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with its emphasis on the importance of reason and experience. The second is a twentieth-century version known as “Logical Positivism,” with a close association with mathematical reasoning and formal models of thought. This is the version that is referred to as “modernism.” Many today also associate positivism with various forms of statistical analysis. Within sociology alone, there have been several different understandings about the meaning of positivism (Halfpenny, 1982). One important underpinning of almost any form of positivism is an interest in classifying (or establishing categories for) any subject of interest.
Many criminologists use the term “positivism” to mean an approach that studies human behavior through the use of the traditional scientific method. The focus is on systematic observa- tion and the accumulation of evidence and objective fact within a deductive framework (moving from the general to the specific). Positivists, then, may study behavior from a biological, a psy- chological, or a sociological perspective. The point is not the perspective from which the study is done but the assumptions that underlie the methodology for doing the study.
auguste comte and the Methodology of Positivism
Much of the system of analysis that constitutes sociological positivism today was developed by Auguste Comte, a nineteenth-century French philosopher and social scientist who is credited with being the father of sociology. His approach to the study of social phenomena included an insistence on testable hypotheses, the use of comparative methods, the careful classification of societies, a systematic approach to the study of social history, and the study of abnormality as a means to understanding normality (Fletcher, 1975, pp. ix–xi). Comte’s work, among that of oth- ers, prompted scientific studies of human social behavior.
early nineteenth-century Positivist Work
Perhaps the earliest of positivistically oriented work on the subject of crime was that of two stat- isticians, Adolphe Quetelet of Belgium and Andre Guerry of France, in the 1820s and 1830s. Each examined the social statistics that were available in some European countries as if they were data from the physical sciences. Quetelet, a mathematician, applied probability theory to these data to produce a concept of the “average person,” something we might take for granted today in our use of actuarial data and in our projections of crime risk over time. His adherence to the idea of a normal distribution (bell curve) of events seemed to stand in contrast to the idea of free will. Applying predictive models to the study of crime rates, he found variations in crime rates by climate and season and observed the same age and sex differences we find today among criminals (Quetelet, 1831/1984).
Other early work was largely that of biologists and anatomists who studied the human body in hopes of establishing some relationship between it and human behavior. Some of this work dis- tinctly predates any of the usual claims to the founding of criminology. A physiognomist of the sixteenth century, G. Baptista della Porta, related characteristics of the body to criminality (Schafer, 1976, p. 38). In the early nineteenth century, phrenologists measured and studied the shape of the head in an attempt to determine the relationship between brain and behavior. The chief practitioners of phrenology, Franz Joseph Gall and Johann Gaspar Spurzheim, believed that the characteristics of the brain are mirrored in bumps on the skull. They and their followers set about documenting the relationship between these bumps and behavior, especially abnormal behavior. For a short period in the 1830s, the United States even had a journal devoted to the science of phrenology, the American Journal of Phrenology. In its day, phrenology was a reasonable scientific approach.
the Italian Positivists
The beginnings of criminological positivism are usually traced (although with questionable accuracy, as we have mentioned) to the work of three Italian thinkers, Cesare Lombroso, Enrico Ferri, and Raffaele Garofalo.
Lombroso, often called the father of modern criminology, was a surgeon who conducted systematic observations and measurements of soldiers, criminals, the insane, and the general population. His initial data collection on over 54,000 subjects included not only the living, but measures from cadavers as well (Parmelee, 1908). The descriptive data he painstakingly collected represented the use of an experimental method in “legal” medicine that was similar to criminal
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anthropology. Trying to account for mental and physical differences, he pointed out that crimi- nals have multiple physical abnormalities of an atavistic (subhuman or primitive) or degenerative nature. These physical inferiorities characterized a biological throwback that Lombroso called the born criminal. He also reported that criminals manifest traits of sensory impairment; a lack of moral sense, particularly the absence of remorse; and the use of slang and tattoos.
