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Biological Explanations of Deviance

Human behaviour was understood — or more correctly, misunderstood — during the nineteenth century as an expression of biological instincts. Along with other patterns of human behaviour, criminality was explained on biological grounds.

Lombroso: early research

In 1876, Caesare Lombroso (1835-1909), an Italian physician who worked in prisons, developed a biological theory of criminality. Lombroso described criminals as having distinctive physical characteristics - low foreheads, prominent jaws and cheekbones, protruding ears, hairiness, and unusually long arms - that resemble human beings' apelike ancestors. In other words, he viewed criminals as evolutionary throwbacks to lower forms of life.

Because of their biologically based inadequacy, Lombroso reasoned, such individuals would think and act in a primitive manner likely to run afoul of society's laws. Although toward the end of his career Lombroso acknowledged that social factors play a part in criminality, his early claim that some people are literally-born criminals was widely influential in an era in which biological explanations of human behaviour were popular.

Lombroso's findings were based on seriously flawed research methods. He failed to see that the physical characteristics he found in prison and linked to criminality also existed in the population as a whole. Early in the twentieth century, the British psychiatrist Charles Buck-man Goring (1870-1919), who also worked in prisons, published the results of a comparison of thousands of convicts and noncriminals. There was a great deal of physical variation within both groups, but Goring's research showed there were no significant physical differences between the criminal and noncriminal categories of the kind suggested by Lombroso.

Delinquency and body structure

After Lombroso's theory of born criminality was disproved, others continued to search for biological explanations of criminality. William Sheldon (1949) advanced the idea of body structure in terms of three general types: ectomorphs, who were tall, thin, and fragile; endomorphs, who were short, and fat; and mesomorphs, who were muscular and athletic. Sheldon noted that no one conforms exactly to any of these pure types. Rather, he thought the average person shows some combination of body types, although one type usually predominates. After comparing hundreds of young men - half of whom were known to have been engaged in criminal activity and half of whom, were believed to be noncriminal — Sheldon reported an apparent association between criminality and the mesomorphic body type. In other words, he found a link between criminality and a muscular, athletic body structure. Like Lombroso, however, Sheldon was criticized for basing his work on samples that were not representative of the entire population.

Further, more carefully designed research based on these basic body types was conducted by Sheldon and Eleanor Glueck (1950). The Gluecks also concluded that there is a link between criminality and a mesomorphic body structure, although they did not claim that physical characteristics are a direct cause of criminality. Rather, they concluded that the mesomorphic body type is associated with personal characteristics — such as insensitivity to frustration - that seem likely to promote criminality. The Gluecks also noted the importance of social environment in explaining criminality; they found that young men with mesomorphic builds were typically raised with little affection and understanding from family members.

Although these findings indicate that there may be an association between body type and criminality, they do not establish any causal connection between the two. Indeed, the association may very well have a social explanation. Young men with muscular builds have the ability to be the «bullies on the block», which some of them may become.


VII. Speak on:

a) Lombroso's theory of criminality

b) Goring's research

c) Sheldon's types of criminals

d) the Gluecks' findings.


VIII. Translate the text in writing:

Deviance Is a Product of Society?

We tend to believe that deviance is a result of an individual's free choice on personal failings. But, as our discussion of culture, social structure, and socialization showed, all social behaviour — deviance as well as conformity — is rooted in society. This is evident in three ways.

Date: 2016-04-22; view: 2901

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