The positivist school of criminology rose as a counter-argument to the classical theory’s heavy reliance on free will, seeking more positive causes of criminal behavior. Positivist criminology claims that criminals are not made into criminals by anyone else, and instead, are born as such.
Cesare Lombroso’s studies on criminology became a major foundation as he found that among criminals, some physical features were shared, suggesting ‘a born criminal’ inclination. Lombroso found that individuals with criminal tendencies had features that include large jaws, low-sloping foreheads, high cheekbones, and large canine teeth, suggesting a close relation to our human predecessors. The philosopher also found out that an individual’s environment could be a major cause of criminal behavior. Referring to such individuals as criminaloids, he suggested that individuals lacking physical characteristics of a criminal could morph into criminality. These ideas later developed as foundations of positivist criminology where theorists settled on individual and sociological foundations.
Individual positivism claims that crime stems from pathology, or an individual’s pathology. This view relies on biology, citing genes and personality foundations that exist within the individual. Sociological positivism on the other hand regards crime as an effect of social factors that force individuals to act out. The view sees external socio-economic and political factors as influences of dysfunctionality that the individual is powerless against. Unlike the classical school of criminology that banks on rational acts and free will as causes of crime, rational positivism considers the individual as ‘powerless.’ the individuals, hence, are seen to fall into criminal behavior due to factors they have no control over, either on a biological or social level.
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