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Criminology is an advanced, theoretical field of study. It can be defined as the study of crime, the causes of crime (etiology), the meaning of crime in terms of law, and community reaction to crime. Not too long ago, criminology separated from its mother discipline, sociology, and although there are some historical continuities, it has since developed habits and methods of thinking about crime and criminal behavior that are uniquely its own.
Theory is a complex subject in its own right. Criminological theory is no exception; it also tends to be complex. Some definitions of terms might help to understand the field:
Criminology - the science of crime rates, individual and group reasons for committing crime, and community or societal reactions to crime.
*Criminologist - a person who studies criminology; not to be confused with a "criminalist" who reconstructs a crime scene or works with crime scene evidence for forensic purposes.
*Applied criminology - the art of creating typologies, classifications, predictions, and especially profiles of criminal offenders, their personalities and behavior patterns.
*Theory construction - an informed, creative endeavor which connects something known with something unknown; usually in a measurable way.
*Theory building - efforts to come up with formal, systematic, logical, and mathematical ways in which theories are constructed.
*Theoretical Integration - efforts to come up with grand, overarching theories which apply to all types of crime and deviance.
*Theoretical Specification - efforts to figure out the details of a theory, how the variables work together; usually associated with a belief that many, competing theories are better than integrated efforts.
*Theoretical Elaboration - efforts to figure out the implications of a theory, what other variables might be added to the theory; also associated with the belief that theory competition is better than theoretical integration.
*Variables - the building blocks of theories; things that vary; things you can have more or less of; e.g., crime rates, being more or less criminally inclined (criminality).
Criminologists use words a certain way to indicate relationships between causes (independent variables) and effects (dependent variables). Here are some general guidelines that might help when reading some actual writing of a criminologist:
*"varies with" -- this means things fluctuate together; as one thing goes up, the other thing goes down; usually used to describe a possible inverse relationship but also used to describe a direct relationship.
*"where..." -- while not technically a verb, this word usually indicates a feedback relationship, where things go up or down in response to one another. Often, but not always, the case involves an important Z factor which moderates, distorts, or confounds the relationship. Relationals like "varies", "fluctuates", "predominates", "associated with", and "overrepresented by" are usually found when the theorist is dealing with socio-demographic variables, like age, race, or social class.
*"seems to be" -- this wishy-washy language usually means that the theorist suspects a weak relationship, probably way less than 50%.
*"tends" -- this might mean, but not always, that there are important Z factors which are antecedent, intervening, or contingent; that is, that come before, in the middle, or after an X and Y relationship. Or, it may be a cojoint relationship.
*"is conducive to" -- this usually means that the cause is a mysterious, unknown construct; typically found in highly abstract theories involving words like anomie, relative deprivation, norms, or controls. In some cases, it refers to a confounding or contextual relationship.
The HISTORY of criminology dates back to Lombroso, whom many regard as the father of criminology. Others claim that Phrenology (studying bumps on the head) better represents the origins of the science. Even today, there is still an interest in the biological causes of criminal behavior.
Anthropology is the most humanistic of the sciences and the most scientific of the humanities. (Alfred Kroeber)
Between 1750 and 1850, two popular fields of scientific practice consisting of the PHYSIOGNOMISTS and PHRENOLOGISTS tried to prove that there were links between the propensity to engage in criminal behavior and unusual physical appearance (mostly the face, ears, or eyes) and the shape of the skull (bumps on the head being an indicator of dominant brain areas). The physiognomists studied facial appearance and the phrenologists studied bumps on the head. Both fields of study were quite influential at the time, and are lumped together in history books as the area of CRIMINAL ANTHROPOLOGY, early biological perspectives, the legacy of demonology (ugliness as the mark of evil), or in the 20th century, known as constitutionalism (the study of human physique, or constitution of the body). The search for a constitutionally determined "criminal man" continued up until 1950.
Physiognomy is the making of judgments about people's character from the appearance of their faces or countenance. Its founder was J. Baptiste della Porte (1535-1615) who studied cadavers, and associated small ears, bushy eyebrows, small noses, and large lips with criminal offenders. Johan Kaspar Lavater (1741-1801) was another physiognomist who associated "shifty-eyed" people who had weak chins and arrogant noses with criminal behavior. No serious criminologist today gives much credence to physiognomy.
Phrenology is the study of the external characteristics of a person's skull as an indicator of his or her personality, abilities, or general propensities. Some bumps on the skull indicate lower brain functions (like combativeness). Other bumps represent higher functions and propensities (like morality). Crime occurs when the bumps indicate that the lower propensities are winning out over the higher propensities. Phrenologists believed that with mental exercise, a criminal might be reformed. The most eminent phrenologists were Franz Joseph Gall (1758-1828) and his pupil, John Gaspar Spurzheim (1776-1832). The phrenologists turned out to be not all that off in where they thought certain brain functions (35 of them showing up on bumps) were located. The destructiveness center, for example, which is located right behind the ear above Darwin's point, is pronounced in 17% of criminals. Other bumps, in the back of the head, turned out to be pronouncements of the Amygdala and Hippocampus, where tumors are associated with criminal behavior (as in the Texas sniper, Charles Whitman). The general rule is that any abnormality in the back of the head is bad ("back is bad"). The association between other bumps (on the head) and moral (or intellectual) functions were badly mistaken by phrenologists (such as Gall), but in his defense, research methods had not been well-developed by 1835 (note this early date; some regard Gall as the first criminologist).
Criminal anthropology is the name usually associated with the work of Cesare Lombroso (1835-1909) and his followers who performed autopsies on criminals and found they had characteristics similar to primitive humans, monkeys, and chimpanzees. Some of the anomalies (differences or defects) found among criminals included head width, height, degree of receding forehead, head circumference, head symmetry, and so on. Lombroso had his Goring (1870-1919), a scientist dedicated to disproving Lombroso. While Goring found height and weight differences, he concluded there was no such thing as a "born criminal" based on physical inferiority. The idea of degeneracy lived on, however, and criminal anthropology in the U.S. was spearheaded by a diffuse group of 8-9 degenerationists who were active between 1881 and 1911 (e.g. MacDonald's Criminology , Benedikt's Anatomical Studies upon Brains of Criminals, Talbot's Degeneracy, Lydston's The Diseases of Society, and Parsons' Responsibility for Crime; Fink's Causes of Crime, Haller's Eugenics are good secondary sources.) In 1911, Maurice Parmelee (whom some regard as an early founder, if not the founder, of American criminology) began rejecting anthropological theories.
Cesare Lombroso (1836-1909) is known as the father of modern criminology, and the chief historical figure in the Italian positivist movement. His works include:
(1876) L'Uomo Delinquente. Milan: Horpli.
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