Postmodermism – Crime and Deviance

Lesson objectiveTo explore the postmodernist approach the crime
Lesson outcomes• Assess its relevance in today’s society
• Analyse the perspective
• Explain what postmodernists believe


Postmodernists believe that society is diverse, fragmented and ever changing, therefore the term ‘crime’ is a social construction based on a narrow set of legal definitions. Therefore what we perceive crime to be is often an outdated metanarrative of the law. This highlights that crime can often limit a person simply expressing their identity.

To see how more clearly, read the article below on Alan Turing.

Additionally, to see how this impacts people and their identities today, this article is good.

In order to solve this issue, Postmodernists believe that a transgressive approach to crime must be taken.

Henry and Milovanovic

Henry and Milovanovic (1996) attempt to reconceptualise the definition of crime by identifying two forms of harm and should any of the two be broken, a crime has been committed:

  1. Harms of reduction – Power is used to cause a victim to experience some immediate loss or injury.
  2. Harms of repression – Power is used to restrict future human development. (This attempts to bridge together a wide range of actions e.g. hate crimes, trafficking).

The causes of crime

Most sociological theories explain crime and deviance in relation to a social structure and the values that that structure posses e.g:

  1. Marginalisation,
  2. Subcultural theory,
  3. Strain theory.

Postmodernism emphasises that the impact of these structures being weakened is that people’s lives are filled with more uncertainty. As a consequence social causes of crimes are less discourable and attempts to measure crime is impossible as more people are commiting crime to express their identity and thus crime is unique. There are an infinite number of causes. Levin and McDevitt (2008), suggest crimes such as hate crimes, exist because those who commit the crimes feel as though the victims have a different identity.

Edgework and the seductions of crime.

Katz (1988), attempted to emphaise the connection of emotion to crime. Rather than criminals weighing up the pros and cons, criminals commit crimes because it is thrilling and exciting.An example of this is the London Riots.

Lyng (1990), agreed with Katz and created the concept of ‘edgework’. This is where criminals know the boundaries of society and attempt to test the laws as a thrill seeking opportunity. Sometimes it may be more such as thesuffragettes who attempted to force society to change its laws.

Cultural criminologists argue that Right Realists do not understand crime. This is because Postmodernist evidence suggests that people who commit crimes do not often think about how to avoid being captured or the consequences of their actions showing that harsher punishments and CCTV does not reduce crime.


(Good) – It recognises that there is more than one dimension to crime and the causes. It moves away from structural explanations.

(Good) – It provides explanations for non-utilitarian crimes.

(Good) – Transgressive definitions encompass a wide range of behaviour that is often not looked at in law.

(Bad) – It doesn’t relate the effects of capitalism to crime e.g. poverty and the need to survive.

(Bad) – It neglects that people still have morals and that not all crimes are socially constructed e.g. murder.

(Bad) – Postmodernism cannot explain how structural policies have reduced crime since 1990.

(Bad) – Lea argues that Postmodernism just reiterates old concepts. E.g. Marxists highlight that crime is socially constructed by those in power. What’s new?

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