Strengths and Weaknesses of Biological Positivism

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Biological Positivism has both its strengths and weaknesses, it changed the way of criminological ideas and opened up new theories that were based on scientific facts rather than philosophical ideas like in Classicism. It also highlighted the importance of looking into peoples genetic make-up as research such as Brunners' research into the extra 'Y' chromosome which led to the idea that genetic defects in a family can cause abnormal behaviours and also the Twin and Adoptions studies that showed a correlation between genetics and crime. In more modern approaches, researchers then started to look more into the brain and biochemical factors such as brain dysfunctions and imbalanced chemicals. These explanations showed the huge affect these problems had on an individuals behaviour and thought processes.
This essay will also approach the weaknesses of these theories. It will look at the nature/nurture debate and how most of the theories fail to take into account social and environmental factors that contribute to an individuals behaviour. It will also look at the idea of 'determinism' (Lombroso, 1876), the idea that people have absolutely no control over there actions so shouldn't be punished, but rather, treated.

Up until the 19th century, Classicist ideas dominated the way in which people looked at crime. However during the late 19th century a new form of “scientific criminology” emerged, called Positivism (Newburn, 2007). Positivism looked at the biological factors on why someone would commit a crime, this involved looking at the physical attributes of a person, looking at their genetic make-up and their biochemical factors.
In the 1800s Cesare Lombroso (1835-1909), Italian criminologist, wrote in his book L'Uomo Delinquente (1876) that up to 70% of criminals were “born criminal”, a term that plays a recurring theme throughout this essay. Some people may argue that Lombroso's contributions to Biological Positivism made him the “father of modern criminology” (Newburn, 2007: 122), his theories were based upon scientific evidence with the idea that all criminals had no free-will and that their 'determinism' was driven by their biological influences in which they had no control over. This view was quite different from Jeremy Benthams (1748-1832) old philosophical views of classicist criminology who's ideas were based on people having complete control over their actions.

Lombroso was specifically interested in the 'atavistic criminal', an individual who was seen to have not properly evolved, in his studies he focused on the physical attributes of an individual, also known as the stigmata, of a criminal. The abnormalities in a persons physical appearance, such as a sloped head or exceedingly long arms, was seen as the individual being a “throwback to an earlier stage of the developmental history of the species” (Walklate, 2007: 20) and they were inevitably destined to a life of crime. This technique of pointing out a criminal was seen as a major...

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