Introduction to Criminological Theory

Introduction to Criminological TheoryClassicism, Biological and Psychological Positivist theories Dr. Ruth McAlister Week 3

Lecture Aim:The aim of this lecture is to introduce students to the birth of criminology as a discipline and to outline early thinking on criminality

Learning OutcomesBy the end of this lecture students will:Have a better understanding of the ‘birth’ of criminology Appreciate the pros and cons of early criminological theory more generally in attempting to understand why some people are criminal Be able to argue (or not) if people are ‘born’ criminal or whether there is such a thing as a ‘criminal mind’


Lecture Format• Introduction and discussion of classical theory • Introduction and discussion of biological positivism • Introduction and discussion of psychological positivism

What is theory? A way of thinking about the world  When you engage with theory you try to make sense of what the author has argued  It has a deliberate purpose forcing us to look at the world in new ways  It is often deliberately contentious giving you something to argue against or for  Theory attempts to ensure there is an ongoing conversation about key ideas, as well as changes within society

IntroductionBirth of criminology associated with the classical school of 18th C Classical criminology = people choose a criminal life Positivism = ‘features’ of individual may/may not make them criminal Biological – are people are ‘born’ criminal? Psychological – is there a criminal personality?


Classical criminology: A backgroundHumans are rational actors Shift from feudal to industrial society Impact of American and French revolutions

18th Century Classical School On Crimes and Punishments Cesare de Beccaria (1764)  Propensity for crime exists in everyone  Law should be simple and clear  Punishment should be dictated by legislation rather than courts  Excessive punishment is not just  Punishment should be proportionate, effective and swift, aimed at deterrence

Jeremy Bentham’s Panoptican design British philosopher  Pleasure-pain principle  Death penalty used for murder  Influenced development of modern prison, designing the panopticon


Stateville Correctional Center: USA

Classical theory: summary and Critique(s)Human beings rational & have free will Regulation of crime through modern criminal justice system Based on certainty & efficiency; Prevention, deterrence & proportionate punishment Critique(s): Rationality and free will Power and inequality Assumes people respond in predicted ways to punishment

An introduction to Positivism: Key attributes Methods of natural sciences applicable to the social world  Facts as basis of scientific knowledge  Facts distinguished from values  The laws of natural science could be applied to criminology


Biological Positivism

 Criminality associated with abnormality or defectiveness  Phrenology and physiognomy 18th and 19th century

Cesare LombrosoThe White Man and the Coloured Man (1871) La Donna Delinquente (the criminal woman) (1893)

Cesare Lombroso (1835-1909) The ‘atavistic’ criminal:L’uomo Delinquente (the criminal man, 1876)  “…deviation in the head size…excessive dimensions of the jaw, eye defects, ears of unusual size, nose twisted, upturned or flattened in thieves…too few ribs, chin receding, excessive arm length…”(Lombroso, 1876, cited in Wolfgang, 1960:186).


Typology of Criminals – LombrosoBorn Criminal Insane Criminal Occasional Criminal Criminals of passion Contribution to eugenics movement

Biological positivism Genetic factorsSocial Darwinism & Eugenics Positive eugenics – attempts to improve ‘gene pool’ Negative eugenics – sterilisation, segregation in institutions, marriage restraints, immigration restrictions

Biological Positivism: A thing of the past?


Good Beauty and the Bad Beast• Cavior and Howard (1973) • Kurtzberg et al. (1978) These studies remind us of the early claims of physiognomists and the historical belief that physical beauty reflects goodness

William Sheldon’s somatypes (1949)

Endomorph; Mesomorph; Ectomorph

Twin and Adoption Studies: Nature vs. NurtureTwin studies Lange (1929), Christiansen, (1977), Dalgaard and Kringlen (1976) Adoption studies Pollock, Mednick and Gabrielli (1983); Bohman (1995)


Assessing biological positivism“Biological factors almost certainly have some role in the determination of criminal conduct. The extent of this role is generally (very) small. Such effects are heavily mediated by, or only occur in interaction with, broader social or environmental factors” (Newburn, 2007:143).

Critiquing Biological PositivismFailure to challenge legal definitions Difficult to establish cause or effect Linked to racism, anti-semitism, sexism, homophobia, class prejudice

Psychological Positivism: An IntroductionFor psychological positivists the search for the causes of crime is detected in the mind Three broad categories of psychological theories: Psychodynamic Behavioural learning Cognitive learning

Is there a ‘criminal personality’?


Psychodynamic theoriesSigmund Freud (1856 – 1939). Three elements to the mind: ID – basic instincts EGO – controls basic instincts SUPEREGO – moral conscience

Link between maternal deprivation & delinquency (Bowlby, 1946)

Learning/behaviour theories: Pavlov’s Dogs

Learning/behaviour theories Skinner’s theory of ‘operant learning’ (1938,1953)  Behaviour that results in desirable outcomes will increase in frequency, whereas behaviour that results in undesirable outcomes will decrease.

 Sutherland’s theory of ‘differential association’ (1947)  Crime is defined socially. Conduct is learned through coming into contact with social norms

 To understand why someone commits crime it is necessary to understand their individual learning and what has reinforced their behaviour:  Bandura (1977) social learning theory ‘The Bobo doll experiment


Bobo doll experiment

Cognitive theoriesPiaget (1952) – four stages of childhood development: Sensorimotor: birth – 18 months Preoperational: 18 months – 6 years Concrete operational: 6 – early adolescence Formal operational : adolescence onwards

Eysenck’s personality ‘wheel’


Eysenck’s personality typesExtroversion – Assertive, creative, dominant, active, sensation seeking Neuroticism – anxious, depressed, emotional, low self-esteem, moody, shy Psychoticism – aggressive, anti-social, egocentric, impulsive, and lacking empathy

Intelligence & criminalityMeasuring ‘intelligence’: Binet-Simon (1905), Spearman (1927), Weschler (1949 & 1955) Gardner (1983): seven ‘intelligences’ Linking ‘intelligence’ & criminality: Reiss & Rhodes (1961), Wolfgang, Figlio and Sellin (1972), Farrington (1992)

The Bell Curve – Herrnstein & Murray (1994)


Hernnstein & Murray (1994)As a group, criminals are below average in intelligence More serious offenders have lower IQ than casual offenders High intelligence provides ‘protection’ against risk of criminality Immigration destroys ‘gene’ pool

Critiquing the Bell Curve

Outdated view of intelligence IQ testing is culturally biased Intelligence is ONE risk factor but other sociological factors more important Neglect of ‘white collar’ crime Dangers of Bell Curve ideology for policy development

Nature vs. nurture. An out-dated concept?“…few psychologists still cling to the idea that certain individuals are somehow predetermined into a life of crime. Instead, the ‘nature-nurture’ dichotomy is seen to be less an absolute distinction and more an interacting framework for thinking about causal factors in the commission of crime” (Hayward, 2007: 112). Psychological profiling


Seminar discussion questions:Prepare in advance and be ready to discuss these in your seminar classes next week 1. To what extent do you think crime is the product of individual free will? 2. What, if any, are the dangers of suggesting that biological characteristics may help to explain criminality? 3. How might separation from parents in early childhood contribute to later anti-social behaviour? 4. How relevant do you think psychological positivism is to modern criminology, and why?