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Positivism Vs. Classicism

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    In this essay, Classical and Positivist theories of criminology will be explored and critically discussed to explore the impacts that they have had on modern day policing, introduction of laws, and police practice. The essay will first look at the history of the Classical Theory looking at Beccaria and Benthams classical school of criminology and its effects in a brief section. Positivist theorists will then be identified and the theory will be discussed, outlining the main thesis and beliefs of both of the theories.

    How each theory defines a criminal will then be taken into consideration and the relations of theories like the broken windows theory (Wilson and Kelling 82), labelling theory (Becker 1982), strain theory (Merton 1957) and rational choice theory (Homos 1961) will be used throughout the essay to explore the effects that the classical and positivist theories have had on police concepts like public order policing and community policing, touching on criminal justice systems and modern day police practice.

    Classical Criminological though can be traced to the criminal justice system and the penal system. Beccarias 1764 Publication on crime and punishments introduced a serious consideration into the harm caused to society by crime, and ideological outline of the basis for punishments and the relationship between the state and the offender (Beccaria 2003). Beccaria Stated in his approach to the prevention of crime that it is often distilled down to three ideas, and that it is fundamentally a product of Certainty; how likely punishment is to occur.

    Celerity; How quickly punishment is inflicted. and Severity; how much pain is inflicted (Newburn 2007). Another later criminologist; Jeremy Bentham, then published writings on the penology and notions of “rational free-willed character of offenders” (Maguire et al 2002) and forwarded the study of crime in that the central concerns of free will and rational choice came together to attempt a more logical analysis of crime and suitable punishment.

    In the twilight years of the 19th century the emergence of the Italian school of criminology sparked a departure in thinking on the study of crime the schools founding member Cesare Lombroso introduced a holy bible of sorts into the criminological world in that he contributed to the introduction of scientific methodology in regard to the study of crime. Lombroso most notably introduced a biological positivism into the study of crime.

    An “Atavistic Heredity” (Lombroso 1911) in relation to the cause of offending where physical features were viewed as evidence of an innately criminal nature in a kind of criminal anthropology. His work was then continued and elaborated by two other Italian scholars Ferri (1856-1929) and Garofalo (1852-1934) (Newburn 2007). Ferri and Garofalo elaborated on the environmental factors that can also effect criminal behaviour in relation to positivist criminology. Positivism carries the main assumptions that the methods of the natural sciences should and could be applied to the social world.

    Suggesting natural sciences should be used as the method base to analyse and conduct research in relation to policing and policing concepts. Positivists believe that research should consist of social knowledge and scientific knowledge through observation and scientific data. Facts must be separated from values and usually, there is a preference for a use of quantitative data over qualitative (adapted from Bottoms 2000, cited in Newburn 2007). in 1913 Positivist theorist Charles Goring published a book called The English Convict.

    This book logged the study he undertook which took place over 13 years, the study involved examining 3,000 British convicts against a controlled group of non-convict males to try and find out if the criminal could be categorised to a certain type of person, no significant physical differences were found between the two groups. (Goring 1913) Critical of this study and convinced that the criminal is organically inferior (Quoted in Brown et al 2004) Earnest Hooton conducted his own research into the criminal as a certain type of person and introduced Somatyping into positivist criminology.

    Somatyping involves the belief that evolution was dominated by superior types, arguing that a criminal had a certain type and evolution could eventually eradicate the criminal. Hooton was criticised for having poor data and an unrepresentative control group. However Hooton’s work then sparked this idea in the Positivist Criminology theorists as William Sheldon then looked into Somatypes further in 1949 (Newburn 2007) and concluded that there were three types of body a person has; Endomorph, Mesomorph and Ectomorph.

    These body types were basically short and fat, Large and muscular and Lean and fragile. Sheldon argued that each of these body types was related to particular personality traits and that all individuals possessed varied traits however certain traits were more predominant than others. In modern day policing and criminology we use a theory called the labelling theory. This theory was first put forward by Howard Becker in 1963, Becker claimed that criminal elements are associated with physical appearance and the criminal becomes a label attached to a certain type of person.

