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The search for causes

Criminology in modern times


It is proper to use the term criminology to designate either (a) a body of scientific knowledge about crime, including its causes and prevention, the handling of offenders, and the pursuit of such knowledge regardless of where it stems from; or (b) a didactic discipline, which assembles, analyzes, and integrates the findings of criminological research in all scientific disciplines and indicates the best way in which they can be applied in practice to secure socially desirable ends.

Since Raffaele Garofalo (1885) invented the term, no agreement has been reached on the definition of criminology. Traditionally, it has concerned itself with the study of violations of the criminal law and of those who commit them, but opinions vary on the nature and scope of such study. Some hold that it should concentrate on the scientific investigation of the causes of crime and form a subclass of a more general catch-all discipline called “criminal science.” Criminal science would be composed of many specialized branches of study, some concerned with etiology—criminology, further subdivided into biological, psychological, and sociological criminology—and others with police science, substantive and procedural legal problems, and penology. By contrast, there are those who would regard all these branches as parts of criminology, a view reflected in American textbooks in particular, which consequently employ the term merely as a pedagogical device. This custom is opposed by those who see in criminology an empirical and naturalistic science, but even this more restrictive view raises problems. This is because the scientific study of offenses, offenders, and the whole complex of penal and law-enforcing institutions is carried on by researchers in a variety of scientific fields, each having its own theories, hypotheses, and techniques of investigation, which are often poorly understood, misunderstood, or rejected by researchers in other fields—either in principle or because of faulty interdisciplinary communication arising from increasing specialization in research activity. One cannot, therefore, speak of a science of criminology in the narrow sense of a discipline that possesses universally accepted theoretical concepts.

The search for causes

It is in the search for an understanding of why people commit crime that most research has occurred. The history of such inquiries can be said to have begun with the nineteenth century, which witnessed the development of the psychological and social sciences. Previously, indeed going back to antiquity, the problem of criminal conduct occupied the minds of natural philosophers and proto-scientists, and various theories were advanced to explain it. Observers of the social scene also speculated on the causes of criminality long before sophisticated inquirers with more adequate sources of data began their studies. Generally speaking, one might say that the search for the causes of crime has either been made by those who believe that criminal conduct can be explained chiefly by the biological or mental characteristics of offenders, or by those who believe that environmental conditions and circumstances are the chief operative factors. We shall call the former the individualists and the latter the environmentalists.

The individualists

Attempts to interpret the significance of relationships between body and mind led in ancient times to the development of physiognomies. This method of character diagnosis survived well into the Middle Ages, and one of its practitioners, Giambattista della Porta (1536–1615), may have been the first criminologist. He is said to have made anthropometric measurements on criminals in order to establish a typology. These medieval studies are not unlike some that appeared in the last century, and della Porta’s drawings comparing human and animal faces have found counterparts in relatively recent studies by responsible scientists working with different underlying hypotheses. However, physiognomies soon fell into disrepute and remained so until Lombroso revived it in a new connection.

A different approach to the explanation of crime was that of Franz Joseph Gall (1758–1828), the greatest brain anatomist of his age, who was influenced by the faculty psychology of the time. His study of the brain and the nervous system caused him to propound a theory of the localization of brain functions, each operating through an organ in a cluster of other organs distributed over the outer layer of the brain. Criminal conduct then occurred if an overdeveloped organ of combativeness or acquisitiveness, for instance, was too stimulated. In vogue for a few decades, Gall’s theory was abandoned, but it called attention to the necessity of studying the offender in order to understand his conduct. Following Gall’s lead, Lauvergne (1841) studied prisoners at Toulon and described a criminal type that Lombroso later was to call a criminal by nature.

Psychiatrists were also interested in the etiology of crime. Benjamin Rush (1786), a Philadelphia physician, published an essay on the influence of physical causes on the moral faculties, in which he described persons who, although in other respects normal, became criminals because their moral faculty was impaired, a disease he called anomia. This theory, later elaborated by Philippe Pinel and Jean E. D. Esquirol, given the name “moral insanity” by James C. Prichard, and strongly defended by Prosper Despine and Henry Maudsley, took on a new lease of life in the late 1930s, when the notion of the constitutional psychopathic inferior aroused a discussion that seems likely to continue. [SeePsychopathic personality.]

The political revolutions of the eighteenth century may have proclaimed the equality of man, but scientists of the period were fully aware of the great variations within the human species. The prevalence of physical and mental defects, ill-health, poverty, and criminality gave rise to B. A. Morel’s theory of “degeneration” (1857), which held that all these phenomena were the results of a progressive pathological process in which heredity played an important role. This process led to the formation of a variety of human types, which he described in a monograph (Morel 1864) that contained many of the ideas later adopted by the Lombrosians. He also suggested the need for a science of “morbid anthropology.” Dugdale’s study of the Jukes (1877) shows some affinity with Morel’s ideas.

In 1876 a work with the title L’uomo deliquente (”The Criminal Man”), by Cesare Lombroso (1835–1909), introduced a new variant among individualistic theories—the most important one, judging from its ultimate influence rather than its intrinsic value. On the basis of clinical and anatomical studies of criminals, Lombroso was convinced that the criminal was a throwback (atavism), a person who has the body and mind of our primitive ancestors, a kind of vestigial survivor from a day when mankind stood on a lower rung of the ladder of evolution, who, acting in a way natural to such a person, breaks the laws of modern society. The theory is a perfect example of the confluence of many contemporary sources of ideas. Jacob Moleschott and Friedrich K. C. L. Büchner supplied the materialistic doctrine, Charles Darwin the framework, Ernst H. Haeckel’s biogenetic principle of recapitulation the mechanism that, interfered with, would account for the atavism (Mendel’s discovery was still unknown), psychiatrists the concepts of moral insanity and degeneration, Paul Broca the techniques and instruments of anthropometry, the psychophysicists the methods of psychometrics, and Joseph A. de Gobineau the documentary data on the customs of primitive man.

Lombroso’s theory aroused both support and opposition among researchers, not to mention the clergy or the laity represented by the legal profession. The first serious attempt to test it was done by C. B. Goring (1913), who found no support for it, and the last by E. A. Hooton, who failed to substantiate the claims he made for it. It no longer survives anywhere in its original formulation, but the orientation it represents, namely the stress on the importance of biological factors, still dominates criminological thought in Italy, the Iberian peninsula, and the Latin American countries.

