Criminological Theory (Lilly, Cullen & Ball, 2011) addresses not only the evolving and expanding topic of trends in criminological thought but also tries to achieve a level of explanation that confronts the source, history, and development of the science. With criminological theory tackling questions such as the source, prevention, and management of criminal behavior, the chapter “The Search for the ‘Criminal Man’” gives a historical overview of different schools of thought on the matter. The posed topic is vast enough to encompass theories from antiquity to modernity, with the chapter giving a summary of the different approaches throughout the ages. Despite this, the goal of the chapter does not stop at the historical overview but continues further to attempt to instill appropriate principles and guard against intolerance.
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Placing a discussion of Georgette Bennett’s Crimewarps, published in 1987, at the beginning of the chapter as a noteworthy criminological book allows achieving a number of objectives. The first is immersion in methodology, the second is historical context, and the third is critical thinking, which helps analyze the following concepts relating to the nature of lawbreakers. Despite the predictions outlined in Crimewarps not aligning with the developments in crime up to the date of publication of Criminological Theory (Lilly et al., 2011), the discussion sets the ground for analysis in the context of historical time.
An overview of spiritualist, classical, and positivist approaches serves as a guiding thread throughout the history of criminological theory and its different influences, from the will of God to the shape of the brain. While apt historically, the urging of the chapter is to separate bias and science, paralleling the statement that the social reality of offenders’ lives is too complex, too contingent, and too dependent on mere coincidences” (Carlsson, 2014, p. 30). The posturing of the schools of thought mentioned above as archaic sets the ground for further chapters on modern criminological theory.
While giving an appropriate historical overview, the chapter seems to undermine previous criminological theories through dispelling their approaches, despite calling for contextual understanding. This aims at developing critical thinking skills and overcoming personal prejudice, especially with “one of the most important tasks for criminologists [being] to expose, critique, and condemn [bias] wherever it is found” (Lilly et al., 2011, p. 38). Hence, the chapter is not only of a historical but cautionary and instructional nature, especially if aimed at criminology students.
Points of Interest
The chapter stops short of modern times, ending on the tentative musing of DNA as a possible extension of the biological branch of the positivistic view on the origins of crime. It may be interesting to take into account that “[theories of population heterogeneity aim] to capture an allegedly empirical phenomena; that people‘s propensity to engage in crime differ within a given population” (Carlsson, 2014, p. 28). The singling out of criminals through inherent qualities seems a resurgence of a previous school of thought, rather than the development of a new, more modern approach.
While the step towards DNA may seem like a more scientific approach, this topic leads us to the concept of ascribing value towards specific characteristics. The positivistic projection of personal or cultural values onto others and the upholding of those that would seem beneficial and shunning those deemed unfavorable is what swayed criminological theory from science to “artwork” (Lilly et al., 2011, p. 38). Repeating the same experiments in prescribing good and bad qualities may work in the biological branch, but still leaves the same objectionable, prejudiced, and personally instilled criteria in place. Hence, the use of DNA to determine future lawbreakers not only seems to be a breach of human privacy but also creates a view of the human life as predetermined. More importantly, this raises the unanswered question of what would be the practical utility of such information: would it be limited to alerting to the need for observation, or be more inclined to preliminary punishment?
With comparison to historical methods of punishment of criminals (taking, for example, the antiquated practice of trial by combat), the evolution of the system from retribution to rehabilitation has changed the structure of criminal justice. Therefore, it may seem strange that the chapter voices a concern “whether the policies instituted in the name of rehabilitation made criminal justice systems more humane of more repressive” (Lilly et al., 2011, p. 36). While this topic remains open to discussion, the progress made from fatal disciple to an attempt to ratify the system to a more merciful one seems genuine.
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With the book taking a cautionary and guiding stance, the chapter “The Search for the ‘Criminal Man’” provides appropriate context for the current attitude in criminological theory. Addressing the history of criminology and tying it together with modern development and technologies allows for a sufficient account of the advancement and setbacks of the approach. The open warning against prejudice and the installation of a particular set of ethical, if not moral rules, makes the chapter a step in the overall guidance of the book.
Carlsson, C. (2014). Continuities and changes in criminal careers (Doctoral dissertation, Department of Criminology, Stockholm University). Web.
Lilly, J., Cullen, F., & Ball, R. (2011). Criminological theory: Context and consequences (5th ed.). Washington, DC: SAGE.