471). Fagan and Davies suggest that in the case of the NYPD, the department first erred when "Broken Windows theory [was] recast from physical to social disorder," even as neither the original theory nor Fagan and Davies are able to provide a sufficient explanation and justification for the concept of "physical disorder" (471).
Specifically, what counts as physical disorder in Broken Windows theory, including broken windows, graffiti, and other low-level signs of "disorder" are in fact socially, politically, and economically determined themselves, and thus must be sufficiently examined and explained if they are to serve as the basis of a theory. This essay is a prime example of how Right Realism manages to maintain the appearance of critical rigor and high standards of empirical evidence even as it relies on unsupported assumptions and the denial of further intelligibility. Fagan and Davies are able to convincingly use quantitative data to demonstrate the role race plays in the NYPD's stop-and-frisk program, which gives their study an air of genuine "realism," but because this analysis of the NYPD stops is itself rooted in and circumscribed by the inherently faulty Broken Windows theory, this empirical data does not actually say anything about the origin of crime. Instead, the best it can do is report on the effectiveness of a given police policy or action, a task that may be helpful in developing policy on a small scale but which will never offer disruptive or comprehensive insights into minimizing or eradicating crime in general.
Similarly, in their review and critique of the Bell Curve, which purported to demonstrate a number of social and long-term consequences of IQ, Cullen et. al. (1997) simultaneously acknowledge that the Bell Curve "[employs] a narrow, outdated conceptualization of 'intelligence,' [claims] that IQ is difficult to boost, and [implies] that African-Americans are intellectually inferior" while going on to deploy IQ as a potential characteristic or variable to be used in criminological analyses (388). In particular, Cullen et. al. argue that "positive behavioral change is possible and can be made more likely when treatment interventions take into account people's individual differences including their intellectual competencies," but they do not suggest that it would be worthwhile to investigate the reasons behind those individual differences or how the larger social factors determining those differences might be altered so as to affect crime rates and responses (405). Once again, the individual is presented as a kind of empirical black box such that individual differences and actions are treated as discrete, unproblematic variables that need not be considered in a larger social context.
In other words, even as Cullen et. al. suggest that IQ is merely a subjective measurement, they act as if it is objective enough to stop investigation at the point of IQ (or, one presumes, other shallow differences) rather than seek further information concerning the origins of that difference. Cullen et. al. suggest that "it is possible that offenders, faced with challenging social environments and/or personal propensities, lack the practical IQ to cope effectively" and instead react with behaviors and attitudes conducive to lawbreaking (405). Their response is not to investigate potential underlying social or economic reasons for this lack of practical IQ, but instead to suggest "efforts to work with offenders to boost their practical intelligence" (405). While this would undoubtedly be helpful in the long run, it still remains strictly at the level of reaction to crime, rather than investigating crime itself, because Right Realism is simply not concerned with anything other than response.
Again, the problem with Right Realism arises from a kind of ideological myopia, such that it can still offer sometimes useful commentary regarding the relative success of a given response to crime but is almost entirely uninterested in figuring out the underlying causes of that crime. Within Right Realism, the criminal is an individual actor, and almost all investigation is oriented around controlling the behavior of that individual rather than understanding the motivations behind criminal behavior and the social structures that circumscribe and determine the range of potential behaviors. In the face of this almost self-evidently political movement, Left Realism arose in order to counter the increasing dominance of a conservative political theory of criminology, a theory that Roger Matthews characterizes as "So What?" criminology due to its "low level of theorisation, thin, inconsistent or vague concepts and categories," and embodiment of "a dubious methodology or […] little or no policy relevance" (Matthews 2010, p. 125).
Although called Left Realism due to the fact that it emerged from the left-leaning critical criminologies that encouraged the development of Right Realism in the first place, the name Left is something of a misnomer, as mentioned above, because it suggests that the two different schools of thought differ only in political persuasion rather than in research focus, methodology, and critical rigor. In reality, the distance between Left and Right Realism is a distance characterized by a fundamental difference as to the actual problem at hand, because where Right Realism believes that "crime occurs because a lack of conditioning into values," such that the individual criminal is the limit and unit of investigation, Left Realism takes as its target the larger structures in which that individual is enclosed without going so far as to over-valuate the criminal as a kind of a noble rebel, as was sometimes the case in leftist idealism (Lea & Young 2013, p. 142).
In his essay "Left Realism: a defence," John Lea (1987) outlines the social and historical developments that precipitated the need for Left Realism in the first place. Firstly, Lea points out how "the harsh climate of the 1980s has placed this division of labour in a state of sever crisis, particularly in Britain," as "the social problems associated with the decay of urban capitalism have steadily worsened" (Lea 1987, p. 357). Next, the rise of conservative governments during the 1980s has seen the rise of policies that simultaneously strengthen the police and enforcement procedures while minimizing support for mental health, welfare, and other programs that may have once been part of the larger criminal justice system (pp. 357-358). Lea goes on to point out how the rise of national conservatism and local leftism has meant that actual criminological policy has required something like Left Realism to function even as national criminological policy is more based on ideological interest (p. 358).
As such, while Left Realism sounds like it is the natural and ideological opposite of Right Realism, in reality Left Realism is more neutral and ideologically objective than its counterpart, because "at the most general level realism [meaning Left Realism] stands in opposition to idealism and relativism," and thus "in this way realism stands in contrast to those forms of idealist investigation which can only accommodate those aspects of reality which fit into its pre-given conceptions and prejudices" (Matthews 1987, pp. 371, 372. As a result, Left Realism conceptualizes of crime differently, and not only proposes different explanations for where crime comes from, but also different recommendations for reducing crime.
While in Right Realism crime is not considered the "result" of anything more than the individual actions of the criminal (and the degree to which that criminal has internalized, or not, the standards of society), within Left Realism crime is treated as "a relation of action and reaction continually modified through a complex network of social and historical processes" (Matthew 1987, p. 373). Almost immediately one should see how Left Realism is able to provide a more convincingly explanation for the origin of crime, because Left Realism is willing to admit from the outset that crime is the product of social and historical forces working through the lives of individuals, rather than the discretely-examinable behavior of said individuals. This difference in approach is crucial, because Left Realism need not explain how every single different social or historical influence affects crime.
Instead, by recognizing that these influences are present in general, Left Realism opens up the theoretical and experimental space for researchers to begin determining these influences on their own, an avenue of research entirely unavailable within Right Realism. This is the effect of the so-called "square of crime" proposed by the Left Realists, meaning a visual and spacial conceptualization of the interactions that go into every criminal event, including interactions between the criminal, the victim, the state, and the public at large (Lea 2010, p. 143). By introducing the element of the general public into the diagram, Left Realists provide a theoretical space in which to consider the larger-scale causes of crime. As a result, Left Realism is also able to provide more widely-applicable and empirically-supported responses to crime, because it is able to better conceptualize this crime within its social and historical context, regardless of apparent uniqueness of a given situation (Gibbs 2010, p. 171).
By examining the origins of Left and Right realism, as well as the very real theoretical, methodological, and ideological differences between the two, it becomes clear that Left Realism has the more convincing explanation of…