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Criminology (1st edn)

Steve Case, Phil Johnson, David Manlow, Roger Smith, and Kate Williams
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date: 31 March 2023

p. 34213. Biological and psychological positivism

Determined to predeterminelocked

p. 34213. Biological and psychological positivism

Determined to predeterminelocked

  • Steve Case, Steve CaseProfessor of Criminology, University of Loughborough
  • Phil Johnson, Phil JohnsonCriminology Lecturer and Academic Subject Leader, University Centre at Blackburn College
  • David Manlow, David ManlowPrincipal Lecturer in Criminology
  • Roger SmithRoger SmithProfessor of Social Work, Durham University
  •  and Kate WilliamsKate WilliamsSenior Lecturer in Criminology, Aberystwyth University


This chapter examines the contribution of biology and psychology to our understanding of crime and its causes from the perspective of individual positivism — those aspects of positivist criminological explanations that look for diffrences between criminal and non-criminal populations. It traces the development of biological and psychological positivist thinking from its roots in the nineteenth century through to more modern approaches in the twenty-first century where these biological and psychological traits are merely seen as one factor which may increase the likelihood of criminality rather than causing it. The chapter identifies the main biological and psychological theories relating to criminology and discusses the arguments of positivists regarding punishment and rehabilitation as a means to deal with offenders or criminals. It concludes with an analysis of learning theories that see most criminality as a product of learned behaviour.

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