Origins Of Modern Criminology: Classical Versus Positive Theory

2366 words - 10 pages

By definition criminology is the scientific study of crime as a social phenomenon involving criminals and penal treatment. The origins of criminology are rooted in the 1700s when society believed that crime was a result of supernatural forces. This demonic perspective supported the idea that temptation brought out evil forces in an individual (Cullen & Agnew, 2011, p. 21). Once possessed, a person was lured into sinful behavior. Such beliefs were prevalent and accepted due to the strong connection between the government and religion in implementing rules. In the 1800s, Cesare Beccaria and Cesare Lombroso set out to challenge this ideal by proposing two new, radical approaches. Beccaria ...view middle of the document...

26). Some of the issues Beccaria addresses concerned corruption, abuse of power by judges and the application of controlling the acts as oppose to the actors in crime. Beccaria urged that crime was traced to “bad laws not bad people” (Professor A. Schug, Theory 304 lecture, September 12). Most of his work coincided with the work of Thomas Hobbes. Hobbes was a philosopher who believed that “people naturally pursue their own interests which in turn leads people to harm one another” (Cullen & Agnew, 2011, p.22). Hobbes rejected the idea of free will by emphasizing that determinism manipulates freedom to act on desires. Finally, Jeremy Bentham’s utilitarian philosophy helped shape classical theory by stressing that “human actions are calculated in accordance with the likelihood of bringing happiness or unhappiness” (Professor A. Schug, Theory 304 lecture, September 12). As a result, Bentham stressed that an individual’s choice is controlled by the fear of punishment. His ideas also lead to the reformation of criminal law.
In the same way the Modern/Positive School in criminology feeds of from the work of three leading figures at the time, Cesare Lombroso, Charles Darwin and August Comte. Lombroso argued that crime is a result of “genetic throwbacks and their primitive or savage state [is what] compels them to engage in crime” (Cullen & Agnew, 2011, p. 24). He like Beccaria rejected the demonic perspective. Lombroso was interested in proving that differences in biological, psychological and social forces are beyond an individual’s control and thus play a key role in criminal behavior (Cullen & Agnew, 2011, p.24). For instance, a person with a large jaw was thought to be a criminal when realistically there is no way to prevent that. People are born with different traits not because they are criminals but because of the different genetic make up. Darwin’s theory of evolution supported this notion because his research found that traits are inherited. Consequently, criminal genetic traits could be passed on from generation to generation and engender “born criminals” (Lombroso, p.24). Thus, the genetic throwbacks Lombroso talks about. Finally, Comte proposed that “human behavior is a function of forces beyond a person’s control” (Professor A. Schug, Theory 304 lecture, September 12). His philosophy was based on phrenology and physiognomy which coincided with Lombroso’s theory that crime is a result of
primitive people in the midst of modern society. In short, Lombroso’s theory easily found support from others because he could relate to current research at the time.
Comparison- assumptions
The idea of classical theory in criminology revolves around the assumption that crime is a result of personal choice. In order to make a personal choice an individual relies on rationality therefore, the act of committing a crime is seen as a rational choice. This means that a criminal thought thoroughly about the behavior before engaging in an act. Despite being...

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