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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


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


*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.


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


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,


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


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


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



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.

Psychology and Sociology have influenced Criminology significantly. One of

the things we are still struggling with, however, is the study of



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