Biological Positivism it’s in our Genes

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Positivism is a type of research method, looking at biological factors which could attempt to root criminality physiologically, labelling criminals through their body and genes. This theory is the opposite of most criminological theory. It is the concept that individuals have little control over there actions as they are biologically propelled towards crime. Criminality was believed to be biologically determined, criminals were born not made.

Biological criminology puts forward the idea that those who break the law, are scientifically different. There is a ‘born criminal’, almost like a different species carrying mental and physical characteristics which set them apart from non-criminals (Lombroso 1876). He argued certain features such as; large jaws, canine teeth, a twisted nose, long arm length and peculiar sized ears were just a few of many ‘defects’ Lombroso believed were associated with born criminals.

To support his claims, his book ‘the criminal woman’ then goes on to show how he believed prostitutes had prehensile feet. The eugenics movement was concerned with improving the genetic selection of the human race. This related criminality to ‘bad breeding’. Eugenics link to the Holocaust, at Hitlers attempt to ‘purify’ the German race, creating an ‘Aryan’ race. Eugenics was defined as the science of improving stock, he was concerned with racial decline and believed the ‘undesirables’ were breeding too fast (Galton). Rentoul (1903) believed sterilisation should happen for certain people such as those suffering with leprosy, cancer, imbeciles, prostitutes and cretins. Although this is an outdated concept, it was taken up in 2008 by a conservative member of parliament, suggesting that sterilisation should take place for certain members of the ‘underclass’.

In the early 20th century there were continued attempts to isolate key physiological features of criminals. (Goring) criminals tended to be shorter in height and weigh less. (Hooton) criminals tended to have smaller heads, shorter and broader noses, as well as sloping foreheads to mark them as criminal. These criminals were viewed as biologically inferior and made up an inferior class.

Body build and temperamental tendencies could explain a ‘criminal type’ (Sheldon 1949) three body types include the ‘Endomorphy’, those with a heavy build, slow moving, round, friendly as well as sociable, the ‘Ectomorphy’, typically known as small skeletons, weak muscles, introverted alongside intelligent and the ‘Mesomorphy’ which is associated with well developed, muscles, athletic, strong, aggressive and violent. Sheldon found that the lowest criminal tendency was the ectomorphy whilst the most delinquent behaviour tended to come from those described as mesomorphy. A similarly conclusion was drawn by (Gluecks 1950) who noted that strength and agility may enable boys to fulfil a delinquent role.

One of the earliest attempts to isolate a genetic cause of criminality looking at the analysis of the family trees of known criminals (muncie). It is believed that undesirable characteristics were passed down through families. By looking at twin and adoption studies there could be genetic causes for criminality however this type of research would need further research, funding as well as publicity.

Modern research shows that biochemical factors could be the cause of genetic criminality behaviour, which could include hormone imbalances, slow brain-wave activity and testosterone etc.

More advanced and factual arguments can be brought up for ‘the criminal type’, such as that crime can be found socially for example the stain theory (Merton). This developed from the concept of anomie (Durkheim) and places a high emphasis on the individual. Anomie or ‘strain’ is the result of a misalignment of social aspirations and the means people have to achieve it. This is based on the American culture with the idea that the organisation of the American society and culture automatically leads to criminality. America place a high emphasis on consumption as well as greed, constantly increasing their intake of material desires that eventually lead to dissatisfaction, capitalism urges individuals to consume these material factors then judges them by their ability to do so. This ‘American Dream’ created strain for those who did not have the ability to consume the material factors forcing those at the bottom of the class system to react under the pressure to succeed, this includes conformists, those who try to get success through legitimate means such as hard work, education, it also includes innovation, those who abandon the rules and try to succeed in any way possible, another group is ritualism, those who give up on there success goals, and retreatism, which includes those who seek to value other ways of being, such as religious groups or people with drug addictions. It is however arguable that Lombroso’s work is largely discredited.

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Biological Positivism It's In Our Genes. (2021, Dec 29). Retrieved April 18, 2024 , from

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