A parallel avenue has been followed by the constitutionalists, seeking a correlation between somatic body types and criminality. The rediscovery of Mendel’s hypothesis and the development of new psychometric devices such as intelligence tests led to numerous researches on the relationship of hereditary or psychological factors in delinquency, best demonstrated in studies of identical twins. It is within this context that we should appraise the psychoanalytic theories advanced in explanation of crime. Biological theories also fall under this head; indeed, it looks as if ancient beliefs in the role of body fluids in shaping temperaments have reappeared in a new guise in physiological studies of endocrine influences on behavior. As each new hypothesis of a biological or psychological nature has appeared, or new diagnostic devices have been found (the electroencephalograph or projective psychological tests, for instance), attempts have been made to determine their usefulness in research explaining criminal conduct.

The environmentalists

The earliest environmentalists were probably the astrologers who believed that traits ascribed to planets were mysteriously transmitted to humans, and that persons born when certain planets were in ascendancy or conjunction were doomed to crime. In later ages, such primitive conceptions were replaced by beliefs in the effect of climate on behavior (cf. Montesquieu), systematized less than a century ago by Enrico Ferri (1881a) in his discussion of telluric factors in the etiology of crime. Today, observed seasonal changes in criminality are recognized but explained in social terms. Indeed, the contributions of the environmentalists to an understanding of criminality have been predominantly sociological. Their ideas, at first based on commonplace experience and observation, have undergone many different, if not always basic, changes, because of improved sources of data, greater methodological sophistication, and the stimulus of scientific developments of the behavioral sciences in general.

It is said that Galen, noting the malpractice of Roman physicians, claimed that their conduct was made possible only by the anonymity of city life. Had they lived in small towns, where everybody would have known them, they could not have persisted in their conduct. The effect of poverty on crime was seen by Sir John Fortescue in the fifteenth century, and described by Sir Thomas More and Juan Luis Vives in the sixteenth century. The economic and social consequences of the Black Death and the endemic wars of the following three centuries created a criminal class, the existence of which was attributed to social causes. Eighteenth-century writers like Bernard Mandeville, Henry Fielding, and Patrick Colquhoun cited police corruption, the moral contagion of prisons, poor law enforcement, gambling, the saloon, illiteracy and ignorance, etc. as responsible for criminality. Both Fielding and Colquhoun gave graphic descriptions of organized crime, as did Avé-Lallemant in Germany half a century later.

It is during the last three quarters of the nineteenth century that we discern in the social sciences a development paralleling that already described in our discussion of the individualists. In 1825 France set up the first system of judicial criminal statistics. It was to be imitated by most other European countries. These annual series of data inspired the first important statistical studies by Charles J. M. Lucas (1827) on the relation of education to crime, by Adolphe Quetelet in 1831 on the relation of age to criminality, and by André M. Guerry (1833) on economic conditions, education, sex, etc. as related to crime. To facilitate the understanding of their tables, they presented maps of France showing the distribution of some of the phenomena they investigated, a technique much employed by contemporary and later authors and revived in the present century by American social ecologists.

The socioeconomic consequences of the industrial revolution were seen as criminogenic by numerous authors, especially those influenced by the economic theories of Karl Marx. Indeed, two of them, Napoleone Colajanni (1889) and Enrico Ferri (1881b), produced the first treatises on criminal sociology. Ferri’s work became particularly influential. His effort to reconcile the divergent views of the social scientists and the criminal anthropologists led to a multiple-factor approach to the study of causation, which took account of anthropological, telluric, and social factors. His earliest studies (Ferri 1881a) were statistical analyses of criminality in France since 1825.

Two French sociologists were to have considerable influence on criminological thought—Gabriel Tarde (1843–1904) and Émile Durkheim (1858–1917). Both presented sociological theories of criminality worthy of comparison with the biological theories of men like Morel and Lombroso, and the dates of their formulation are evidence of the comparatively later maturation of sociological thought. Tarde (1890) held that as a special activity criminality was explained by the laws of imitation. The criminal represented a social type. Forms of crime originated in the upper classes and spread downward by imitation; thus an individual might be born vicious, but societal influences make him a criminal. Durkheim’s best contribution was his theory of anomie, a condition that he held to be created by social evolution, as it transforms homogeneous societies into heterogeneous ones by the increasing division of labor, and by the rise of more and more social groups with divergent norms that may be in conflict with legal norms. Both of these authors, and especially Durkheim, have influenced the thinking of American criminologists.

Criminology in modern times

In this brief review, scores of names of scholars and scientists who have engaged in criminological research and who have assisted in enriching it have necessarily been omitted. And it will be noticed that, with one exception, Benjamin Rush, only Europeans have been mentioned. This is because in the United States, until the present century, studies of criminality or criminals only imitated work done abroad. The poverty of criminal statistics, which is still a problem, made the kind of social investigations done in Europe impossible. Psychologists and psychiatrists faced no such problem; the publication of Healy’s The Individual Delinquent (1915) marked the beginning of a new era for their studies. Sociologists had to find different approaches. Before World War i, no leading American sociologist, except perhaps Charles H. Cooley, Franklin H. Giddings, or E. A. Ross, showed any theoretical interest in criminology. Courses in criminology were offered in many American colleges and universities by 1905, but they were largely concerned with social reform. Only in the last forty years has a scientific orientation grown up in American sociological research on crime, as in other sociological areas of inquiry. Such research has tended to focus on the causation of crime. Psychiatric research in criminology, clinically oriented, has also increasingly come to recognize the significance of social and cultural influences on criminal conduct. [SeeCrime, article onCauses of crime.]

Whereas in the United States criminological research has been done mostly by sociologists, elsewhere clinical criminology, practiced mainly by psychiatrists, dominated research until World War ii. In most countries of basically Latin culture, this is still the case. Since then, however, sociological research has been gaining in importance in many countries and has reversed the psychiatric dominance, especially in northern Europe. This process has been largely due to the phenomena of postwar criminality and delinquency and to the growing familiarity with the products of American empirical criminological research, which before World War ii seemed to be almost unknown outside the United States.