In accord with the positivist tendency to categorize traits, Lombroso distinguished other types of criminals: the insane criminal, the epileptic criminal, and the occasional criminal, who for no biological reason but by the influence of circumstances or surroundings was drawn to crime. This classification scheme was later modified by Ferri, one of Lombroso’s students, to include the born criminal, those who committed crimes of passion, and the habitual criminal. Lombroso quickly embraced the “born criminal” term because it fit his previous description of the major cause of criminality. Later in life, he acknowledged his numerous critics and included social and economic factors in his list of causes of crime. He continued to insist, however, that these causes were secondary in nature to biological factors.
Enrico Ferri’s conception of criminal causality went beyond that of his teacher. While responsible for the term “born criminal” that Lombroso used, he introduced other important causal factors into Italian Positivism. According to Ferri, crime was caused by a number of factors includ- ing physical (race, geographics, temperature, and climate), anthropological (age, sex, organic, and psychological), and social factors such as customs, religion, economics, and population density. To study them, he argued, one would need to use positive observation that would include criminal statistics and penal law in a “synthetic science” that he called “criminal sociology” (Ferri, 1917).
Ferri supported the notion that in any given social environment, with generally fixed condi- tions, only a certain amount of crime could be realized. This was called the Law of Criminal Saturation. He also developed a fourfold classification of murders that appears in his book Homi- cide, based on the insane, the occasional, and the born criminal, as well as the crime of passion.
Raffaele Garofalo (1914) also built on the work of Lombroso and, of the three, was perhaps the most skeptical about biological explanations of criminal behavior. Garofalo believed that civi- lized people have certain basic sentiments about the values of human life and property; absence of these sentiments indicates a lack of concern for fellow humans. Finding a combination of environ- mental, circumstantial, and organic reasons for criminal behavior, he termed such behavior psy- chic or moral “anomaly,” a deficiency of altruistic sensibility. He assumed that this psychic variation, which he carefully distinguished from insanity or mental illness, is more frequent among members of “certain inferior races” (Allen, 1972). In essence, he believed that certain people are morally less developed than others. Garofalo also commented on the legalistic nature of definitions of crime, believing that these definitions limit them in application and situation. Instead, he formulated the more universal notion of natural crime, by which he referred to acts that all civilized societies would readily recognize as offensive. He believed that the dangerous- ness of the criminal was the criterion on which social crime-fighting priorities should be based.
Following the work of the Italian positivists, a good deal of effort was expended in the biological area. The family histories of criminals were examined and criminal heredity traced to certain ancestors (Dugdale, 1877; Estabrook, 1916; Goddard, 1913; Goring, 1913). Richard Dugdale’s study of six generations of the Juke family was used to infer that criminal (and antisocial) behav- ior is inherited. He was able to trace a number of criminals, prostitutes, and paupers in the family line, all derived from the original criminal father. Intelligence tests were developed by Alfred Binet and subsequently used to explain criminality through the concept of inherited feeblemind- edness, or lack of intelligence (Burt, 1925; Goddard, 1914). Henry Goddard’s well-known study of the Kallikak family was similar to that of Dugdale’s. He matched the histories of two family lines produced by a soldier (from a well-to-do family) in the Revolutionary War. One lineage derived from a liaison with a “feebleminded” barmaid, the other from marriage to an honorable Quaker woman. Goddard traced numerous antisocial, deviant, and criminal offspring from the liaison with the barmaid and “none” from the marriage.
The obvious implication was that feeblemindedness was inherited and a cause of criminal- ity. As a result, sterilization programs were advocated and implemented across the country dur- ing the 1930s and 1940s. In fact, a recent task force in North Carolina pressed the state to
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compensate surviving victims of state-imposed sterilizations. North Carolina not only moved to apologize for the ill-advised eugenics program but has organized reparations for the 72 remain- ing subjects of the 7,600 cases documented in that state alone. Although eugenics proponents claimed to have targeted those deemed “mentally diseased, feebleminded or epileptic,” Elaine Riddick acknowledges that she was sterilized following the birth of her son, who resulted from being raped at the age of 14 (Waggoner, 2012).
