Criminology Cesare Lombroso
by
Matt DeLisi
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 June 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396607-0165

Introduction

No one in the history of criminology has a reputation like Cesare Lombroso. Lombroso was a multifaceted scholar who looked at virtually every aspect of the lives, minds, bodies, attitudes, words, lifestyles, and behaviors of criminal offenders in hopes of finding the definitive cause of crime. Lombroso’s main thesis was his idea of atavism, that criminals were evolutionary throwbacks who were inferior to noncriminals. Consider this passage from his magnum opus, Criminal Man: “Born criminals, programmed to do harm, are atavistic reproductions of not only savage men but also the most ferocious carnivores and rodents. This discovery should not make us more compassionate toward born criminals (as some claim), but rather should shield us from pity, for these beasts are members of not our species but the species of bloodthirsty beasts” (Lombroso 2006e, cited under Major Works, p. 348). Throughout his writings are clear and appalling passages with overt racist and sexist overtones that are consistent with a eugenics perspective of the human population. For this reason, Lombroso has been mostly vilified by the criminological community. However, he was not universally vilified. Some scholars noted the nuance and keen insights that Lombroso had about criminal offenders, insights that could not be confirmed until more than a century later with advances in brain imaging and genetics. In other words, although Lombroso’s approach was mostly crude, there were glints of brilliance.

Major Works

Lombroso’s essential work is the five volumes of Criminal Man, first published between 1876 and 1897. As suggested in DeLisi 2012 (cited under Contemporary Responses: Paradigm Shifts), Lombroso’s work can be effectively characterized as good, bad, and ugly based on the assorted claims that he made. Whereas much of his work can easily be dismissed and condemned, other aspects were empirically more defensible. The development of his atavism theory and general views of the criminal man are contained in these five volumes. Other summary works (Lombroso 1911) and a focused study of female criminals (Lombroso and Ferrero 2004) are either derivative of Criminal Man or simply contain the general approach of it. The final chapter of the first edition, chapter 11, titled “Atavism and Punishment,” presents the chilling ideas for his atavism theory where he suggests, “Those who have read this far should now be persuaded that criminals resemble savages and the colored races” (Lombroso 2006a, p. 91). The second edition (Lombroso 2006b), published in 1878, contained nine new chapters of information relating to suicide, recidivism, morality, weather, race, and other topics. There is a subtle shift and greater nuance to the discussion of the criminal population, whereby gradations of criminality or a more typological approach is used. The third edition (Lombroso 2006c), published in 1884, contained nine new chapters on topics such as the hands of criminals, prostitution, moral insanity, brain abnormalities, and others. The fourth edition (Lombroso 2006d) was published in 1889 and included twelve new chapters on topics such as physiological aspects of crime, communication patterns among criminals, and multiple chapters relating to epilepsy. The fifth edition (Lombroso 2006e) contained four volumes of material and was published in 1896 and 1897. It contained seven new chapters, many of which were expanded versions of earlier material. In other words, the five editions of Criminal Man reflected an iterative process by which Lombroso added additional chapters on constructs or topics that he felt were related to antisocial individuals.

  • Lombroso, Cesare. 1911. Crime: Its causes and remedies. Translated by Henry P. Horton. Boston: Little Brown.

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    This work was first published two years after Lombroso’s death and is largely derivative of the concepts that were advanced in the five editions of Criminal Man.

  • Lombroso, Cesare. 2006a. “Criminal man: Edition 1.” In Criminal man. Edited and translated by Mary Gibson and Nicole Hahn Rafter, 39–96. Durham, NC: Duke Univ. Press.

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    The first edition of Criminal Man, published in 1876, sets the tone for which Lombroso is most known. For instance, chapter 1, titled “Criminal craniums (sixty-six skulls),” cites cranial anatomy as demonstrative of the lower development of specific groups. For instance, “These [skull] features recall the black American and Mongol races and, above all, prehistoric man much more than the white races” (p. 49).

  • Lombroso, Cesare. 2006b. “Criminal man: Edition 2.” In Criminal man. Edited and translated by Mary Gibson and Nicole Hahn Rafter, 97–160. Durham, NC: Duke Univ. Press.

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    The second edition, published in 1878, contains a somewhat more nuanced approach to the criminal man. Lombroso speculated that criminals of passion and the criminally insane are more likely than common criminals to commit suicide. However, there is also the crude analysis where crimes of passion are portrayed as common among those living in a savage state.

  • Lombroso, Cesare. 2006c. “Criminal man: Edition 3.” In Criminal man. Edited and translated by Mary Gibson and Nicole Hahn Rafter, 161–226. Durham, NC: Duke Univ. Press.

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    The third edition, published in 1884, contained nine new chapters on topics such as the hands of criminals, prostitution, moral insanity, brain abnormalities, and others. This edition also introduces the category of the “born criminal,” which Lombroso believed comprised about 40 percent of the offender population.

  • Lombroso, Cesare. 2006d. “Criminal man: Edition 4.” In Criminal man. Edited and translated by Mary Gibson and Nicole Hahn Rafter, 227–298. Durham, NC: Duke Univ. Press.

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    The fourth edition was first published in 1889 and included twelve new chapters on topics such as physiological aspects of crime and communication patterns among criminals; also included were multiple chapters relating to epilepsy. For instance, Lombroso noted, “Epilepsy, like a complete type of atavism, is characterized by primordial religiosity, ferocity, instability, impetuosity, agility, cannibalism, irascibility, precocity, and animal instincts” (p. 266).

  • Lombroso, Cesare. 2006e. “Criminal man: Edition 5.” In Criminal man. Edited and translated by Mary Gibson and Nicole Hahn Rafter, 299–356. Durham, NC: Duke Univ. Press.

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    The fifth edition contained four volumes of material and was published in 1896 and 1897. It contained seven new chapters, many of which were expanded versions of earlier material. It explored political criminals, ecological correlates of crime, and even crime prevention. This edition also contains material where Lombroso warns about the mixing of the population by race and the liberal and thus ineffective policies of the criminal justice system.

  • Lombroso, Cesare, and Guglielmo Ferrero. 2004. Criminal woman, the prostitute, and the normal woman Translated by Mary Gibson and Nicole Hahn Rafter. Durham, NC: Duke Univ. Press.

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    Originally published in 1893. Ironically, Lombroso was rare in that he systematically studied female offenders, which for many years before and after were ignored by criminological researchers. However, much of the outrageous pronouncements that typify his views of (male) offenders are also levied towards women who engage in antisocial conduct.

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