Sociologists have also become interested in the study of correctional institutions seen as social systems; significant research in that connection has been conducted in the United States, England, and Norway. The effectiveness of various forms of correctional treatment is being studied in many coun-tries. Such research may be expected to have an influence on legislation on crimes, their sanctions, and correctional administration. Attempts are also being made in some countries to develop prognostic instruments useful in spotting future delinquents among young children, in the selection of offenders for placement on probation or parole, and in the assignment of prisoners to different types of treatment programs. In this connection, the central diagnostic clinics established by many state or national correctional departments, of which California, France, and Italy offer good examples, have aided in bringing about closer cooperation among staff representatives of the various disciplines concerned with criminal conduct.

Concurrent with the growth of scientific research activity and with the proliferation, especially in the United States, of state or local programs and agencies for the prevention of crime and delinquency and for the treatment of offenders has been the increase in the demand for criminologically trained research and treatment personnel. Pedagogical institutes of criminology, aiming to broaden the knowledge of the judiciary and of correctional administrators or candidates for such civil service offices, have existed for more than half a century at law schools in many foreign countries. Institutes combining staff research and teaching have appeared more recently. The most active are those at Cambridge, England, and Vaucresson, France. In the United States, a few universities offer programs of graduate study leading to advanced degrees related to criminology. Such courses are, with rare exceptions, designed to train teachers of criminology or correctional administrators rather than researchers; the same holds true for the offerings of the institute recently established in Japan by the United Nations.

Thorsten Sellin

[Directly related are the entriesCrime; Penology. Other relevant material may be found inDelinquency; Drugs, article ondrug addiction: social aspects; and in the biographies ofDurkheim; Hooton; Lombroso; Mandeville; Montesquieu; Quetelet; Rush; Sutherland; Tarde.]


No adequate history of criminology exists, and the textbooks give scanty information. A broader view may be gained from Niceforo 1941; Kan 1903; Bonger 1905; Bernaldo de Quirós 1898; Antonini 1900; Montes 1911; Fink 1938; Void 1958; Mannheim 1960. The discussion of the scope and nature of criminology continues unabated, as witnessed by such works as Bianchi 1956; Pelaez 1960. Two national dictionaries of criminology are worthy of note: Elster & Lingemann, Handwörterbuch der Kriminologie 1933–1936; and the Dizionario di criminologia 1943. Good bibliographical tools are now available; especially useful are the International Review of Criminal Policy; International Bibliography on Crime and Delinquency; Annales internationales de criminologie; Excerpta criminologica; Current Projects in the Prevention, Control and Treatment of Crime and Delinquency. Textbooks are numerous. Among the many current American ones, all written by sociologists, the best known is Sutherland & Cressey 1924. Of foreign texts, among the leading titles are Agge 1955; Greeff 1946; Hurwitz 1947; Bemmelen 1942; Pinatel 1963. Many criminological journals are being published; among them, in the United States, are the Journal of Criminal Law, Criminology, and Police Science; Archives of Criminal Psychodynamics; Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency.

In England, the leading publication is the British Journal of Criminology. In Germany, the Archiv für Kriminologie and the Monatsschrift für Kriminologie und Strafrechts-reform are both well-established journals, as are the Belgian Revue de droit pénal et de criminologie, the Dutch Nederlands tijdschrift voor criminologie, and the Swiss Revue internationale de criminologie et de police technique. France and Italy, both of which have long traditions of criminological research, produce, respectively, the Revue de science criminelle et de droit pénal comparé and the Quaderni di criminologia clinica. More extensive listings of journals will be found in International Society of Criminology 1961. The teaching of criminology in different countries, including the United States, is described in International Society of Criminology 1957. Also worth reading in this connection is Radzinowicz 1961. National societies for the study and promotion of scientific criminology exist in many countries. International exchange between criminologists has been organized since the late nineteenth century; no fewer than seven international congresses of “criminal anthropology” were held between 1885 and 1911. The International Society of Criminology, organized in 1937, has held such congresses in 1938, 1950, 1955, 1960, and 1965.

Agge, Ivar et al. 1955 Kriminologi. Stockholm: Wahlström & Widstrand.

Annales Internationales de criminologie. → Published by the Société Internationale de Criminologie. From 1951 to 1961 it was called the Bulletin [of the International Society of Criminology].

Antonini, Giuseppe 1900 I precursori di C. Lombroso. Turin (Italy): Bocca.

Archiv für Kriminologie: Unter Besonder Berücksichtigung der naturwissenschaftlichen Kriminalistik. → Published since 1898.

Archives of Criminal Psychodynamics. → Published since 1955.

Bemmelen, Jacob M. van (1942) 1958 Criminologie: Leerbock der misdaadkunde. 4th ed. Zwolle (Netherlands): Tjeenk Willink.

Bernaldo de QuirÓs, Constancio (1898) 1911 Modern Theories of Criminality. Boston: Little. → First published as Las nuevas teorías de la criminalidad.

Bianchi, Hermanus 1956 Position and Subject-matter of Criminology: Inquiry Concerning Theoretical Criminology. Amsterdam: North-Holland Publishing.

Bonger, William A. (1905) 1916 Criminality and Economic Conditions. Boston: Little. → First published as Criminalité et conditions économiques.

Branham, Vernon C.; and Kutash, Samuel B. (editors) 1949 Encyclopedia of Criminology. New York: Philosophical Library.

British Journal of Criminology. → Published since 1960 by the Institute for the Study and Treatment of Delinquency. From 1950 to 1960 published as British Journal of Delinquency.

Colajanni, Napoleone 1889 La sociologia criminale. 2 vols. Catania (Italy): Tropea.

Current Projects in the Prevention, Control and Treatment of Crime and Delinquency. → Published from 1962 to 1964 by the National Council on Crime and Delinquency. Now published by the National Clearing House for Mental Health Information, U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare, Public Health Service.

Dizionario di criminologia. 2 vols. Edited by E. Florian, A. Niceforo, and N. Pende. 1943 Milan (Italy): Vallardi.

Dugdale, Richard L. (1877) 1910 The Jukes: A Study in Crime, Pauperism, Disease and Heredity. 4th ed. New York: Putnam.

Elster, Alexander; and Lingemann, Heinrich (editors) 1933–1936 Handwörterbuch der Kriminologie und der anderen strafrechtlichen Hilfswissenschaften … Berlin: de Gruyter.

