Ch.5 Biological and Physiological Explanations of Deviance: The body Did it
Positivism (sometimes also called scientism) is based on the belief that the methods of
natural science should be adapted to the study of human beings
Positivist theory assumes that knowledge can be discovered only through sensory
experience, observation, and experiment. It’s early proponents claimed, sometimes only
half-truthfully, that they employed the scientific method of sampling, controls, and
Positivism –and the “positive school of criminology” it gave rise to –represents what Kuhn
(1970) terms a paradigm shift
It constituted a new kind of lens through which human nature and human behavior could
Positivists assume that, underlying al empirical reality, there are discoverable laws that
can be used to explain everything in nature, including human behavior.
The English philosopher Herbert Spencer (1820-1903) coined the phrase “survival of the
fittest” to describe the implications of evolutionary theory for human society. Spencer
argued that every field –industry, art, science, or human biology –reflected a pattern of
development from lower to higher, from less complex to more complex, from inferior to
He took from Darwin’s The Origin of Species and the Descent of Man the notion that the
development in human societies followed the principles of natural selection through
The more fit competitors win, survive, and procreate, while the less fit die out –unless of
course, the fit commit race suicide by not breeding or the unfit (the poor, the criminal, and
those with mental illnesses) are artificially supported by well-meaning but misguided
Adherents of this Social Darwinism believed that those living organisms –whether
humans, plant or animal –best able to adapt to a particular set of living conditions were
the ones with the greatest chances of survival.
Social darwinists reason that the powerful and rich are that way because they are more
“fit,” not in Darwin’s original meaning of reproductive capacity but in a parallel social
meaning of having health, intelligence, and good moral qualities.
Fitness became a synonym not only for healthy but also for deserving.
Mendel and The Discovery of Genetic Inheritance
Gregor Mendel studied plant seeds and discovered the genetic principles whereby
variations of colour and size are transmitted by heredity through predictable mutations
and combinations of genes.
Born Criminal Theory
The idea that criminality was not only inborn but also marked a person’s appearance was
common in antiquity
The newly emerging criminal anthropology promised the possibility of using physical
features to identify actual and potential criminals
The earliest researchers sought to find statistical connections between external
characteristics such as facial features, skull size, and body shape
Physiognomy Physiognomy: the science of judging character on the basis of facial features, had
widespread support and appeal in the late 18 and early 19 centuries
John Caspar Lavater produced a detailed four volume map of the human face, which
associated various shapes and structures with specific personality traits
Criminals were characterized as tending to have shifty eyes, weak chins, and large
Phrenology: (phrenos=mind, logos=study) was most popular in the mid 19 century
It was based on the theory that functions such as cautious ness, firmness, benevolence,
mirthfulness, and intellect were located in distinct parts of the brain and that the strong
the function, the larger their physical manifestations
The enlarged parts, it was held, would push the skull out so that a trained technical could
feel the bumps and thus “read” the person’s character
Franz Joseph Gall and his student and colleague, Johann Caspar Spurzheim published a
two volume work on phrenology, presenting it as a new science.
Brain defects might be the product of heredity, environment, or disease, or even the
consequences of upbringing since the practice of certain kinds of behavior might
influence the organization of the normal brain and throw it out of balance.
In the mid 19 century, it was customary to make a cast of the head of executed
criminals so that degenerate features of the skull could be recored.
Craniometry: was a system of classifying human types on the basis of skull
measurement, particularly measurement of its size.
Larger brains were believed to indicate grater brain activity (and thus the superiority of
the individual), but when it was found, for example, that the largest female brain ever
recorded belonged to a woman who killed her husband, the theory had to be revised.
Most craniologists held that the brain that was too large or too small could be the sign of
deviance in the individual.
Craniometric data usually corroborated prevailing social, ethnic, national and gender
Lombroso’s “Criminal Anthropology”
Central to Lombroso’s conception of crime was his theory of biological atavism
According to this theory, the criminal (or troublemaker) was an evolutionary throwback a
reversion to a more primitive stage in human evolution
Physical characteristics (stigmata) such as sloping foreheads, bushy eyebrows, and
protruding jaws and cheekbones were evidence of atavism and its attendant deviant
Different kinds of criminality were indicated by head and body size, hair colour, and
abnormalities of the ears, nose, arms, and body.
For example, “ravishers” have short hands, medium-sized brains, and narrow foreheads;
there is a predominance of liht hair with abnormalities of the genital organs and of the
Lombroso’s follower Enrico Ferri coined the term born criminal to describe the
biologically determined criminal type.
In Lombroso’s terms, tattooing reflected primitive people’s love of adornment and
insensitivity to pain.
Lombroso classified all criminals as “epileptoids” on a scale in which epileptic was at the
top, followed by criminal moral imbecile, born criminal, criminaloid (occasional criminal),
and criminal by passion. Lombroso did not claim that all criminals were born criminals. He adjusted his argument
repeatedly to meet the criticisms of other researchers.
Lombroso believed that born criminals were the most serious and chronic offenders.
Eugenics and Theories of Degeneracy
The term eugenics (good birth) was coined in 1883 by Sir Francis Galton, who saw
selective breeding as the antidote to the social problems produced by the dysgenic
effects of the increasing numbers of citizens who were genetically unfit
Positive eugenics policies were proposed to encourage those with the best genes to
Negative eugenics involved programs to exclude inferior populations (immigration
controls), compulsory sterilization programs for those identified as unfit, and in Germany,
extermination programs for the ethnically, mentally, and politically unfit.
Francis Galton imagined an ideal society called “Kantsaywhere” which whould be a
Only be maintained in a society that had eugenics as a religion
Eugenics have tended to form close attachments with those developing new techniques
of psychometrics –IQ (intelligence quotient) tests, MRI brain scanning techniques, and
Earnest Albert Hooton and The Hierarchy of Degeneration
Hooton argued that crime was the result of normal environmental stre