Criminological Perspectives
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Criminological Perspectives

Essential Readings

Eugene McLaughlin,John Muncie

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eBook - ePub

Criminological Perspectives

Essential Readings

Eugene McLaughlin,John Muncie

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This revised and expanded Third Edition of the internationally acclaimed Criminological Perspectives is the most comprehensive reader available in the field. Wide-ranging and global in scope and coverage, Criminological Perspectives will enable you to critically engage with the various concepts and theoretical positions that you?ll encounter throughout your studies.

In addition to essays that have had a seminal influence on the development of criminology, new articles have been included to cover topics of contemporary criminological significance, including:

- surveillance

- digitized crime

- terrorism and political violence

- environmental crime

- human trafficking

- techno-social networks

- narco-crime

- global inequalities

The 56 articles are organised thematically, complete with introductions that place them in context and to illustrate the approaches taken by different schools of criminological thought.

Criminological Perspectives will prove an indispensible resource, whether you?re studying criminology, criminal justice studies, socio-legal studies, penology, security studies, surveillance studies, or sociology.

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Part One

Criminological foundations


This collection of essays is designed to introduce the reader to the diverse origins of the study of crime and the law. It includes some of the now classic formulations of the nature and problem of crime as expressed by such eighteenth-century philosophers as Cesare Beccaria and Jeremy Bentham, early nineteenth-century mathematicians such as Adolphe Quetelet, late nineteenth-century physicians such as Cesare Lombroso, political theorists such as Friedrich Engels and sociological theorists such as Emile Durkheim and Robert Merton. The ten classic readings reproduced here cover a period that stretches from 1764 to 1938. It is a period in which many of the debates about the function of law, the nature of crime, the causes of crime and the extent of crime, with which we are now familiar, were first given intellectual and public expression. The readings are not simply of historical curiosity. Each, in different ways, continues to influence contemporary understandings and formulations of the ‘crime problem’.
It is perhaps of some significance that the origins of modern criminological theory can be traced, not to the study of crime and criminals, but to Enlightenment philosophers, particularly in France and Italy, reflecting on the nature and functions of criminal law. Beccaria’s On Crimes and Punishments (1764) set out a then controversial programme for criminal law reform. Critical of the barbarism, irregularity and ad hoc nature of eighteenth-century criminal justice, he urged that social order be based on law, rather than religion or superstition; that the machinery of justice be answerable to rules of due process; that sentencing policies be formulated to ‘fit the crime’; and that punishment be prompt and certain. At the time, Beccaria’s work was condemned for its extreme rationalism, but within his recommendations are the seeds of policies present in most criminal justice systems around the world today. Above all he is now recognized as the founding father of a classical school of criminology in England (a term he never himself used, but which was used by later theorists), characterized by the key doctrines of rationality, free will and the social contract. Plans for ‘the panopticon’ were presented by Jeremy Bentham, the founder of English ‘utilitarianism’ or ‘philosophical’ radicalism. Bentham’s ‘new world prison’ was designed to ensure that the prisoner could never know when he was being watched. Visibility and surveillance would function as a cost effective instrument of discipline and control. Two hundred years later, Michel Foucault (see Part Five) would spell out the wider implications of Bentham’s utilitarian determination to ‘grind rogues honest’.
In contrast a positivist criminology, which emerged from the mid-nineteenth century onwards, was concerned less with the content and implementation of criminal law and more with establishing the causes of law breaking. In 1827 the French government published the first national statistical tables of crime, the annual Compte Général. Whilst acknowledging the limitations of such statistics in revealing the true extent of crime in society, Quetelet discovered a remarkable constancy in recorded crime in France between 1826 and 1829. He argued that, even if individuals have free will, criminal behaviour appears to obey the same scientific laws that govern the natural world. Of note was the regularity with which young males and those in lowly employment had a greater propensity toward crime. The two factors most strongly associated with criminality were age and sex. Rates of property and personal crime were, however, also found to fluctuate according to the seasons and with the state of the economy. As a result, Quetelet formulated the then remarkable proposition that criminality is not freely chosen or that it is a sign of human wickedness, but that it is an inevitable and resultant feature of social organization. It was thus society that caused crime.
By the 1870s the impact of positivism on the doctrine of free will was underlined in Lombroso’s key text Criminal Man. After studying anatomy and pathology, Lombroso argued that a significant proportion of criminals had cranial and other physiological defects which suggested that they were born to criminality, and represented a throwback to primitive forms of social evolution. The extract reproduced here from his work with fellow collaborator William Ferrero applies this reasoning to establish a criminal type in women. Although female criminality increases with advances in civilization, most women are deemed non-criminal because biological factors predispose them to be more conservative and socially withdrawn. The physical characteristics of female criminals, such as prostitutes, however, resemble those of male criminals, and their criminality is often more cruel, wicked and vindictive. In an exceptional, and subsequently highly controversial, series of statements Lombroso and Ferrero claimed that the female born criminal, when a complete type, is ‘more terrible than the male’.