Excerpta criminologica. → A journal of abstracts, published since 1961 by the Excerpta Criminologica Foundation, Amsterdam.

Ferri, Enrico 1881a Studi sulla criminalità in Francia dal 1826 al 1878. Rome: Botta.

Ferri, Enrico (1881b) 1917 Criminal Sociology. Boston: Little. → First published as I nuovi orizzonti del diritto e della procedura penale. Title later changed to Sociologia criminale.

Fink, Arthur E. 1938 The Causes of Crime: Biological Theories in the United States, 1800–1915. Philadelphia: Univ. of Pennsylvania Press. → A paperback edition was published in 1962 by Barnes & Noble.

Garofalo, Raffaele (1885)1914 Criminology. Boston: Little. → First published in Italian.

Goring, Charles B. 1913 The English Convict: A Statistical Study. London: H.M. Stationery Office.

Greeff, Étienne de (1946) 1947 Introduction à la criminologie. 2d ed. Brussels: Vandenplas.

Guerry, AndrÉ M. 1833 Essai sur la statistique morale de la France. Paris: Crochard.

Healy, William 1915 The Individual Delinquent: A Text-book of Diagnosis and Prognosis for All Concerned in Understanding Offenders. Boston: Little.

Hurwitz, Stephan (1947) 1952 Criminology. London: Allen & Unwin. → First published in Danish.

International Bibliography on Crime and Delinquency. → Published since 1963, first by the National Research and Information Center on Crime and Delinquency, National Council on Crime and Delinquency, now by the National Clearing House for Mental Health Information, U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare, Public Health Service.

International Review of Criminal Policy. → Published since 1952 by the United Nations, Department of Social Affairs. Contains an extensive international bibliography of criminology.

International Society of Criminology 1957 The University Teaching of Social Sciences: Criminology. Paris: UNESCO.

International Society of Criminology 1961 Selected Documentation on Criminology. Social Science Clearing House, Reports and Papers in the Social Sciences, No. 14. Paris: UNESCO. → A selective bibliography for each of 25 countries.

Journal of Criminal Law, Criminology, and Police Science. → Published since 1910 under various titles.

Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency. → Published since 1964 by the National Council on Crime and Delinquency and the Center for Youth and Community Studies, Howard University.

Kan, Joseph van 1903 Les causes économiques de la criminalité: Étude historique et critique d’étiologie criminelle. Paris: Storck.

Kinberg, Olof 1935 Basic Problems of Criminology. Copenhagen: Levin & Munksgaard. → A French revision was published in 1960 as Les problàmes fondamentaux de la criminologie.

Lauvergne, Hubert 1841 Les forçats considérés sous le rapport physiologique, moral et intellectuel. Paris: Baillière.

Lucas, Charles J. M. 1827 DU système pénal et du systeme repressif en général, de la peine de mort en particulier. Paris: Béchet.

Mannheim, Hermann (editor) (1954–1960) 1960 Pioneers in Criminology. London: Stevens. → A collection of biographies that first appeared separately in the Journal of Criminal Law, Criminology, and Police Science.

Mannheim, Hermann 1965 Comparative Criminology: A Text Book. 2 vols. London: Routledge.

Middendorff, Wolf 1959 Soziologie des Verbrechens. Düsseldorf (Germany): Diederich.

Monatsschrift für Kriminologie und Strafrechtsreform. → Published since 1904 under various titles.

Montes, JerÓnimo 1911 Precursores de la ciencia penal en España: Estudios sobre el delincuente y las causas y remedies del delito. Madrid: Suarez.

Morel, Benedict A. 1857 Traité des dégénérescences physiques, intellectuelles et morales de I’éspèce humaine et des causes qui produisent ces variétés maladives. Paris: Baillière.

Morel, Benedict A. 1864 De la formation du type dans les variétés dégénérées: Ou, nouveaux éléments d’anthropologie morbide pour faire suite à la théorie des dégénerescences dans I’espèce humaine. Paris: Baillière.

Nederlands tijdschrift voor criminologie. → Published since 1959.

Niceforo, Alfredo (1941) 1949 Criminologia. Volume 1: Vecchie e nuove dottrine. Milan (Italy): Bocca.

Pelaez, Michelangelo 1960 Introduzione allo studio della criminologia. Milan (Italy): Giuffré.

Pinatel, Jean 1963 Criminologie. Volume 3 in Pierre Bouzat and Jean Pinatel, Traité de droit pénal et de criminologie. Paris: Dalloz.

Quaderni di criminologia clinica. → Published since 1959.

Radzinowicz, Leon (1961) 1962 In Search of Criminology. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press.

Revue de droit pénal et de criminologie. → Published since 1907.

Revue de science criminelle et de droit pénal comparé. → Published since 1936 by the Centre Français de Droit Comparé, Université de Paris, Institut de Criminologie.

Revue internationale de criminologie et de police technique. → Published since 1947.

Rush, Benjamin (1786) 1839 Inquiry Into the Influence of Physical Causes Upon the Moral Faculty. Philadelphia: Cist. → Speech delivered before the American Philosophical Society, February 27, 1786. First published as An Oration … Containing an Enquiry Into the Influence of Physical Causes Upon the Moral Faculty.

Sellin, Thorsten; and Savitz, Leonard (1935) 1963 A Bibliographical Manual for the Student of Criminology. 3d ed., rev. International Bibliography on Crime and Delinquency 1, no. 3.

Sutherland, Edwin H.; and Cressey, Donald R. (1924) 1960 Principles of Criminology. 6th ed. New York: Lippincott. → First published as a textbook under the title Criminology with E. H. Sutherland as sole author.

Tarde, Gabriel (1890) 1912 Penal Philosophy. Boston: Little. → First published as La philosophic pénale.

Tullio, Benigno di 1945 Trattato di antropologia criminale. Rome: Criminalia.

Vold, George B. 1958 Theoretical Criminology. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

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The scientific study of the causation, correction, and prevention of crime.

As a subdivision of the larger field of sociology, criminology draws on psychology, economics, anthropology, psychiatry, biology, statistics, and other disciplines to explain the causes and prevention of criminal behavior. Subdivisions of criminology include penology, the study of prisons and prison systems; biocriminology, the study of the biological basis of criminal behavior; feminist criminology, the study of women and crime; and criminalistics, the study of crime detection, which is related to the field of forensic science.

