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Do people commit crime because they are born bad or made bad? This particular question is very much involved in the nature or nurture debate. Theories that base their understanding on human behaviour as “nature,” focus on genetics and our individual traits, on the characteristics that we are born with. Theories that base their understanding on human behaviour as “nurture,” focus more on our environment, the people we grow up with.
Our presentation was to identify which explanation of criminological theory regarding the nature v nurture debate best explains criminal behaviour. We looked upon individual positivism, sociological positivism and a radical criminological perspective. Individual positivism includes both psychological and biological.
Psychological positivism suggested that personality is the settled framework in reference to which a person behaves. Theorists included Sigmund Freud, John Bowlby and Hans Eysenck. Freud proposed that criminal behaviour was either a mental illness or a weak conscious. Freud’s psycho dynamic theory identified two different models of criminal behaviour and psychoanalytical approach, emphasis on an individuals disturbed psychic development, and weak conscious often the result of childhood. Bowlby suggested, maternal deprivation, which criminal behaviour occurs when a child has not had a secure relationship with main carer. Bowlby did a study on 44 juveniles convicted of stealing he found that 17 of them had been separated from their mothers in the first 5years of their childhood. Eynsenck went on to suggest children can learn to control anti-social behaviour through development of a conscious, which is developed through conditioning, where children are deterred from doing wrong with punishment and disappointment. Eynsenck developed his theory of criminal behaviour based on the principles of operant conditioning used by B F Skinner. Eynsenck suggested there are three main personality types’ extroversion, neuroticism and psychoticism.
Psychological issues that may motivate criminal behaviour include control, power, sexual desires, and inadequacy. A problem with this theory is that it does not take into consideration the fact of regardless of psychological issues offenders still make the choice to commit crimes.
Biological Positivism is deemed to be the most popular theory because society and any failure of the government are not to blame. It is all to the individual who is distinguishably different to law abiding citizens. Theorists included Cesare Lombroso and William Sheldon. Lomboso attempted to prove scientifically that those who commit crime are different to those who did not, by studying body shaped of executed criminals. Sheldon proposed that the human physique be classed according to the relative contribution of three fundamental elements, somatotypes, the ectoderm, mesoderm, endoderm and there supposed associated physical traits, ectomorph, mesomorph and endomorph. Twin studies is an interesting theory as identical twins share the exact same DNA while fraternal twins only share half studies show that they are no more closely related on a genetic level than ordinary siblings.
Sociological Positivism postulates that societal factors such as poverty, membership of subcultures, or low levels of education can predispose people to crime. Theorists include Emile Durkheim, Robert Merton, Chicago School, Comte suggested that society both predates and shapes individuals psychologically. Emile Durkheim who introduced his disorganisation theory, he suggested that crime is a normal phenomenon which occurs in all societies. Social solidarity is maintained through crime and punishment. It is impossible for any society to be crime free because if certain acts of crime were not committed something else would be found to exist, the crime would simply change form. Merton adopted Emile Durkheim’s concept of anomie, developing it, through several revisions, resulting in his strain theory of deviant behaviour.
Merton argued that the real problem is not created by a sudden social change, as Durkheim proposed, but rather by a social structure that holds out the same goals to all its members without giving them equal means to achieve them, social structure and non-conformist behaviour. The Chicago School focused on the society as the force behind criminal behaviour. They suggested that that criminality was the result of society and not the individual, that crime was linked to social disorganisation and that crime was an evolutionary process of adaption. The Chicago school developed the theory that cities did not randomly grow but were predetermined according to natural social processes. Park and Burgess identified five concentric zones that often exist as cities grow, including the “zone in transition” which was identified as most volatile and subject to disorder. Henry McKay and Clifford R. Shaw focused on juvenile delinquents, he identified highest levels of crime were predominantly in the zone of transition.
Radical Criminology suggests that for a multitude of reasons, it is not possible to control crime. It suggested that crime and deviance is seen as an example of the diversity and human behaviour, not attributed to pathology, crime is seen as a social construct imposed by the rich to maintain their hierarchical power. Radical criminology is connected with Marxism, as Marxism believes that capitalism is what causes crime.