Lombroso’s insistence on the accurate and deliberate measurement of the physical anomalies of known criminals has for many established him as the first ‘scientific’ criminologist (significantly, the origin of the term ‘criminology’ is usually attributed to an anthropologist, Paul Topinard, writing in 1890). Whilst Lombroso’s particular theory of crime causation was eventually to be discredited through the weight of counter argument, the principles of the Italian school of positivism (of which Lombroso is usually lauded as the founder) were gradually to become influential not only in intellectual circles but in the development of less uniform and more individually oriented forms of penal treatment. By the turn of the century, classicists and positivists were engaged in a series of bitter arguments about the nature of criminal responsibility and the objectives of punishment. The extract from one of three lectures given by Enrico Ferri at the University of Naples in 1901 clearly illustrates the divergencies between these two schools of thought and the depth of feeling by which the exponents of positivism sought to deliver their message.
In contrast the extracts from Engels, Bonger, Durkheim and Merton, whilst sharing some features with the fundamentals of positivism, mark something of a return to the principles of Quetelet in the insistence that the causes of crime lie not in individual abnormalities, but in the nature of economic conditions and social structures. The extract by Friedrich Engels, taken from his classic and vivid description of the brutalizing conditions of working-class life in industrial Manchester in the 1840s, paved the way for a series of Marxist-inspired conflict and critical criminologies which are rooted in the notion that crime is the outcome of conflict, alienation and domination (see Part Three). Crime, of course, was not Engels’s (or Marx’s) key concern, but the extract reproduced here clearly presents the view that crime is a form of demoralization in which human dignity has been undermined by exploitative working conditions designed solely for capitalist profit. Significantly, Engels stresses that crime, driven by greed and individual competitiveness, is not solely the province of the poor, but is spread throughout the social order; it is endemic to capitalist relations of production and reaches its apogee in the ‘murderous’ activities of the property-owning class. The Dutch criminologist Willem Bonger, writing in the first decades of the twentieth century, was the first to systematically apply the Marxist-inspired notions of class conflict and capitalist exploitation to the concept of crime. In a scathing attack on the egoistic and competitive tendencies of capitalism, Bonger argued that most crime could be accounted for by a lack of common ownership of property and the brutalized conditions of existence endured by all classes in a society characterized by unfettered forms of capitalist exchange and labour exploitation.
Kropotkin’s contribution, originally published in 1898, offers a more strident critique of bourgeois law from an anarchist perspective. In terms echoed some 70 years later by some abolitionist and critical criminologists (see Parts Three and Four), Kropotkin roundly condemns the role of law in facilitating the accumulation of property in the hands of the few and in perpetuating barbaric forms of repression and control. For him the real criminals in society are not those ‘unfortunates’ who populate the prisons, but those figures of authority who, through their self-interested formulation and implementation of criminal law, have served to put them there.
In contrast, the work of the French sociologist Emile Durkheim in general adopts less of a conflict-based analysis of society, preferring to view the social structure as fundamentally characterized by consensus or a collective conscience. Durkheim, who is lauded as the founder of a sociological criminology, remarked on the regularity and constancy of crime rates in particular societies, and insisted that social phenomena (such as crime and law) have an objective existence irrespective of how they are experienced by individuals. This led to the now famous and perpetually controversial propositions that crime is normal, crime is inevitable and that crime is useful to society. The extract reproduced here from his 1895 work The Rules of Sociological Method marks a radical departure from the then prevailing notions of classical free will and positivist ideas of individual abnormality. Rather crime performs a vital function for society in establishing clear moral boundaries and in paving the way for social innovation and change.
The final reading in this Part is from the American sociologist Robert K. Merton. He adopted a key concept from Durkheim – that of anomie – to formulate his own distinctive strain theory. Merton continues to view crime as normal (in a sociological sense); that is it is a normal response to pathologies generated by the social structure. Criminals are no different to non-criminals. They are simply those that have tried to conform to society’s goals but have found their aspirations thwarted. Crime and deviance are normal adaptations to the conflict between the cultural goals associated with the ‘American Dream’ and the differential availability of institutional means. Thus, as he argues, ‘a cardinal American virtue, ambition, promotes a cardinal American vice, deviant behaviour’. Merton’s anomie theory defined American criminology in the 1950s and 1960s, generating numerous micro and macro applications, and there continue to be attempts to revise and extend its core principles.