Criminology has historically played a reforming role in relation to criminal law and the criminal justice system. As an applied discipline, it has produced findings that have influenced legislators, judges, prosecutors, lawyers, probation officers, and prison officials, prompting them to better understand crime and criminals and to develop better and more humane sentences and treatments for criminal behavior.


The origins of criminology are usually located in the late-eighteenth-century writings of those who sought to reform criminal justice and penal systems that they perceived as cruel, inhumane, and arbitrary. These old systems applied the law unequally, were subject to great corruption, and often used torture and the death penalty indiscriminately.

The leading theorist of this classical school of criminology, the Italian Cesare bonesano beccaria (1738–94), argued that the law must apply equally to all, and that punishments for specific crimes should be standardized by legislatures, thus avoiding judicial abuses of power. Both Beccaria and another classical theorist, the Englishman jeremy bentham (1748–1832), argued that people are rational beings who exercise free will in making choices. Beccaria and Bentham understood the dominant motive in making choices to be the seeking of pleasure and the avoidance of pain. Thus, they argued that a punishment should fit the crime in such a way that the pain involved in potential punishment would be greater than any pleasure derived from committing the crime. The writings of these theorists led to greater codification and standardization of European and U.S. laws.

Criminologists of the early nineteenth century argued that legal punishments that had been created under the guidance of the classical school did not sufficiently consider the widely varying circumstances of those who found themselves in the gears of the criminal justice system. Accordingly, they proposed that those who could not distinguish right from wrong, particularly children and mentally ill persons, should be exempted from the punishments that were normally meted out to mentally capable adults who had committed the same crimes. Along with the contributions of a later generation of criminologists, known as the positivists, such writers argued that the punishment should fit the criminal, not the crime.

Later in the nineteenth century, the positivist school of criminology brought a scientific approach to criminology, including findings from biology and medicine. The leading figure of this school was the Italian Cesare Lombroso (1836–1909). Influenced by Charles R. Darwin's theory of evolution, Lombroso measured the physical features of prison inmates and concluded that criminal behavior correlated with specific bodily characteristics, particularly cranial, skeletal, and neurological malformations. According to Lombroso, biology created a criminal class among the human population. Subsequent generations of criminologists have disagreed harshly with Lombroso's conclusions on this matter. However, Lombroso had a more lasting effect on criminology with other findings that emphasized the multiple causes of crime, including environmental causes that were not biologically determined. He was also a pioneer of the case-study approach to criminology.

Other late-nineteenth-century developments in criminology included the work of statisticians of the cartographic school, who analyzed data on population and crime. These included Lambert Adolphe Quetelet, (1796– 1874) of France and André Michel Guerry, of Belgium. Both of these researchers compiled detailed, statistical information relating to crime and also attempted to identify the circumstances that predisposed people to commit crimes.

The writings of French sociologist Emile Durkheim (1858–1917) also exerted a great influence on criminology. Durkheim advanced the hypothesis that criminal behavior is a normal part of all societies. No society, he argued, can ever have complete uniformity of moral consciousness. All societies must permit some deviancy, including criminal deviancy, or they will stagnate. He saw the criminal as an acceptable human being and one of the prices that a society pays for freedom.

Durkheim also theorized about the ways in which modern, industrial societies differ from nonindustrial ones. Industrial societies are not as effective at producing what Durkheim called a collective conscience that effectively controls the behavior of individuals. Individuals in industrial societies are more likely to exhibit what Durkheim called anomie—a Greek word meaning "without norms." Consequently, modern societies have had to develop specialized laws and criminal justice systems that were not necessary in early societies to control behavior.

Early efforts to organize criminologists in the United States attracted law enforcement officials and others who were interested in the criminal justice system. In 1941, a group of individuals in California organized for the purpose of improving police training and the standardization of police-training curricula. In 1946, this movement developed into the establishment of the Society for the Advancement of Criminology, which changed its name to the American Society of Criminology in 1957. Initial efforts of this organization focused upon scientific crime detection, investigation, and identification; crime prevention, public safety, and security; law enforcement administration; administration of criminal justice; traffic administration; and probation.

The American Society of Criminology has since attracted thousands of members, including academics, practitioners, and students of the criminal justice system. Studies of criminology include both the theoretical and the pragmatic, and some combine elements of both. Although some aspects of criminology as a science are still considered radical, others have developed as standards in the study of crime and criminal justice.

Sociology and Criminology

During the twentieth century, the sociological approach to criminology became the most influential approach. Sociology is the study of social behavior, systems, and structures. In relation to criminology, it may be divided into social-structural and social-process approaches.

Social-Structural Criminology Social-structural approaches to criminology examine the way in which social situations and structures influence or relate to criminal behavior. An early example of this approach, the ecological school of criminology, was developed in the 1920s and 1930s at the University of Chicago. It seeks to explain crime's relationship to social and environmental change. For example, it attempts to describe why certain areas of a city will have a tendency to attract crime and also have less-vigorous police enforcement. Researchers have found that urban areas in transition from residential to business uses are most often targeted by criminals. Such communities often have disorganized social networks that foster a weaker sense of social standards.

Another social-structural approach is the conflict school of criminology. It traces its roots to Marxist theories that saw crime as ultimately a product of conflict between different classes under the system of capitalism. Criminology conflict theory suggests that the laws of society emerge out of conflict rather than out of consensus. It holds that laws are made by the group that is in power, to control those who are not in power. Conflict theorists propose, as do other theorists, that those who commit crimes are not fundamentally different from the rest of the population. They call the idea that society may be clearly divided into criminals and noncriminals a dualistic fallacy, or a misguided notion. These theorists maintain, instead, that the determination of whether someone is a criminal or not often depends on the way society reacts to those who deviate from accepted norms. Many conflict theorists and others argue that minorities and poor people are more quickly labeled as criminals than are members of the majority and wealthy individuals.

Critical criminology, also called radical criminology, shares with conflict criminology a debt to Marxism. It came into prominence in the early 1970s and attempted to explain contemporary social upheavals. Critical criminology relies on economic explanations of behavior and argues that economic and social inequalities cause criminal behavior. It focuses less on the study of individual criminals, and advances the belief that existing crime cannot be eliminated within the capitalist system. It also asserts, like the conflict school, that law has an inherent bias in favor of the upper or ruling class, and that the state and its legal system exist to advance the interests of the ruling class. Critical criminologists argue that corporate, political, and environmental crime are underreported and inadequately addressed in the current criminal justice system.

