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Anthropological criminology

Anthropological criminology (sometimes referred to as criminal anthropology, literally a combination of the study of the human species and the study of criminals) is a field of offender profiling, based on perceived links between the nature of a crime and the personality or physical appearance of the offender. Although similar to physiognomy and phrenology, the term criminal anthropology is generally reserved for the works of the Italian school of criminology of the late 19th century (Cesare Lombroso, Enrico Ferri, Raffaele Garofalo). Lombroso thought that criminals were born with inferior physiological differences which were detectable. He popularized the notion of "born criminal" and thought that criminality was an atavism or hereditary disposition. His central idea was to locate crime completely within the individual and utterly divorce it from the surrounding social conditions and structures. A founder of the Positivist school of criminology, Lombroso hereby opposed social positivism developed by the Chicago school and environmental criminology.



The physiognomist Johann Kaspar Lavater (1741-1801) was one of the first to suggest a link between facial figures and crime [1]. Victor Hugo referred to his work in Les Misérables, about what he would have said about Thénardier's face. Franz Joseph Gall then developed in 1810 his work on craniology, in which he alleged that crime was one of the behaviors organically controlled by a specific area of the brain. The philosopher Jacob Fries (1773–1843) also suggested a link between crime and physical appearance when he published a criminal anthropology handbook in 1820.

The Italian school

Main article: Italian school of criminology

However, criminal anthropology per se refers to the Italian school of criminology, whose most famous member was Cesare Lombroso. The Italians criminologists rejected the Classical school of criminology (Cesare Beccaria, Jeremy Bentham) who had developed a "rational choice theory" before the letter. They considered that crime was attributed to a specific nature, and that essential type of criminals could be found.

Lombroso divided for instance Northern Italian and Southern Italians in two different "races," and claimed that "Southern Italians were more crime-prone and lazy because they were unlucky enough to have less Aryan blood than their northern countrymen [2]." Enrico Ferri, a student of Lombroso, considered Black people to be of an "inferior race" and more prone to crime than others.

Mugshot and fingerprinting

On the other hand, Alphonse Bertillon (1853–1914) created a mugshot identification system for criminals prior to the invention of fingerprinting. Hans Gross (1847–1915), leading worker in the field of criminology was also involved in the development of the theory.[3]

Social Darwinism

The theory of anthropological criminology was influenced heavily by the ideas of Charles Darwin (1809-1882). However, the influences came mainly from misconceptions of Darwin's theory of evolution, specifically that some species were morally superior to others. This idea was in fact spawned by Social Darwinism, but nevertheless formed a critical part of anthropological criminology. [4]

The work of Cesare Lombroso was continued by Social Darwinists in the United States between 1881 and 1911.

The theory

In the 19th century, Cesare Lombroso and his followers performed autopsies on criminals and declared that they had discovered similarities between the physiologies of the bodies and those of "primitive humans", monkeys and apes. Most of these similarities involved receding foreheads, height, head shape and size, and based on these Lombroso postulated the theory of the ‘born criminal'. Lombroso also declared that the female offender was worse than the male, as they had strong masculine characteristics.

Lombroso outlined 14 physiognomic characteristics which he and his followers believed to be common in all criminals: unusually short or tall height ; small head, but large face ; fleshy lips, but thin upper lip ; protuberances (bumps) on head, in back of head and around ear ; wrinkles on forehead and face ; large sinus cavities or bumpy face ; tattoos on body ; receding hairline ; bumps on head, particularly above left ear ; large incisors ; bushy eyebrows, tending to meet across nose ; large eye sockets, but deep-set eyes ; beaked or flat nose ; strong jaw line ; small and sloping forehead ; small or weak chin ; thin neck ; sloping shoulders, but large chest ; large, protruding ears ; long arms ; high check bones ; pointy or snubbed fingers or toes[5].

Lombroso published several works regarding his work, L'Uomo Delinquente, L'Homme Criminel (The Criminal Man), The Female Offender (original titled Criminal Woman, the Prostitute, and the Normal Woman) and Criminal Man, According to the Classification of Cesare Lombroso.


During Lombroso's life, British scientist Charles Goring 1870–1919 was also working in the same area, and concluded that there was no noticeable physiological differences between law abiding people and those who committed crimes. Maurice Parmelee, seen as the founder of modern criminology in America, also began to reject the theory of anthropological criminology in 1911, which led to its eventual withdrawal from the field of accepted criminology research.

Modern times

Despite general rejection of Lombroso's theories, anthropological criminology still finds a place of sort in modern criminal profiling. Certain studies into tattoos in particular have been made[6] which have led to the removal of tattoos as being part of some rehabilitation programs[7] particularly as part of disassociation from a criminal organization. Studies have also been made of a link between general physical attractiveness and crime.[8]

Historically (particularly in the 1930s) criminal anthropology had been associated somewhat with eugenics as the idea of a physiological flaw in the human race was often associated with plans to remove such flaws. This was found particularly in America, with the American Eugenics Movement between 1907 and 1939, and the Anti-miscegenation laws, and also in Germany during the Third Reich where 250,000 mentally disabled Germans were killed.[9]

Criminal anthropology, and the closely related study of Physiognomy, have also found their way into studies of social psychology and forensic psychology. Studies into the nature of twins also combines aspects of criminal anthropology, as some studies reveal that identical twins share a likelihood of criminal activities more so than non-identical twins. Lombroso's theories are also found in studies of Galvanic skin response and XYY chromosome syndrome.

See also

  • Pathognomy
  • Personology
  • Phrenology
  • Physiognomy
  • Criminal psychology


  1. ^ See Theories of Criminal Behavior
  2. ^ Mary Gibson, Born to Crime: Cesare Lombroso and the Origins of Biological Criminology, p.108 (Praeger Press. Hardcover - 272 pages - 2002)
  3. ^ Anthropological Criminology, North Carolina Wesleyan Collehe, retrieved from here on March 10 2007
  4. ^ Anthropological Criminology, North Carolina Wesleyan Collehe, retrieved from here on March 10 2007
  5. ^ Anthropological Criminology, North Carolina Wesleyan Collehe, retrieved from here on March 10 2007
  6. ^ Kurtzberg et al.. 1978
  7. ^ Anthropological Criminology, North Carolina Wesleyan Collehe, retrieved from here on March 10 2007
  8. ^ Cavior & Howard 1973; Agnew 1984
  9. ^ Anthropological Criminology, North Carolina Wesleyan Collehe, retrieved from here on March 10 2007


  • Garbarino, M. Sociocultural Theory in Anthropology, (1977).
  • Black, E. War Against the Weak: Eugenics and America's Campaign to Create a Master Race, (2003).
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Anthropological_criminology". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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