    In 2011 it was common belief that a criminal wore a certain type of clothing which was a hooded jacket or ‘Hoodie’. Articles were even published in the newspapers like the Guardian (Guardian 2011) under title “The power of the Hoodie”. Amplified by the media this piece of clothing became an instant link to criminal behaviour and deviance. Positivist theory can be linked in here with the labelling theory to show the development in the idea of a ‘Criminal type’ and show how in modern day policing we are using these theories to determine and define the word criminal.

    Following the work of Emile Durkheim, Robert K Merton’s Strain theory (1957) can also be linked into this concept as the positivist belief is that criminal behaviour can be encouraged by social physical and biological elements, the strain theory thesis is that pressure from social surroundings can encourage an individual to commit crime. If an individual is singled out by Somatype or through labelling theory, they may feel social strain or believe that they should become deviant which could actually pressure said individual into committing criminal acts.

    An example of where this kind of concept was familiar was when the London riots happened in 2011. Classical criminology however argues against the concept of a criminal being defined by a certain type. Bentham stated that every person has free will and is able to make a rational choice based on the situation they are in at the time and what they feel would be the appropriate action to take. Classicism disagrees with the positivist view of a criminal only being a certain type of person and believes that the criminal derives from within any person.

    Everybody has free will, and the ability to make an informed decision on their actions in any situation they may be in, therefore believing that the criminal is an element every person has the possibility to exploit instead of positivist theory of the criminal element being biologically woven into a persons DNA. Classicism had a major effect on the criminal justice system and penology, punishments were believed to be best given on account of the appropriateness of the crime in question. This idea became the basis for our criminal justice systems today.

    With the introduction of the classical school of criminology the use of capital punishment and torture was on the decline and in their place the introduction of prison systems as core elements of the justice systems and punishment systems we have today. The abolishment of capital punishment has had an indescribably huge effect on our modern penal systems, the effects are vast however include the introduction of fundamental law like the Human Rights Act (HRA 1998). Acts like this are incredibly important in criminal trials and allow every person to have rights to things like the right to a fair trial and the right to prohibition of torture.

    Classical criminology influenced these modern day laws as its theorists believed in the concept that the punishment for crime should be based on the scale of what has been done and should be appropriate to the crime itself. Classical Criminology has influenced the constructions of our prison systems as becoming the core element of the way we punish criminals instead of using inhumane methods through capital punishment by considering the scale of the crime and deciding on an appropriate sentence for the criminal.

    Here another theory can be looked at which has been shaped by the classicism theories and beliefs. This theory is the Rational Choice theory (Homas 1961). the theory is based around the assumptions that criminal activity is committed by an individual after weighed up the risk and reward of an action, if the person believes that the reward is greater than the risk they may be more likely to commit a crime than if the risk was greater than the reward. This theory is supportive of Benthams notes of free will and rational choice.

    Free will and rational choice can be used to help explain the way we police through public order. In a public order policing situation, like a protest or a riot every person who attends and participates does so out of their own free will, a protester may not riot because they may believe that the risk of being arrested is greater than the reward of violently voicing their opinions. However positivism argues that a criminal is a definitive type of person and can be influenced by social physical or biological surroundings. These assumptions can be seen in the cases of rioting and community crime.

    The London riots happened in 2011 and they escalated throughout the country with riots happening in places like Birmingham, Liverpool and Manchester as well as other locations. The reasons that these sparked off is because of the social influence that was pressuring younger people to join in, here the broken windows theory (Wilson and Kelling 82), labelling theory (Becker 1982), strain theory (Merton 1957) and rational choice theory (Homos 1961) can all be related through classicism and positivist views to our modern day policing methods.

