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
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
*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
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
*"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
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.
(1895) L'Homme Criminel. Felix: Alcan. (two volumes)
Lombroso popularized the notion of a "born criminal" which represents
an extreme statement of biological determinism which had great influence
well into the 20th Century (and for the founding of criminology) even
though much of this thinking is now outdated except for the recurring idea
that criminals have particular physiognomic defects or deformities.
Physiognomy is the art of estimating character from the features of the
face or the form of the body. Most students are familiar with his checklist
of physiognomic indicators.
Unusually short or tall height
Small head, but large face
Small and sloping forehead
Wrinkles on forehead and face
Large sinus cavities or bumpy face
Large, protruding ears
Bumps on head, particularly the Destructiveness Center above left ear
Protuberances (bumps) on head, in back of head and around ear
High check bones
Bushy eyebrows, tending to meet across nose
Large eyesockets, but deepset eyes
Beaked nose (up or down) or flat nose
Fleshy lips, but thin upper lip
Mighty incisors, abnormal teeth
Small or weak chin
Sloping shoulders, but large chest
Pointy or snubbed fingers or toes
Tatoos on body
Constitutionalism, or body-type theories, became popular in the 1930s,
mostly on account of the work of Ernest Hooton, a Harvard anthropologist.
He studied thousands of criminals and noncriminals from eight different
states, concluding that criminals are inferior to civilians in all physical
respects. There were also racist overtones to his work because he said the
Negroid forehead was a perfect example of a criminal forehead. In the
1940s, the work of William Sheldon shifted attention away from adults to
the physiques of juvenile delinquents. Sheldon produced an "Index of
Delinquency" based on three-way photographs which was used in many states
to determine if a child in trouble should be institutionalized or not.
Sheldon's approach is sometimes called somatotype theory. Sheldon's methods
and results were given considerable support by Sheldon and Eleanor Glueck
in the 1950s who found that narrow faces, wider chests, larger waists, and
bigger forearms were associated with 60% of delinquents and only 30% of
Sheldon's classification of physique and temperament (somatotype
theory) is as follows:
Endomorphic -- tendency to put on fat, soft roundness of body, short
tapering limbs, small bones, velvety skin; viscerotonic temperament,
relaxed, comfortable person, loves luxury, an extrovert.
Mesomorphic -- predominance of muscles, bone, and motor organs, large
trunk, heavy chest, large wrist and hands, lean rectangular outline;
somotonic or Dionysian temperament, active, assertive, aggressive,
Ectomorphic -- predominance of skin, lean, fragile, delicate body, small
bones, droppy shoulders, small face, sharp nose, fine hair; cerebrotonic
temperament, sensitive, distractible, insomnia, skin troubles, allergies.
Each person possesses the characteristics of all three types. Sheldon
therefore used three numbers, between 1 and 7, to indicate the extent to
which the three types were evident in each person. A person whose
somatotype is 7-1-4, for example, would have many endomorphic
characteristics, very little mesomorphic characteristics, and an average
number of ectomorphic characteristics. He found that the average
institutionalized delinquent was a 3-5-2 somatotype. The Gluecks (always
eclectic, or multiple factor, theorists) found that the average adult
criminal was a 2-6-3 somatotype, and that 60% of delinquents were
mesomorphs. Mesomorphy was associated with criminal behavior, flying in the
face of fitness gurus, like Charles Atlas, who was trying to shape up
In contemporary times, ideas about physical appearance occasionally
show up in criminology. All the constitutionalists studied tattoos, for
example. They were never really able to make anything of it; they were
just there for the study; lots of criminals had them. Tattoo removal (as
well as plastic surgery) has found its way into a few correctional
rehabilitation programs (Kurtzberg et. al.. 1978). There's a whole
subspecialty field that, for lack of a better term, can be called the
"physical attractiveness" studies (Cavior & Howard 1973; Agnew 1984) which
suggest that ugliness really has got something to do with becoming a
There's no necessary relationship between criminal anthropology and
eugenics (the idea that a nation can save its stock by preventing
reproduction of the unfit - negative eugenics -- and simultaneously
encourage the fit to produce more offspring -- positive eugenics). A small
number of criminal anthropologists support the idea of eugenics; another,
larger group strongly rejects it. Almost all criminologists today would be
appalled at the idea of eugenics theory, yet it remains in the background
of criminology as the field tries to develop agenda-free information, and
at one time (during the 1930s, eugenics was taken quite seriously - more on
this in the next lecture).
Physiognomy, or at least some bits of it, will sometimes find its way
into social psychology and criminal justice, in studies of attractiveness
and beauty, and in studies of jury lenience depending upon the physical
look of the defendant. This literature is not well-organized, and only
appears to be of sporadic interest to researchers.
Twin studies have also looked at physical similarities and differences.
Identical twins are more similar in their (criminal) behavior than
fraternal twins, however, no definitive conclusions can be drawn from twin
studies in general. Adoption studies is another promising area of research,
but again, strong causal statements are rare in the whole area of heredity-
The XYY chromosone syndrome became popular during the 1960s. People
with this condition tend to be tall supermales who often exhibit aggression
and violence. Some researchers have found that XYY types are more likely
to have a criminal record. Other observers note that the prison
populations are filled with fairly short people, a pattern noticed early on
by physiognomists, who also took an interest in height.
Galvanic skin response (the rate at which electricity travels across
the surface of the skin) also measures mesomorphy to some extent. Many
criminals have slower GSR rates, which means they are somewhat more
impervious to pain or at least may have a different neuromusculatory
It's difficult to describe a field as vast as anthropology or to even
begin listing all the inroads into criminology. When I majored in this as
an undergraduate, the choices were either physical or cultural
anthropology, and those are about the only choices you get at the
undergraduate level, and if you express an interest in crime or criminals,
they tend to steer you towards physical anthropology which studies bones
(presumably so you'll make a good crime scene investigator). However, the
area of cultural or sociocultural anthropology is a much larger field (see
Benedict 1934 or Garbarino 1977), and then there's symbolic anthropology
(Douglas 1966), the field of social anthropology, and all sorts of hard-to-
classify kinds of anthropology like Girard (1979). I'll try to explain two
of the most popular contemporary anthropologists.
Mary Douglas' book Purity and Danger is probably one of the top ten
most influential books ever written in the last 500 years. It is about the
subject of ritual, and rituals are the ways societies and people mark out
their boundaries. There are many kinds of rituals: for purification,
reconciliation, renewal, purity, passage, and mourning, for example.
Douglas is concerned with purity rituals, which relate to the feeling of
safety from dangers such as crime. You might understand the idea as the
notion that there are "lucky charms" which protect you from danger, and
there are plenty of theological examples as well (the Ark of the Covenant;
the Holy Grail), etc. Each person also has their "bubble space" for self-
protection, which is a kind of purity ritual. The existence of an angry
person in one's space is considered dangerous, and everything on the
margins (of society; one's environment) is also considered strange or
dangerous. When people do wrong things, they are also polluting the purity
of the environment, and pollution rules are not as equivocal as moral
rules. A pollution rule might call for the immediate execution of a
transgressor, for example, while a moral code might give them the benefit
of the doubt. Like others (Garfinkel 1967), Douglas is saying that our
criminal justice system as well as what we consider rights and wrongs are
determined by our underlying, inborn, ritualistic responses. We see
criminals as contaminating our world (like dirt). Justice provides no
guarantee, but our ritual impulses always come out.
Psychology and Sociology have influenced Criminology significantly. One of
the things we are still struggling with, however, is the study of
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