Posted in A2 Sociology: Crime and Deviance, A2 Sociology: Religion

Classic vs. positivist criminology

The argument has a political (right vs. left wing) and scientific dimension.

The classic approach could be considered to directly relate to governing whilst the scientific approach is directly linked to Lombroso.

Classical approach

  • Started with the enlightenment period which took place during the early industrialisation of Europe, the French Revolution and later, the American Revolution.

During this time the ideas of Cesare Beccaria were influential:

  • the power of the monarchy declined
  • human rights increased
  • freedom increased
  • reason was prized over superstition
  • Free will was seen as vital

The idea of the social contract also became ubiquitous: that free rational individuals sacrifice part of their freedom so it maintains peace and security.

Utilitarianism: Jeremy Bentham utilised a ‘hedonistic calculus’ to argue that individuals used a cost benefit analysis between pain and pleasure. Therefore, most people don’t commit crime if the pain will clearly outweigh the pleasure. The action is right if it creates happiness and wrong if it tends to produce the reverse of happiness—not just the happiness of the performer of the action but also that of everyone affected by it.

Positivist approach

  • Cannot assume humans are the same – study the actor not the act
  • Imitate the natural science approach
  • Subconscious, biological, physiological, stats etc.
  • Focus on medical treatment of crime
  • Criminals born criminal

E.G Lombroso – profiling according to head size, extra nipples etc.!

How do these ideas link to the beliefs in society topic?

The enlightenment is a key period in social history because it was perhaps the first time the hegemonic status quo was challenged by an organised group of intellectuals which then spread to the public consciousness. One of the reasons some countries in Europe are considered to be more secular is because they experienced the enlightenment. On the other hand, the USA didn’t which has therefore has lead to greater levels of religiosity.

How do these ideas link to the crime and deviance topic?

The classical approach is still very influential particularly upon neo-liberalism (a common ideology throughout the world) which views individuals as rational actors therefore when they commit a crime, they need to be punished fully. The right wing press are an influential part of this ideology. This is very different to the left wing approach which tends to look at wider social factors such as social class.

It could also be argued that there is a subconscious observance to the positivist approach – perhaps legal professionals follow what Cicourel labels the ‘typical deviant’ – someone who might look too dissimilar to the criminal types identified by Lombroso.

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Author:

Sociology and Media Studies teacher at Hazelwick School, West Sussex. Former teacher at Felpham Community College and Doha College

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