On crimes and punishments

Cesare Beccaria
If we glance at the pages of history, we will find that laws, which surely are, or ought to be, compacts of free men, have been, for the most part, a mere tool of the passions of some, or have arisen from an accidental and temporary need. Never have they been dictated by a dispassionate student of human nature who might, by bringing the actions of a multitude of men into focus, consider them from this single point of view: the greatest happiness shared by the greatest number. Happy are those few nations that have not waited for the slow succession of coincidence and human vicissitude to force some little turn for the better after the limit of evil has been reached, but have facilitated the intermediate progress by means of good laws. And humanity owes a debt of gratitude to that philosopher who, from the obscurity of his isolated study, had the courage to scatter among the multitude the first seeds, so long unfruitful, of useful truths.
The true relations between sovereigns and their subjects, and between nations, have been discovered. Commerce has been reanimated by the common knowledge of philosophical truths diffused by the art of printing, and there has sprung up among nations a tacit rivalry of industriousness that is most humane and truly worthy of rational beings. Such good things we owe to the productive enlightenment of this age. But very few persons have studied and fought against the cruelty of punishments and the irregularities of criminal procedures, a part of legislation that is as fundamental as it is widely neglected in almost all of Europe. Very few persons have undertaken to demolish the accumulated errors of centuries by rising to general principles, curbing, at least, with the sole force that acknowledged truths possess, the unbounded course of ill-directed power which has continually produced a long and authorized example of the most cold-blooded barbarity. And yet the groans of the weak, sacrificed to cruel ignorance and to opulent indolence; the barbarous torments, multiplied with lavish and useless severity, for crimes either not proved or wholly imaginary; the filth and horrors of a prison, intensified by that cruellest tormentor of the miserable, uncertainty – all these ought to have roused that breed of magistrates who direct the opinions of men.
The immortal Montesquieu has cursorily touched upon this subject. Truth, which is one and indivisible, has obliged me to follow the illustrious steps of that great man, but the thoughtful men for whom I write will easily distinguish my traces from his. I shall deem myself happy if I can obtain, as he did, the secret thanks of the unknown and peace-loving disciples of reason, and if I can inspire that tender thrill with which persons of sensibility respond to one who upholds the interests of humanity. [


No man ever freely sacrificed a portion of his personal liberty merely on behalf of the common good. That chimera exists only in romances. If it were possible, every one of us would prefer that the compacts binding others did not bind us; every man tends to make himself the centre of his whole world.
The continuous multiplication of mankind, inconsiderable in itself yet exceeding by far the means that a sterile and uncultivated nature could offer for the satisfaction of increasingly complex needs, united the earliest savages. These first communities of necessity caused the formation of others to resist the first, and the primitive state of warfare thus passed from individuals to nations.
Laws are the conditions under which independent and isolated men united to form a society. Weary of living in a continual state of war, and of enjoying a liberty rendered useless by the uncertainty of preserving it, they sacrificed a part so that they might enjoy the rest of it in peace and safety. The sum of all these portions of liberty sacrificed by each for his own good constitutes the sovereignty of a nation, and their legitimate depositary and administrator is the sovereign. But merely to have established this deposit was not enough; it had to be defended against private usurpations by individuals each of whom always tries not only to withdraw his own share but also to usurp for himself that of others. Some tangible motives had to be introduced, therefore, to prevent the despotic spirit, which is in every man, from plunging the laws of society into its original chaos. These tangible motives are the punishments established against infractors of the laws. I say ‘tangible motives’ because experience has shown that the multitude adopt no fixed principles of conduct and will not be released from the sway of that universal principle of dissolution which is seen to operate both in the physical and the moral universe, except for motives that directly strike the senses. These motives, by dint of repeated representation to the mind, counterbalance the powerful impressions of the private passions that oppose the common good. Not eloquence, not declamations, not even the most sublime truths have sufficed, for any considerable length of time, to curb passions excited by vivid impressions of present objects.
It was, thus, necessity that forced men to give up part of their personal liberty, and it is certain, therefore, that each is willing to place in the public fund only the least possible portion, no more than suffices to induce others to defend it. The aggregate of th...

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Normes de citation pour Criminological Perspectives

APA 6 Citation

McLaughlin, E., & Muncie, J. (2013). Criminological Perspectives (3rd ed.). SAGE Publications. Retrieved from (Original work published 2013)

Chicago Citation

McLaughlin, Eugene, and John Muncie. (2013) 2013. Criminological Perspectives. 3rd ed. SAGE Publications.

Harvard Citation

McLaughlin, E. and Muncie, J. (2013) Criminological Perspectives. 3rd edn. SAGE Publications. Available at: (Accessed: 15 October 2022).

MLA 7 Citation

McLaughlin, Eugene, and John Muncie. Criminological Perspectives. 3rd ed. SAGE Publications, 2013. Web. 15 Oct. 2022.