criminology, positivist

Distinguishable from the positivism of social and psychological theory in its commitment to the practical application of its theory and research, it claims scientific status for its quantification-oriented methodology and is characterized by a search for the determining causes of crime and misbehaviour which are held to be discoverable in the physical, genetic, psychological, or moral make-up of those pre-disposed to such acts. Hypothesis-testing, empirical investigation, classification, and categorization are its hallmarks. This perspective rejects the view, proffered within classical criminology (see criminology, classical ), of the criminal as a rational actor, exercising free will.
Early key figures were the Italian criminologists Enrico Ferri (The Positive School of Criminology, 1901), Raffaele Garofalo (1852-1934), and Cesare Lombroso (L'uomo delinquente, 1876). The last of these proposed that criminals exhibited certain physical stigmata, which also identified them as ‘throwbacks’ to some early primitive humanity or animal state, a proposition he later expanded. This may be termed biological positivism, and as a strand of criminology it has remained strong, represented (for example) in work by Eleanor (Gluecks) and Sheldon Gluecks in the 1950s linking propensity to commit crime to body size and shape; the XYY chromosome theory, popular in the 1960s, where the presence of an additional chromosome is held to determine criminality; or the work of Hans Eysenck, who has argued that ‘criminality is obviously a continuous trait of the same kind as intelligence, or height, or weight’.
Critics argue that the approach is value -loaded rather than objective , dealing with social constructs rather than scientific facts, and tied to a behaviourist view of humanity which overlooks the importance of beliefs, values, and purpose.

Dictionary of sociology. 2013.

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