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Cesare Lombroso (1835-1909) is a historical figure in modern criminology, and the founder of the Italian Positivist School of criminology. Lombroso rejected the established Classical School of criminology, which held that crime was a characteristic trait of human nature. Instead, using concepts drawn from Social Darwinism, Lombroso's theory was that criminality was inherited, and that the born criminal could be identified by physical defects, which confirmed a criminal as savage, or atavistic.
Lombroso popularized the notion of a born criminal through biological determinism. Criminals have particular physiognomic attributes or deformities. Physiognomy attempts to estimate character and personality traits from physical features of the face or the body. Whereas most individuals evolve, the violent criminal had devolved, and therefore were societal, or evolutionary regressions. If criminality was inherited, then the born criminal could be distinguised by physical atavistic stigmata, such as large jaws, high cheek bones, handle-shaped ears, hawk-like noses, or fleshy lips.
He concentrated on a scientific methodology in order to identify criminal behavior and isolate individuals capable of the most violent types of criminal activity. Lombroso advocated the study of individuals using measurements and statistical methods in compiling anthropological, social, and economic data. Along with the natural origin of the crime and its social consequences, various remedies can then be provided to the criminal, which would offer the greatest effects.
With successive research, he modified his theories with more thorough statistical analysis. Lombroso continued to define additional atavistic stigmata, as well as the degeneracy of effectiveness in the treatment of born criminals. He was an advocate for humane treatment of criminals by arguing for rehabilitation and against capital punishment.
Lombroso's work, however, was hampered by his Social Darwinist assumptions, and especially by his pre-genetic conception of evolution as "progress" from "lower life forms" to "higher life forms," and his assumption that the more "advanced" human traits would dispose their owners to living peacefully within a hierarchical, urbanized society far different from the conditions under which human beings evolved. In attempting to predict criminality by the shapes of the skulls and other physical features of criminals, he had in effect created a new pseudoscience of forensic phrenology. While Lombroso was a pioneer of scientific criminology, and his work was one of the bases of the eugenics movement in the early twentieth century, his work is no longer considered one of the foundations of contemporary criminology.
- Gould, Stephen J. (rev. ed. 1996) The Mismeasure of Man. W. W. Norton, ISBN 0393314251
- Lombroso, Cesare (1876) L'Uomo Delinquente. Milan: Horpli.
- ____ (1895) L'Homme Criminel. Felix: Alcan. (two volumes).
- ____ With Gina Lombroso-Ferrero (1911) Criminal Man, According to the Classification of Cesare Lombroso. New York: Putnam; (1972) Montclair, N.J.: Patterson Smith.
- _____ (1980) The Female Offender. Littleton, Colorado: Fred Rothman, (1980).
- York University Classics in Psychiatry
- Lombroso: Sociological Theories of Deviance
- Anthropoligical Criminology
- Overview of the Positivist School
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