Other more contemporary studies of genetics and heredity have involved the examination of twins (Lange, 1919/1930), general body types (Glueck & Glueck, 1950, 1956, 1974; Hooten, 1939; Kretschmer, 1926; Sheldon, 1949), and even endocrinology (Schlapp & Smith, 1928). The body type theories suggest that certain physical features result in a propensity to crime often stud- ied as constitutional psychology. The most quoted of this work is that of William Sheldon, who proposed three categories of a combination of body types and personality temperaments that he called somatotypes. An ectomorph is a person who is small-boned, lean, and frail, with a sensitive and introverted (shy) personality. A mesomorph is a person of muscular, larger-boned body build with an aggressive, action-oriented, outgoing (extroverted) personality. The third type, an endo- morph, has a rather soft and fat build with a relaxed, jovial, and extroverted personality. Sheldon found that delinquents were most often of the mesomorph body type. The platform of Sheldon’s work has been criticized for its eugenic nature (supportive of racial “cleansing”), and his conclu- sions of biological devolution in studies sponsored by the National Council on Religion in Higher Education were also criticized. Scientific reviews condemned his small and suspect samples, the lack of rigor in his work, and the subjective assessments in his conclusions (Rafter, 2007).
Still, strains of the body type/temperament approach are found in more recent times in the work of Juan Cortes and Florence Gatti (1972) and psychologists who have tied body type and self-perceptions of physical attractiveness with self-esteem and self-concept (see, for example, Catell & Metzner, 1993). These may be personality traits that are indirectly linked to behavior including deviance and delinquency.
The twin research is perhaps the most interesting of the genetic studies. In this form of research, the behavior of identical twins (who have identical genetic heritage) is compared. Frater- nal twins (who have a different genetic heritage just like any two siblings) have also been used. The reasoning is that if one twin is criminal, then the other also should be criminal. Johannes Lange’s study of prisoner twins and their noninstitutionalized counterparts found a high degree of concordance (both twins had engaged in criminal behavior). Identical twins produce concordant results in a higher proportion than do fraternal twins. Several other studies have produced similar results (for reviews of this research see Christiansen, 1968, 1970, 1977b; Cortes & Gatti, 1972; Dalgaard & Kringlen, 1976; Ellis, 1982, 1985). The question that remains unanswered, however, is the effect of environment in creating likeness among twins. Comparable studies of adopted siblings have also been undertaken (Crowe, 1972, 1974; Hutchings & Mednick, 1977; Schuls- inger, 1972). The logic is that if genetic theories hold true, the children should behave more like their biological parents than their adoptive parents. To some extent these results were found.
Much of the literature on psychological influences on behavior has been the result of the ground-breaking work of Sigmund Freud. While Freud himself said little about crime, other psy- chiatrists have examined the effect of unconscious conflict on criminal behavior (Abrahamsen, 1944; Aichhorn, 1925/1935; Friedlander, 1947). Perhaps, the most notable work has been that of William Healy (1915; Alexander & Healy, 1935; Healy & Bronner, 1936). Healy and other psychi- atric workers examined juveniles in a psychiatric institution (which he directed) and after numer- ous sessions determined that each juvenile had experienced emotional trauma at some point in life. For comparison, the brothers and sisters of the delinquents were then briefly interviewed, and very little evidence of emotional trauma was found in their histories. Healy concluded that emotional trauma is responsible for creating psychological conflicts that lead to delinquent behavior.
Other approaches have included the examination of personality differences, as with the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI) (a complex personality test), and of psychopathic personalities (Hathaway & Monachesi, 1953, 1963). The MMPI contains a psy- chopathic personality subscale that was created by finding questions to which institutionalized delinquents gave uniformly different answers (i.e., scored higher) than “normal” juveniles. Sub- sequent researchers have found that institutionalized juveniles almost always score higher on the psychopathic personality subscale of the MMPI than normal juveniles do, thereby justifying