The origin of criminology

“The criminal is an atavistic being who riproduces on his/her person the ferocius insticts of primitive humanity and inferior animals”. 

Through this statement Cesare Lombroso, the Italian doctor considered as the father of criminology, described the figure of the criminal. His research was based on positivist paradigm of evolution, the so called social darwinism: according to this ideology human behavior have been predetermined since birth. Cesare Lombroso affirmed that there was a human delinquent tipology definable through scientifically observable factors. According to him the delinquent type was a result of the biological decay of certain groups of human beings, or better a failed development from brutal and primitive conditions which tend to emerge also in physical and mental traits of criminals. Lombroso carried out hundreds of autopsies on corpes of delinquents, noting recurring morfologic features – especially in the structure of cranium – that indicated the “born criminal”. He focused his attention on a fossa in the occiput of criminals dissected: this fossa can be find only in inferior animals.


Then he affirmed that this atavism was an inadequate concept and the moral degeneration was linked to other reasons, such as venereal diseses, tubercolosis, alcoholism and malnutrition. He convinced himself that physical and psycological deformities derived from diseases of the fetus rather than from a “genetic weakness”: once his development  was stopped in the maternal womb, children could be born with inclination to crime which defined them born criminals. He created a new category, the moral crazy, people with an intelligence and a physical apparently normal but unable to distinguish the good behavior from the wrong one. Lombroso classified them as identical to atavistic delinquents because of  their impulse to harm other people and the total lack of regret. Noting that since birth the delinquent and the epileptic look alike because they both have similar physiognomic signs like degenarative stigmata and common psycological traits, Lombroso introduced the last category: the epileptic. Sharing the theories of his time, according to which epileptic people, during the convulsive act, may commit crimes and violations, proposed the theory of the masked epilepsy which can lead to deviant acts even in absence of a physical trauma. After many years of study on criminality, at the end of his career, Lombroso was able to state that epilepsy was the basis of the criminal behavior and included both moral insanity and atavism.

               Alessia Pellegrino

Questa voce è stata pubblicata in Criminal Minds, Criminology, English e contrassegnata con , , . Contrassegna il permalink.

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