Criminology and Positivism Theoretical Movement

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‘Criminology is more than just the study of
why people commit crime’.
Discuss.
Criminology is not just the study of why people commit crime. In order to understand what Criminology is all about and how it has been improved throughout the years, a number of theories and approaches will be presented and analysed further below. Firstly a brief summary of the definition of criminology will be given, followed by a summary of the history of criminology and how it was created. A reference will be made to the general principles of criminology, at the theoretical approach which support the idea that crime is caused by psychological and social disadvantage. A reference will also be made to the basic theories which were developed by prominent intellectuals, as for example the Rational Choice theory, the Positivism theoretical movement, Interaction and social reaction theories and the theory of Criminalisation. An attempt to analyse the approach to crime causation, opportunity and motivation will also be discussed. Finally, the need for criminology to be adjusted to technological evolution in order to achieve its objectives will be discussed.

According to Larry J. Siegel (2011, p.4) “Criminology is the scientific approach to studying criminal behavior”. Furthermore, the American criminologists, Cressey and Sutherland stated that “criminology is the body of knowledge regarding crime as a social phenomenon. It includes within its scope the processes of making laws, of breaking laws and of reacting toward the breaking of laws…” (Cited by Siegel, 2011, p.4).

The history and theory texts trace the origins of the discipline of criminology, to the first half of the nineteenth century (McGuire, 2004, p.1). Earlier, on the eighteenth century and specifically during the period of European Enlightenment, many thoughts and established patterns have been re-examined so that moral religious and mystical theories or ideas are balanced with scientific. After that a school of thought known as classical criminology was created that collected ideas and thoughts relevant to the motives causing the crimes and ways for the society to react. Αccording to McGuire (2004, p.19), the first empirically based studies in what is now called criminology were carried out in France and Belgium in the 1820s and 1930s (McGuire, 2004, p.1, p.18, p.19). “As a result of its origins in sociology, in law and in philosophy-all cerebral disciplines-criminology has defined itself as concerned principally with understanding and explaining crime” (Clarke, 2004, p.57). According to this approach, crime was explained as the inevitable result of psychological and social disadvantage (Clarke, 2004, p.57).

The Enlightenment philosophers Beccaria, Bentham and Kant are often described as the founding fathers of classical criminology. Based on the Rational Choice theory, law and criminal justice systems were reformed in order for punishment to be proportionate to the crime committed (Bowling & Ross, 2006, p.12). Beccaria and Bentham argued that people weigh the benefits and consequences of their future actions before deciding on how to behave. According to this classical view of crime, for someone to decide to violate the law, he must first carefully weigh the benefits and consequences of criminal behaviours. Most of the criminals would cease their actions if the potential pain associated with a behavior, outweighed its anticipated gain. In his famous analysis ‘Let the punishment fit the crime’ Beccaria stated that, to be effective punishment must be sufficiently severe, certain and shift to control crime. Trying to give an example he stated that if rapists and murderers were punished in a similar fashion, to death penalty, this might encourage a rapist to kill his victims in order to prevent them from calling the police or testifying in court (Siegel & Welsh, 2008, p.70-71). However American psychologist, Abelson argued that human beings sometimes will behave in ways that...
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