They feel that human nature on its own is not stated as criminal, but capitalism causes a lot of conflict between many social aspects. Stuart Hall attempted an expansion of criminology’s horizon. The main subject was no longer simply crime and deviance but was a critical understanding of social order and the power to criminalise. Hall uses mugging as an example of social construct; media constructed the idea of violence and property crime in the streets as mugging, mainly concentrating on young black youths as the cause. This concept of social constructs can be seen in Cohen’s study on moral panics and folk devils. Crime itself can be seen as a rational choice. Radical criminology also includes the labelling theory which is society’s reaction towards criminals. Taylor, Walter and Young developed the capitalist ideology to include the labelling theory (interactionism.) The labelling theory begins with the act of ‘getting caught.’ Labelling is a process that produces, eventually, identification with a deviant image and sub culture and a resulting ‘rejection of the rejecters’ Howard Becker stated that no behaviour is deviant until deemed so by the labelling of a power structure for example the police. Edwin Lemert suggested that the problem when a label attaches itself to an individual and they identify with the label, resulting in a self-fulfilling prophecy. John Braithwaite found a positive use of labelling which was his suggestion of ‘re-integrative shaming’ this was not to stigmatise, but to allow them to realise the negative impact of their action on society and individuals to encourage others to forgive and accept them back into society.
Mark Henderson of The Times newspaper wrote an interesting piece on the nature v’s nurture debate his article discusses the conclusion that it cannot be either nature or nurture but both together as with both debates there are still exceptions such as socio-paths and paedophiles as a label cannot be attached to these kinds of criminals. He wrote about the problems with both debates for example the Nurture debate was seen as the more dominant debate until all the secrets of DNA, genetics and evolution unravelled. He found that the nature debate had been used to address certain issues but the later generations grew suspicious of genetics particularly because it was abused to justify oppression of disadvantaged racial and social groups, most brutally in Nazi Germany. Instead Freud’s notion on childhood experiences explain mental health and attitudes and further studies of Skinner, who suggested that humans can be conditioned just like Pavlov who is most famous for his experiment of conditioning for training dogs to salivate at the sound of a bell. Henderson went on to discuss the theories of Mead and Marx’s, from Meads studies of different societies it suggests that traditions can steer human behaviour in all directions. Marx’s theories on economics and politics suggested that human nature could facilitate evolution through reshaping and direction.
It seemed at this point Henderson’s argument was moving more towards the nurture side of the debate, Henderson stated that “if you can teach anything, and anybody can learn it, then people can be taught to value equality” (Henderson, 2009). Social justice and morality became connected with the concept that not a lot in life is laid down, or even much affected, by inherited genes. However it seemed that any investigations into human behaviour, there genetics would be problematic for their position as Wilson came to understand when he suggested that human nature, has a biological basis that might be studied, his lectures were picketed and students doused him with water. However Pinker pointed out that it is simply impossible to suggest that either nature or nurture were to determine our behaviour, attitudes but that genes as well as environment make a contribution. He went on to research that it is clear that we are not born with blank slates as John Locke had suggested, neither however are our personalities and behaviour determined by genes alone so it is very difficult to distinguish between nature and nurture. He went on to discuss twin studies which was discussed earlier as there is not enough evidence even with identical twins to choose just biological only as there was not a substantial difference between identical and fraternal twins. From Henderson’s review of older studies and going in depth of previous theories it would seem that the results are significant with the old nature-nurture debate. Nurture works through nature and nature through nurture, to shape our personalities, abilities, health and behaviour. Unfortunately with every argument and theory there is another argument to find the difficulties with the previous one. The more research found to be true for genetics another piece of factual research would be found for environment. For example Merton a disciple of Durkheim suggested criminal acts were the result of socially created behaviour rather than simple impulses, society offers the same goals and rewards to all citizens, but the means and opportunities to reach these goals are not the same for everyone in society. However Merton in particular could not explain why wealthy, well-educated, and people not deprived from any society rewards, still commit crime. The question should not be which of the debate, the most dominant influence is, but how they fit together.
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