Biological and Psychological Explanations of Deviance
-Positivism (scientism) is based on the belief that methods of science shouldn’t be adapted to the study of human beings.
These theories assume that knowledge can be discovered only through sensory experience, observation, and experiment.
Its early proponents claimed that they employed the scientific method of sampling, controls, and analysis, though this isn’t
always the case.
-Classical thinker’s work wasn’t scientific. Positivism represents a paradigm shift.
-Some of the early positivist attempts to discover the biological level of social action were crude examples of deviance in
science. The perspective itself has sometimes been “deviantized”.
-Positivists assume that, underlying all empirical reality, there are discoverable laws that can be used to explain
everything in nature, including human behavior. A person whose every action was a symptom of dark, biological impulses,
evolutionary position, and environmental forces replaced the hedonistic self-directed actor depicted in classical thought.
-This view argues that all behavior is determined by forces that no individual fully controls. Free will, in this view, is nothing
but an illusion through which human beings try to establish their superiority over other animals.
-Spencer coined “survival of the fittest” to describe implications of evolutionary theory for human society. He argued that
every field (art science, etc) reflects a pattern of development from lower to higher, less complex to more complex, and
inferior to superior.
-Development in human societies followed the principles of natural science through competition. The more fit competitors
win, survive, and procreate, while the less fit die out (unless the fit commit race suicide). Living organisms best able to
adapt to a particular set of living conditions were the ones with the greatest chance of survival. The powerful and rich are
that way because they are more “fit”.
Mendel and the Discovery of Genetic Inheritance
-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. This finding was often misinterpreted as meaning
that environment played no role in determining individual traits.
Born Criminal Theory
-The idea that criminality wasn’t 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. In roughly chronological order, the early efforts took the form of physiognomy, phrenology, craniometry,
atavism, and degeneracy.
-Facial features were used to draw analogies between humans and animals. Physiognoth, the sciencethf judging
character on the basis of facial features, has widespread support in the late 18 and early 19 centuries. Its value today is
negligible. Physiognomy contributed little to the development of deviance studies, because it was almost entirely based on
appeals to commonsense and understanding. There was no systematic theory, and no rigorous testing of its assertions.
-Phrenology was popular in the mid-19 century, it was based on the theory that functions such as cautiousness,
firmness, benevolence, mirthfulness, and intellect were located in distinct parts of the brain, and that the stronger the
functions, the larger their physical manifestations. A trained technician could feel the bumps in one’s head and thus “read”
the person’s character.
-Phrenology promised an explanation for every form of criminal behavior, even that of serial killers, not in terms of
temptation and sin, but in terms of brain defect. Brain defects might be the product of heredity, environment, or disease, or
even the consequence of upbringing, since the practice of certain kinds of behavior might influence the organization of the
normal brain and throw it out of balance.
-Phrenology was killed by its popularity. While little experimental work was done, there was a great deal of objective
observation and data collection. But phrenology became intensely popular. It was abused until it became confined to
phrenology booths at psychic fairs.
-This was a system of classifying human types on the basis of skull measurement, particularly measurement of its size.
Eventually most craniologists held that a 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 biases.
-The limits of craniometry were soon reached, as most investigators turned to more defensible and reliable indicators of
Lombroso’s “Criminal Anthropology”
-Lombroso’s controversial theories have inspired more praise and condemnation than those of any other criminologist. His
biological approach to crime and causation, sometimes called forensic anthropology, proved to be full of unlikely
assumptions and questionable statistical tests.
-Central to his conception of crime was his theory of biological atavism. This theory holds that the criminal was an
evolutionary throwback to a more primitive stage of human evolution. Physical characteristics (stigmata) such as sloping
forehead, bushy eyebrows, and protruding jaws were evidence of atavism and its attendant deviant propensity. Different
kinds of criminality were indicated by head and body size, hair colour, and abnormalities of the ears, nose, and body.
-Lombroso’s follower, Ferri, coined the term born criminal to describe the biologically determined criminal type. Lombroso
was influenced by evolutionary theory through the work of Comte, who argued that society goes through evolutionary stages just as the human species does; by the work of Gall, and Morel, who argued that degeneracy was expressed in
epilepsy, insanity, mental deficiency, and crime.