Feminist criminology emphasizes the subordinate position of women in society. According to feminist criminologists, women remain in a position of inferiority that has not been fully rectified by changes in the law during the late twentieth century. Feminist criminology also explores the ways in which women's criminal behavior is related to their objectification as commodities in the sex industry.

Others using the social-structural approach have studied gangs, juvenile delinquency, and the relationship between family structure and criminal behavior.

Social-Process Criminology Social-process criminology theories attempt to explain how people become criminals. These theories developed through recognition of the fact that not all people who are exposed to the same social-structural conditions become criminals. They focus on criminal behavior as learned behavior.

Edwin H. Sutherland (1883–1950), a U.S. sociologist and criminologist who first presented his ideas in the 1920s and 1930s, advanced the theory of differential association to explain criminal behavior. He emphasized that criminal behavior is learned in interaction with others, usually in small groups, and that criminals learn to favor criminal behavior over noncriminal behavior through association with both forms of behavior in different degrees. As Sutherland wrote, "When persons become criminal, they do so because of contacts with criminal patterns and also because of isolation from anticriminal patterns." Although his theory has been greatly influential, Sutherland himself admitted that it did not satisfactorily explain all criminal behavior. Later theorists have modified his approach in an attempt to correct its shortcomings.

Control theory, developed in the 1960s and 1970s, attempts to explain ways to train people to engage in law-abiding behavior. Although there are different approaches within control theory, they share the view that humans require nurturing in order to develop attachments or bonds to people and that personal bonds are key in producing internal controls such as conscience and guilt and external controls such as shame. According to this view, crime is the result of insufficient attachment and commitment to others.

Walter C. Reckless developed one version of control theory, called containment. He argued that a combination of internal psychological containments and external social containments prevents people from deviating from social norms. In simple communities, social pressure to conform to community standards, usually enforced by social ostracism, was sufficient to control behavior. As societies became more complex, internal containments played a more crucial role in determining whether people behaved according to public laws. Furthermore, containment theorists have found that internal containments require a positive self-image. All too often, a sense of alienation from society and its norms forms in modern individuals, who, as a result, do not develop internal containment mechanisms.

The sociologist Travis Hirschi has developed his own control theory that attempts to explain conforming, or lawful, rather than deviant, or unlawful, behavior. He stresses the importance of the individual's bond to society in determining conforming behavior. His research has found that socioeconomic class has little to do with determining delinquent behavior, and that young people who are not very attached to their parents or to school are more likely to be delinquent than those who are strongly attached. He also found that youths who have a strongly positive view of their own accomplishments are more likely to view society's laws as valid constraints on their behavior.

Political Criminology

Political criminology is similar to the other camps in this area. It involves study into the forces that determine how, why, and with what consequences societies chose to address criminals and crime in general. Those who are involved with political criminology focus on the causes of crime, the nature of crime, the social and political meanings that attach to crime, and crime-control policies, including the study of the bases upon which crime and punishment is committed and the choices made by the principals in criminal justice.

Although the theories of political criminology and conflict criminology overlap to some extent, political criminologists deny that the terms are interchangeable. The primary focus points in the new movement of political criminology similarly overlap with other theories, including the concerns and ramifications of street crime and the distribution of power in crime-control strategies. This movement has largely been a loose, academic effort.

Other Issues

Criminologists also study a host of other issues related to crime and the law. These include studies of the victims of crime, focusing upon their relations to the criminal, and their role as potential causal agents in crime; juvenile delinquency and its correction; and the media and their relation to crime, including the influence of pornography. Much research related to criminology has focused on the biological basis of criminal behavior. In fact, a field of study called biocriminology, which attempts to explore the biological basis of criminal behavior, has emerged. Research in this area has focused on chromosomal abnormalities, hormonal and brain chemical imbalances, diet, neurological conditions, drugs, and alcohol as variables that contribute to criminal behavior.

The true effect of criminology upon practices in the criminal justice system is still subject to question. Although a number of commentators have noted that studies in criminology have led to significant changes among criminal laws in the various states, other critics have suggested that studies in criminology have not directly led to a reduction of crime.

In McCleskey v. Kemp, 481 U.S. 279, 107 S. Ct. 1756, 95 L. Ed. 2d 262 (1987), an individual who had been sentenced to death for a murder in Georgia demonstrated to the U.S. Supreme Court that a criminologist's study showed that the race of individuals in that state impacted whether the defendant was sentenced to life or to death. The study demonstrated that a black defendant who had killed a white victim was four times more likely to be sentenced to death than was a defendant who had killed a black victim. The defendant claimed that the study demonstrated that the state of Georgia had violated his rights under the equal protection clause of the fourteenth amendment, as well as under the Eighth Amendment's protection against cruel and unusual punishment.

The high court disagreed. Although the majority did question the validity of the study's findings, it held that the study did not establish that officials in Georgia had acted with discriminatory purpose, and that it did not establish that racial bias had affected the officials' decisions with respect to the death sentence. Accordingly, the death sentence violated neither the Fourteenth Amendment nor the eighth amendment.

Criminology has had more of an effect when states and the federal government consider new criminal laws and sentencing provisions. Criminologists' theories are also often debated in the context of the death penalty and crime control acts among legislators and policymakers. In this light, criminology is perhaps not at the forefront of the development of the criminal justice system, but it most certainly works in the background in the determination of criminal justice policies.

further readings

Carrington, Kerry, and Russell Hogg, eds. 2002. Critical Criminology: Issues, Debates, Challenges. Portland, Ore.: Willan Publishing.

Cullen, Francis T., and Velmer S. Burton, Jr. 1994. Contemporary Criminological Theory. New York: New York Univ. Press.

Reid, Sue T. 1994. Crime and Criminology. 7th ed. Madison, Wis.: Times Mirror Higher Education Group, Brown & Benchmark.

White, Rob. 2001. "Criminology for Sale: Institutional Change and Intellectual Field." Current Issues in Criminal Justice 13 (November).


Critical Legal Studies; Forensic Science; Marx, Karl Heinrich.

