Right Realism

What relationship is there between Right Realism and bio-social explanations of crime.

Right realism, also known as ‘Neo Conservatism’ is more prominent in the USA than Britain. It is not in itself a discrete theory, but a largely conservative theory which arose in opposition to strain and labelling theories. One common theme of right realism is that crime, responsibility of individual citizens and families are all inter-related, marking the resurgence of interest in conservative criminology. Right realism’s commitment to the welfare ethic in the 1950s reflected an underlying belief that social problems could be solved socially, that is through the provision of adequate social and economic conditions. Jock Young(1994) observes that James Wilson is a very influential figure in American criminology. He also has a high political profile and his book with Richard Herrnstein Crime and Human Nature (1985) offers a definitive theoretical account of what, in their view, constitute the underlying causes of crime. Like Young they argue similarly their concern is primarily with maintaining social order rather than necessarily delivering justice. (Walkate,2003,p.45)

The newer biosocial approached tend to acknowledge the importance of learning, but they emphasise the extent to which the learning and conditioning if behaviour occur differently for different individuals because of neurological variations. They focus considerably on family studies aimed at locating genetic factors by examining behavioural similarities among members of the same family, although today they stress behavioural characteristics such as hyperactivity and attention deficit disorder. Right realism is linked to the bio-social approach most predominantly through Wilson and Herrnstein in their book Crime and Human Nature (1985). For them crime does not result from social factors, and it is based on individual choice. The fact that anti-social conduct is the chosen result from general permissiveness and dependency on welfare benefits. They considered that an interaction between constitutional factors and social conditioning can affect the way in which certain people balance. They state that effective social conditioning can only take place in a nuclear family, with Wilson and Herrnstein disapproving of single parent families. (Jones,1998, p.231)

Similarities are clear because of the nature of their theoretical argument. Wilson is the foremost proponent of right realism and writes about criminology from the standpoint of new right philosophy and politics. Right realism is criticised for not challenging criminal law and instead centres its efforts on attacking ‘street crime’ to the exclusion of all other offences. It also focuses its efforts on behavioural and conditioning theories like the one of Wilson and Herrnstein. Right realism appeals to a fundamental populism which as typically expressed by the tabloid media , portrays crimes as simple events which can be dealt with simplistic solutions.


Jones,S. (1998) Criminology. Reed Elsevier Ltd: London

Walkate,S, (2003) Understanding Criminology. Open University Press