-Soon Lombroso was conducting anthropometric studies of inmates and such. In one of his studies of over 300 skulls, he
uncovered the skull of a “notorious brigand”, which he used in his public lectures to illustrate the idea of the atavistic
criminal. An atavistic is one who reproduces in his person the ferocious instincts of primitive humanity and inferior
-He also illustrated the epileptiform nature of criminality. He classified all criminals as “epileptoids” on a scale in which
epileptic was at the top, followed by criminal moral imbecile, born criminal, criminaloid (occasionally criminal), and criminal
by passion. He didn’t 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.
Lombrosian Theory and Social Control
-Lombrosian theory became a factor in determining guilt or innocence in the courtroom and in deciding how a convicted
criminal should be treated. When it came to social control of the born criminal, relatively few options existed. Neither
suffering or salvation (the demonic approach) nor the manipulation of free will (classical theory) was appropriate for the
born criminal. This left as possible solutions execution, isolation, or treatment. At the time, few treatments were available,
especially if the problem was seen as congenital. Lombrosians tended to flavor the death penalty or isolation in institutions
for the insane.
The Displacement of Lombrosian Theory
-The Italian school of criminal anthropology, represented by Lombroso, was vigourously attacked by sociologists and
-No matter how accurate Lombroso’s measurements of ears, noses, and brains were, this evidence didn’t support the
conclusion that particular sizes, weights, and shapes of anatomical parts were associated with criminal proclivities. In
addition, Lombroso was criticized for using ill-defined measurements, unwarranted deductions, and inadequately chosen
control groups, as well as for relying too frequently both on reasoning by analogy and on anecdotal illustration.
-Goring found that the physical and mental constitutions of both criminal and law-abiding persons of the same age,
stature, class, and intelligence were virtually identical with respect to Lombroso’s atavistic stigmata. Goring showed that
Lombroso’s version of the “anthropological monster” didn’t exist.
-Lombroso’s chief long-term contribution to criminology and the study of deviance wasn’t his atavism theory or his
methods, but rather the fact that he inspired others to observe firsthand and systematically what criminals looked and
sounded like, what they had in common, and how they differed from others.
Eugenics and Theories of Degeneracy
-Eugenics was coined by 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 reproduce. Negative eugenics policies involved programs to exclude
inferior populations (immigration controls), compulsory sterilization programs for those identified as unfit, and
exterminations programs (Germany) for the ethnically, mentally, and politically unfit.
-Galton imagined a society called “Kantsaywhere”, which would be a eugenic society. People with class 1 genetic
inheritance would be encouraged to have babies, those in class 2 could have 3, those in class 3 could have 2, those in
grade 4 could have one, and the really inferior (class 5), couldn’t have any.
-Lower grade folks who had too any kids were deviantized and criminalized. Such organization could only be maintained
in a society that had eugenics as a religion, because democracy couldn’t sustain it.
-Davenport claimed that “thalassophilia” (love of the sea) was a sex-linked gene (cuz only men are in the navy). He also
concluded that alcoholism, prostitution, etc. were determined by genes.
-Eugenics also played a role in Canada where it was used to justify policies of sterilization.
-Eugenicists have tended to form close attachments with those developing new techniques of psychometrics (IQ-
intelligence quotient) tests, MRI brain scanning techniques, and similar measures. This empiricism lends a spurious
scientific veneer to work that typically involves huge leaps between empirical evidence and conclusions.
-The “new eugenics” overlaps with endeavors such as the use of human biotechnology when its goals are eugenic. This
includes, for example, artificial insemination by donor, prenatal diagnosis, implantation of genes, embryo selection, and
Robert Dugdale and the Jukes
-Dugdale published a study of a so-called degenerate family entitled the Jukes. Dugdale has been present in a Kingston,
New York, court when a youth was being tried for receiving stolen goods. Five of his relatives were there. Dugdale made
inquiries about the youth’s family and traced the family back 150 years. He found that about 20% of the family were
criminals. Despite Dugdale’s ridiculous methodology, it was an influential study and the name Jukes became synonymous
-All of this fostered the idea that criminality, poverty, and degeneracy were inherited, feeding into the public demand for
policies that would reduce the size of this burden on society. Dugdale believed that the deprived social environment
prolonged the taint of their degeneration and that this could be rectified by a better environment.
Henry Goddard and the Kallikaks
-Goddard was influenced by Mendel’s work and the science of IQ testing. In his view, intelligence was inborn and
inherited and was a measure of many other aspects of human worthiness, especially human morality. He published
“pedigrees” of hundreds of defective people who wouldn’t have existed has their moronic ancestors been prevented form
breeding. One study was the history of Martin Kallikak, a good young soldier who has a sex