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Criminology was born as one of the theoretical fields of social sciences or sociology because crime and criminal behavior are social phenomena with direct impacts on societies. The efforts to understand not only the social determinants of criminality, but also the possible biological, moral, and psychological factors involved when someone commits a crime attracted researchers from other academic fields, such as anthropology , medicine , and psychiatry . As a consequence, a great variety of criminological theories have gradually developed in the last three centuries. In more recent years, criminology acquired an even wider scope, with the inclusion of new scientific fields such as forensic science , criminal psychology , and analysis of crime statistics.

The concept of crime is itself an object of study, as definitions of crime vary across cultures and change throughout history. For instance, for many centuries the practice of torture of prisoners, the destruction of civilian populations and cities by invading armies, child labor exploitation, and the capture and selling of human beings as slaves were almost universally practiced and accepted worldwide. These activities were part of the customs and values of previous times. As societies change and evolve, the moral standards also change to reflect the new social conventions. In consequence of such changes, some previously condemned behaviors may become accepted, whereas others, until then considered legally and morally justified, may be rejected as barbaric or criminal practices. Laws and penal codes reflect the values of a given historical period and tend to be amended or abolished to meet new emerging social and scientific consensus.

Criminological theories may be classified according to historical/cultural periods, or by the scope of their investigations. Some theories are developed around the psychological traits of criminal subjects, as well as the crime incidence among the general population or among a particular ethnic group or social strata. Other theories investigate the relation between socio-economic contexts and crime incidence, or between abuse and neglect in childhood and juvenile criminality, while others discuss the legal definition of crime, legal and social methods of punishment and rehabilitation, or means of crime prevention. The main theoretical schools of criminology are the classical school, positive school, and the Chicago school. However, criminological theories are more recently also classified according to scopes, such as biological, psychological, disorganization-ecological, learning, control, labeling, radical-conflict, feminist, middle-class, and integrated theories.

The classical school is considered the cradle of modern criminology, and was basically a product of philosophers and physicians of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The classical school was a consequence of both the preceding Renaissance cultural movement and the social and humanistic ideals of the time, such as individual rights, egalitarianism, and democracy, which led to the American and French revolutions. Criminality was viewed as the result of free will and individual choice, as all human beings were considered to be endowed with natural rationality. The emphasis of the classical school was therefore, not the analysis of criminal behavior, but in the social and legal definition of crime, on the need of consensus between society's best interests, and the role of the state and laws in the protection of the common good.

The mainstream premise behind the Classical School was the existence of a natural and implicit social contract between the individuals of a society and their government. Cesare Beccaria (17381794), author of a seminal book of this school On Crimes and Punishment explained criminality as a consequence of bad and unjust legislation. Like Thomas Hobbes (15881679), Beccaria and others professed that men, in their natural state, are rational beings, always pursuing pleasure and self gratification and trying to escape suffering. Such pursuit inevitably led to the conflict between individuals' interests, thus preventing the maintenance of social peace and the individual fruition of happiness.

According to Hobbes, government was a natural necessity to protect society and to define the social common good and moral standards to be forcefully followed by all. In contrast to Hobbes, who was essentially a totalitarian (e.g., government dictates the rules), Beccaria insisted that governments should not suppress individual liberties but instead, be their guarantor. When government failed the expectations implied in the social contract or created oppression and injustice, social unrest and increased criminality would be the result. Beccaria declared that legal equality to all citizens was essential to the success of the social contract, but laws and regulations should be kept to an optimum minimum to avoid unnecessary restriction of individual liberties.

Another influential thinker of this school was Jeremy Bentham (17481832), with his utilitarian approach, in which individuals were believed to always consider the overall utility of government or of a law through the benefits it could yield in the present or in the future, weighted against those painful results or pleasures that could result from breaking the law or the social contract. The greater the benefits promoted by the government for the greater number of individuals, Bentham reasoned, the lesser the tendency of breaking the law among the population. Historical examples of the social contract application are the premises that justified the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States.

The positive school was born inside the positivist movement that rapidly dominated academic thought after the French Revolution, with the separation between science and religion. The positivist philosophy of Auguste Comte (17981857) was the cornerstone of this movement, whose emphasis was the systematization of scientific investigation, the consolidation of a scientific methodology, and the construction of rational hypothesis through the empirical observation, quantification, and analysis of facts or of natural phenomena. The positive school of criminology sought, therefore, to explain criminality as a human phenomenon whose probable causes were to be identified in both the human nature and/or in the social determinants. Cesare Lombroso (18351909), an Italian physician, is considered the founder of positivist criminology because he rejected criminality as a result of free will and rational decisions on the premises that criminal subjects should be studied in both their biological and social contexts. However, Lombroso assumed that biological diseases, such as epilepsy or some mental illnesses, were the main causes of criminal behavior, with socio-economic factors acting as secondary triggers. Lombroso and others studied the psychological and physical characteristics of thousands prisoners and mental hospital patients in an attempt to identify common features associated to criminal tendencies.

Lombroso described two main criminal types: the "born criminal type," whose compulsion to commit violent crimes was beyond the individual's control, and the "criminoid" type, a less dangerous (often harmless) and treatable and/or preventable pathological condition. Among the psychological features of born criminal types, Lombroso reported that they were incapable of remorse (an emotional process), displayed absence of moral values, lack of self-control, with many showing various degrees of mental illness. Therefore, Lombroso considered born criminals as psychopaths who needed to be isolated from society, as their condition was untreatable. Contrary to the general assumption, Lombroso never denied the social and cultural determinants, such as poverty, demographic density, educational deficiencies, childhood maltreatment and adolescence trauma, etc. as contributing factors or even direct causes to criminality, especially in the case of criminoid types. He also proposed several institutional solutions for the rehabilitation of criminoids, such as a reform in the prison system, with less emphasis on punishment and the introduction of educational and professional programs for those convicted of lesser crimes, along with social, medical, and educational policies to prevent criminality in problematic urban areas. However, his comparative anthropometrical study of physical morphological features between criminals and non-criminal individuals, a theory now widely discredited, is the best known and the most often cited of all Lombroso's theories.

