The Background of Criminology

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Criminology encompasses the far-reaching study of crime, and people who commit crime. The history of criminology is as intriguing as the concept itself. Over time, ongoing expert studies and theories pertaining to criminal behavior expanded immensely. Interestingly, it appears the science, which is criminology, remains constant, though. Consider the following thoughts in this brief history of criminology:

Ceasare Lombroso “Father of Criminology”

Criminology, even a brief history, cannot be explored without mentioning the Italian criminology pioneer Ceasare Lombroso. Lombroso (1835-1909) is regarded by many as the “father of criminology.” As the founder of the School of Positivist Criminology he scorned the philosophy that committing a crime was simply human nature.

He also dismissed traditional thought that every person possessed the capability to make a rational decision, whether or not to commit a crime. This is aligned with what is called the Classical School of criminological theory.

“Born Criminal”

Instead of embracing Classical School standard; Lombroso, who was a neuro-psychiatrist, insisted on a new line of thought: a person may be born a criminal. He believed criminal traits could be biological—an inherited characteristic. As well, Lombroso encouraged the idea to blossom that a “born criminal” could be recognized by physical defects. Fortunately, this latter part of Lombroso’s line of reasoning is no longer applicable.  

Is Lombroso’s Work Endorsed?

Despite Lombroso’s pioneering exploration and advances in the criminal-based areas of research, his work is not supported by everyone. This is evident in an article by Nicole Rafter, “Rethinking criminological tradition: Cesare Lombroso and the origins of Criminology.”

The article probes the notion that Lombroso’s theories deserve further investigation. Whether or not anyone agrees his work remains persuasive in the 21st Century; Lombroso appears to have played a significant role in the overall development and history of criminology.

Criminology in the Middle Ages

A crime committed in the Middle Ages likely would have been tied to manipulation by the devil. Ceasare Lombroso’s “physical defect” theory in identifying a criminal may sound harsh: being a criminal because the devil held some type of influence over a person is ruthless. The inspiration behind the Middle Ages school of thought is obviously based on religion.

Of course, during that time, any crime, even a petty one, was a sin. For many, that suggestion is still predominant in religion. Thankfully, punishment today does not warrant unthinkable acts; unless the crime is horrendous enough to necessitate the death penalty.

The Crime of Being a Witch

A crime committed in the Middle Ages commanded a painful punishment or death. If she was accused of being a witch, a woman would suffer a brief, but horrific test. First, her hands and feet were bound. Then the woman was thrown into a body of water.

It was believed that if she was protected by God, she would survive the ordeal. If she did not survive, she was guilty of the crime. It was as simple as that. Logically, the woman met her death by drowning.

Based on this uneducated view of what formulated a criminal; it stands to reason that criminology had to progress in a significant manner.

The Ongoing Debate

Criminology is unique in the sense that theories have been debated among criminologists for centuries. It is a study of human behavior that is vast, and unending. Regardless of prior declarations in the field of criminology, it continues to evolve…intensifying its prolific history.


Lombroso and the pathilogicalperspective

Intellectual History: The Middle Ages

More about this author: Cathy A Montville

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