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Cover The Oxford Textbook on Criminology

16. Biological and psychological positivism  

This chapter discusses how theories from biology and psychology can help in understanding crime. It studies individual positivism: that is, those aspects of positivist criminological explanations that look for differences between criminal and non-criminal populations. Biological and psychological positivists believe that by measuring biological and psychological differences between offenders and non-offenders they will discover a clear explanation of criminal behaviour, a truth that explains criminal actions. When researchers discovered physical or biological differences between offenders and non-offenders they tended to assume that those characteristics were causative and explained the behaviour. However, there is a big jump between finding differences and assuming that the difference explains the behaviour. The chapter traces the journey of biological and psychological positivist thinking from its roots in the 19th century through to the approaches in the 21st century where these biological and psychological traits are merely seen as one factor which may increase the likelihood of criminality rather than causing it.


Cover The Oxford Handbook of Criminology

22. Character, circumstances, and the causes of crime: towards an analytical criminology  

Per-Olof H. Wikström

This chapter analyses and explains acts of crimes as moral actions (i.e., actions guided by what is the right or wrong thing to do) within an analytical criminology framework. It outlines some common problems of current mainstream criminological theorizing and research, such as the lack of a shared definition of crime, the poor integration of knowledge about the role of people and places in crime causation, the frequent confusion of causes and correlates, and the lack of an adequate action theory, and proposes a more analytical criminology as the remedy. The chapter introduces Situational Action Theory (SAT), a general, dynamic, and mechanism-based theory about crime and its causes, designed to address these problems and provide a foundation for an analytical criminology. It concludes by briefly discussing main implications for the future direction of policy and prevention.