    Broken windows theory states that a run down or derelict area can encourage crime, this relates to the positivist assumption of criminal behaviour being encouraged by the physical surroundings and the evidence of this happening in the London Riots is when all the shops had been broken into and fires had been started. The streets were wrecked and this would have encouraged acts of violence.

    Merton’s strain theory and Beckers labelling theory are also applicable here as the social strain of most young youths committing the crime would encourage more young people to commit crime, because the individuals could see crimes being committed around them without any action being taken, this would have further encouraged deviance as rational choice theory says the risk is lower than reward. These positivist based theories meant police in the London riots and most public order situations would target younger individuals to try and find criminal activity and arrests.

    The Classicism side of influence on Public Order would then come after the arrest in trial where they would be questioned why they had committed these crimes out of their own free will and then put through the justice system, being sentenced on the classical assumption that the punishment should be appropriate to the crime committed. Positivist assumptions can also be linked into the concept of community policing. Positivists believe that crime and criminal behaviour can be influenced through social and physical surroundings.

    Wilson and Kelling (1982) also believe this is the case as their broken windows theory looks at how the area a person lives in can affect their attitude towards crime and committing crime. Through the Classicism belief of community deterrence police practices have been introduced to arm the police with powers that they can use to their advantage against the war on crime. The Police and Criminal Evidence act (1984) and The Police Reform Act (2002) has seen the introduction of new police powers and a new national policing plan.

    These police practices include powers like stop and search. Stop and search gives the ability for any police constable to stop any citizen and search them if they believe they have reasonable grounds to do so. Classicism and Positivist theories have also had an effect on the way that we police our communities. PCSOs (police community support officers) were introduced in 2002 under the police reform act (2002) and help to improve community relations with the police.

    This police practice supports the positivist beliefs that criminals can be influenced through social and physical surroundings as better relationships are built with the community and things like team projects are created to improve derelict areas and social situations people may find themselves in by offering things like youth clubs and activities. This deters crime by drawing people away from delinquency and encouraging them to take part in constructive, positive activity.

    Theorist David Matza outlined that the positivist theory drew on three sets of problematic assumptions; the first being Differentiation; the assumption that offenders can be separated from non-offenders by definitive characteristics, the second being Determinism; the assumption that biological, physiological or social factors affect the criminal and criminal behaviour and the third being Pathology; the assumption that an offender is an offender due to something going wrong in their lifetime (Tierney 1996).

    The problems of these views are that the fail to take into account the aspect of rationality, choice and human decision making. They define a criminal as a certain person, and if a person falls into the category of what has been defined by the positivist theory as a criminal it means that they must carry the traits of a criminal which is simply not true as proven by Charles Gorings work (1913). Classicism theory argues rational choice and free will, however what if a person has the impaired ability to make decisions and acts without being rational.

    Power and wealth is also a problem with the theory, if the classicism theory applied to all in the same sense then why is it that people who have less power and wealth tend to be the more predominant resident of the criminal justice system and not the wealthy. there are other factors that both these theories have not taken into consideration throughout their thesis, they are also very much at opposite ends of the scale.

    The positivist theory says that criminals are a type of person and the classicism theory says that a criminal offence can be committed by anybody as well all have free will and rational choice. Without the Classical school of Criminology and The positivist theorists vital procedure and acts would not have been put into place that are fundamental today for the way our society and criminal justice system operates. Classicism changed the way we sentence criminals and the construct of our prison systems which are of prestigious importance to the modern justice system.

    Positivist theory has influenced the way we police in terms of public order and community policing through the introduction of the Human Rights Act (1998), the Police and Criminal Evidence Act (1984) and the Police Reform Act (2002). These acts have allowed the modern day police to be able to take the best assumptions from the classicism theorists and the best assumptions from the positivists and use them to create a criminal justice system that incorporates the best of each theory into the police practices and concepts that are used from day to day in modern day policing.

    Positivism Vs. Classicism. (2016, Jul 19). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/positivism-vs-classicism/

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