The writing of ‘history from below’ has led to a highly selective view of criminal behaviour, emphasizing riots and protest crimes, but from which ‘the multitudes of petty thefts and minor assaults which account for the bulk of the business of the courts are conspicuous by their absence’.1 Lurid images, drawing heavily if uncritically upon Dickens and Mayhew, depicting a world, urban rather than rural, in which both property and person were threatened with violence by a distinct race of criminals, living in a world apart from the rest of society, are a commonplace of the popular imagination. Such views have been given greater substance by writers such as Ches-ney and Tobias. In fact, these images bear little relation to the true nature of most crimes. This chapter will give a more realistic picture of criminality, bringing out variations in geography, gender and class.
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