The field of criminology draws on various disciplines including psychology, philosophy, social anthropology, biology, and law.
Criminologists look at the causes, consequences, and control of criminal acts, and by considering both the individual, and wider societal influences, seek to find ways to prevent crime. Here, we look at some of the most influential criminologists in the field’s history, and how they have shaped this interesting area into what it is today.
Considered the father of criminal law and modern criminal justice, Beccaria studied mathematics and economics before turning to law. His most famous work, On Crimes and Punishment, was the first published argument against the death penalty. Beccaria advocated that the certainty of punishment worked better as a deterrent than the severity of the punishment.
An English philosopher, Bentham’s work ranged from economics and advocating animal rights, to social reform and the founding of welfarism. He had an influence in reforming schools, prisons, courts, and England’s Poor Laws, and attempted to codify common law into statutes. In line with his opinions on transparency, Bentham’s body was preserved upon his death, and his auto-icon is publicly displayed at University College London.
Bringing the term born criminal into existence, Lombroso argued that criminality was inherent, and could be identified through physical characteristics, suggesting criminals were evolutionary regressions. Lombroso would categorise criminals into four distinctions: Criminaloids; Criminals by Passion; Born Criminals; Occasional Criminals; and by collecting anthropological data, such as physiological measurements, would create a methodology for predicting criminal behaviour.
Creating the Lacassagne School of Criminology in Lyon, France, Alexandre Lacassagne was a contemporary and rival of Lombroso, who came to crime and psychology through his work as a physician. It was his belief that criminality was influenced more by social factors, than hereditary ones; he would determine his own categories concerning criminality: thought; act; and instinctual. His partial emphasis on phrenology meant his contributions were overlooked for some time.
This time, a student of Lombroso: Enrico Ferri was a radical socialist, whose most famous work, Criminal Sociology, influenced Argentina’s 1921 penal code reforms. He advocated making changes to economics and the social factors that contribute to criminal behaviour, stating that it is better to prevent crime than punish it.
As an opponent of Nazism, Eysenck fled from Berlin to England as a young man. As a psychology professor, his primary field of study considered the genetic factors that influence personality. His investigation into psychoticism gave rise to his interest in criminology. With the help of his wife, Sybil, Eysenck produced a book on crime and personality, and developed theories on behavioural therapy and the relation between personality and intelligence.
Robert D. Hare
Author of notable criminology books Psychopathy: Theory and Research and Without Conscience: The Disturbing World of the Psychopaths Among Us, Hare is a Canadian researcher in the field of criminal psychology. His work looks at psychopathology and psychophysiology, and, from his research into the qualities of a psychopath, concluded that it may not be possible to identify murderers. Hare’s 20-item checklist is still considered the most reliable metric for measuring psychopathy.
Only the second female recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, Adams eschewed her privileged upbringing and traditional womanly duties to study how society and poverty influence crime. Known as the “mother of social work” Addams was an activist and lecturer in these subjects, encouraging their study and helping to establish the US settlement house movement in 1889, with the aim of to combatting crime through economic security.
One of the most influential criminologists of the 20th Century, Edwin Sutherland authored Principles of Criminology, a popular textbook. It is from Sutherland we have the term white-collar criminal, and he gave rise to the belief that delinquency likely resulted from learned behaviour. He observed that criminal behaviour stems from criminal associations, and suggested social disorganisation and conflict are major contributors to crime.
A prominent socialist and Harvard alumnus, Julius studied urban sociology, with particular focus given to those factors – especially urban poverty – that contribute to crime. Much of his work revolves around racial factors, such as how poverty among black communities influences different crime rates, with discrimination, education, housing, and employment being taken into consideration. His works The Truly Disadvantaged and The Declining Significance of Race examine this at greater length.
If you’re curious about the causes of crime and the efforts taken to understand and prevent it, then why not take a look at BA (Hons) Criminology & Psychology or BA (Hons) Criminology & Law and see how your own contributions could benefit this fascinating field.