Criminology is a relatively new
discipline, in which people have only begun studying the subject and everything
it entails, within approximately the past fifty years. In terms of sociology
and crime, there was a shift from the idea of individuals being pathological
offenders, and instead focus was placed upon societal conditions for crime
(Croall, 2011). This is essay will begin by drawing upon the theoretical
perspective of sociological positivism, in order to critically explore how it
explains both crime and criminality, before looking at how sociological
positivism begins to inform measures for the control and reduction of crime.
Finally, this essay will critically analyse how sociological positivism is used
within current criminological thinking.
During the 1890s a study was carried
out at the University of Chicago, and this study was given the appropriate name
of the Chicago School. The Chicago School emerged at a time when the city of
Chicago, was experiencing rapid social change, as a direct result of population
increase due to high levels of migration (Newburn, 2007). Massive social change
caused problems with regards to issues such as; housing, poverty as well as
putting a strain on institutions within communities (Newburn, 2007).
Sociologists were intrigued by the rapid social changes occurring, paying
particular concern as to how the city would remain stable throughout these
changes (Lilly et al, 2002).
In order to begin to be able understand
the contributions the Chicago School made to the discipline of criminology, it
is important to look at the context in which the Chicago School emerged. Before
the emergence of the Chicago School, the prevalent theories and ideology were
classical criminology and early positivist criminology.
Classical school of criminology is
found as far back as the early eighteenth century, when philosophers such as Bentham
and Beccaria, focussed their interests on the criminal justice system and the
process of penology (Carrabine et al, 2004). Bentham and Beccaria suggested
that crime was a result of human nature, and that all humans are rational and
possess free will, therefore they must have the ability to control their
actions (Carrabine et al, 2004).
This perspective was allowed to
emerge as an alternative approach to the traditional barbaric system of capital
punishment, in order to begin to create a criminal justice system that was more
reasonable and fair (Bentham, 1789). It was not only concerned with individual
causes of crime, but instead shifted focus upon law enforcement and legal
procedures (Bentham, 1789).
Beccaria suggests that crime and criminality
is a direct result of poorly created laws, and did not actually have anything
to do with individuals themselves being bad. A new perspective was offered
within Beccaria’s book “On Crime and Punishment” (Beccaria, 1764).
In contradiction to classical
theories of crime and criminality, early positivist ideology was considered to
be deterministic, as they all rejected the idea of individuals being rational,
and having a sense of free will (Newburn, 2016). Deterministic approaches,
through the use of empirical research methods, proposed the idea that crime and
criminality was as a result of biological, psychological and also societal
differences (Carrabine et al, 2004). Positivist criminologists strongly
believed and argued that, both the causes and effects of criminal behaviour are
able to be directly observed (Macionis and Plummer, 2005).