equal societies (DeKeseredy 2011a). Moreover, what conservative theorist James Q. Wilson (1985) stated over 25 years ago still holds true today to the extent that people do not bar and nail their windows shut during heat waves, avoid public parks, stay in at night, harbor deep suspicions of strangers, and in general watch the social fabric of society ripped apart because of unsafe working conditions or massive consumer fraud. Left realists developed a sophisticated critical understanding of predatory
street crime and violence behind closed doors and proposed progressive shortterm ways of curbing these problems (DeKeseredy and Schwartz 2012). Although some argue left realism has seen its heyday, to be sure, it is still very
much alive and has been ‘rediscovered’ (Matthews 2009). Consider that at the end of the last decade an international group of scholars, including John Lea (2010) and Roger Matthews (2010), published left realist articles in a special issue of Crime, Law and Social Change (see Vol. 54, 2010). Further, since the mid to late 1980s, Walter DeKeseredy, Martin Schwartz, and Elliott Currie routinely publish left realist work. For Currie (2010: 112-13):
Left Realism … is not only an essential perspective on the problems of crime and justice in the early 21st century, but … it is the perspective that oﬀers the best hope of providing the intellectual underpinning for a genuinely progressive approach to crime around the world.