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.
Anthropological criminology
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.
(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
Receeding hairline
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
Strong jawline
Fleshy lips, but thin upper lip
Mighty incisors, abnormal teeth
Small or weak chin
Thin neck
Sloping shoulders, but large chest
Long arms
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 nondelinquents.
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, unrestrained.
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 Americans.
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 criminal.
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-crime linkages.
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 system.
Modern anthropology
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.