The theory of social and environmental determinism (e.g., social conditions as the causal root) of criminal behavior gained force in the United States after 1910 with the Chicago school. This theory especially took hold after World War I. The concept of cultural relativism of moral values in opposition to the existence of human-inherent universal values was an emerging paradigm in American sociology as a result of immigration, fast and disorganized urban growth, economic crisis, and the industrialization boom, which attracted to the cities an ever-growing numbers of people from rural areas. These combined factors were seen as disruptive to the social organization of urban communities. Social organization was defined as a socially developed consensus about ethical norms and moral values that determined the regularity of behavior in a given community. The ensuing augment of crime incidence and the appearance of new types and styles of criminal behavior in certain "disorganized" local urban areas posed new questions to criminologists and sociologists.

Social scientists W. I. Thomas and Florian Znaniecki published in 1920 the result of a comparative social study between Polish rural populations and the process of cultural assimilation of Polish immigrants in the slums of Chicago. They concluded that in contrast to the older immigrants, who had lived in rural communities in Poland and whose social values and cultural traditions were well established and assimilated, the younger Polish generations in Chicago (who had never lived in those rural communities) were in a kind of socio-cultural limbo. They could not identify with the values of the older generation and were not assimilated by the socio-cultural values of their present urban environment and country. The authors associated this state of socio-cultural limbo to the increasing incidence of crime and delinquency among the Polish-descendant youth of Chicago.

Inspired by this study, social scientists created the Chicago concentric zone model of Chicago, dividing the city into five "natural urban areas," as follows: zone 1, the central business district; zone 2, the transitional zone (the area where recent immigrant groups lived in an environment of deteriorated houses and poor sanitation, among abandoned buildings, and factories); zone 3, the working class zone, where working families lived in apartment buildings at low rental rates; zone 4, the residential zone, where the middle class population owned single-family homes with garages, surrounded by back and front yards; and zone 5, the commuter zone, or suburbs. The scientists analyzed each zone in terms of family income, types of economic activities, community infrastructure and organization, and ethnic predominance. They called such sets of characteristics "the natural ecological habitat" of each of those populations. In other words, it was defined as the environmental conditions wherein a given urban community lived and related to one another. These social scientists established a direct relation between higher crime incidence, gang organization, and juvenile delinquency and the more impoverished and precarious urban environments. They proposed that as the residents of zone 2, for instance, progressed and moved to zone 3, other immigrants took their place in zone 2. As they moved farther from the center, crime incidence dropped.

The model was also used to study juvenile delinquency in the various zones of Chicago, when data was collected from 56,000 court records of juvenile delinquency between 1900 and 1933. The group also concluded that higher crime rates were associated to the more central zones, where immigrants, nonwhites, and low-income families lived. These and other theorists of the Chicago school viewed poverty, population high density, and industrialization as the main factors inducing the deterioration of family ties and community relationships, which led to social isolation and juvenile delinquency. The group interpreted the results as showing that delinquency was the result of a defiant rejection of the established cultural norms and social values, which tended to grow through proximity and direct exposition of new individuals to delinquent groups.

Disorganization and criminality were, therefore, more prevalent in the central zones and tended to decrease with distance towards the suburban areas. In 1947, Edwin H. Sutherland published the theory of differential association, which he elaborated using elements from prior studies. Sutherland also introduced new data gathered from studies of patterns of learned behaviors through the relationship between the individual and his intimate group, which led him either to accept or reject criminal behavior, depending on which set of values is more emphasized by such influential groups or persons. In brief, Sutherland's theory proposed that: 1), criminal behavior is learned; 2), is learned through the interaction with other individuals or groups close or significant to the individual; 3) together with criminal behavior, individuals also learned techniques to commit specific forms of crime; 4), the choices, motivation, and preferences to commit certain types of crime derived from the quantity of exposition to accepted criminal behaviors in his/her relationships, whose definitions of behaviors that are justifiable, in spite of their illegality, and which are not justifiable, played an important role in criminal behavior.

Because human societies and human beings are both complex and dynamic entities, hardly a single-approach theory, or even a partially-integrated one, will offer the final answer to multi-sided human and social problems to which multiple contributing factors can be associated. Social theories tend in general to contain a variable degree of bias because the prevailing premises and implicit paradigms of their own cultural and personal backgrounds, as well as of their political beliefs in general influence the researchers of each generation. Theoretical criminology is a vast arena where a constellation of these and other recent studies, each tending to explain criminal behavior or its causes through different and often mutually excluding view points, are constantly fueling the academic debate.

see also Anthropometry; Forensic science; Misdemeanor; Psychological profile; Psychopathic personality.

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urban ecology

urban ecology Urban ecology, pioneered by Chicago sociologists in the 1920s, was central to the development of human ecology. Indeed the two terms are often used interchangeably.

Urban ecology applies principles derived from biological science to the explanation of spatial distribution in urban populations. This is said to result from ‘biotic’ competition for territorial advantage by human groups, each constituted by social basis, for example, common class position or ethnicity. Groups occupy distinctive ‘natural areas’ or neighbourhoods. The concentric zone model proposed by Ernest Burgess is an ecological representation of this urban system. The ecological concepts of invasion, domination, and succession describe the stages of change occurring as groups relocate due to competitive pressures. However, unrestrained biotic competition makes social order impossible, so a second level of social organization (‘culture’) overlays and limits territorial competition. This involves communication, consensus, and co-operation, seen in both the natural areas occupied by socially homogeneous groups, and in city-wide mechanisms of integration, such as mass culture, the media, and urban politics.

Few sociologists now accept the biologically derived assumptions underlying urban ecology. However, the urban ecologists' use of Chicago as a research laboratory contributed greatly to the development of empirically grounded sociology and its research methods, influencing directly the development of urban sociology, community studies, cultural sociology, the study of deviance and illness, social and religious movements, the family and race relations, and rural sociology. The recollections by Helen MacGill Hughes of her training in Chicago shed an interesting light on the (at times naïve) methodology of urban ecology (see ‘On Becoming a Sociologist’, Journal of the History of Sociology, 1980

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crim·i·nol·o·gy / ˌkriməˈnäləjē/ • n. the scientific study of crime and criminals. DERIVATIVES: crim·i·no·log·i·cal / ˌkrimənlˈäjikəl/ adj. crim·i·nol·o·gist / -jist/ n.

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ecology, urban

ecology, urban See URBAN ECOLOGY.

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