A unified theory of crime and delinquency

Foundation for a biosocial criminology

Authored by: Cesar J. Rebellon , J. C. Barnes , Robert Agnew

The Routledge International Handbook of Biosocial Criminology

Print publication date:  December  2014
Online publication date:  December  2014

Print ISBN: 9780415722131
eBook ISBN: 9781315858449
Adobe ISBN: 9781317936749


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Biological approaches to crime were prominent in the late nineteenth century, but fell from favor in the early twentieth century. Several factors contributed to this fall. First, biological theories of that era failed to garner strong empirical support. Lombroso’s (1911) theory of the born criminal, for example, suggested that the most heinous crimes tended to be committed by biologically inferior throwbacks to an earlier stage of human evolution. Over the next half-century, however, data failed to support his belief that such criminals could be systematically distinguished from the general population by various physical features (Walby and Carrier, 2010). Second, historical events in the first half of the twentieth century led many scholars and activists to question the implications of biological approaches to human behavior (Rafter, 2008). The eugenics movements of the early twentieth century, for example, suggested that some individuals should either be killed or prevented from reproducing. The Holocaust illustrated the horrific dangers of such thinking. Third, sociologists in the first half of the twentieth century had begun to observe that crime in certain geographic regions tended to remain relatively high even in the face of residential turnover. This suggested that environmental factors influenced crime independently of individual characteristics (e.g. Shaw and McKay, 1942). The combined effect of the above three factors on academic criminology was an emerging focus on the social forces that might be said to promote crime (Udry, 1995).

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