Origin and Evolution of Criminology Essay

Nowadays, criminology is a very important science which targets at the research of crime, its major causes and the effective ways of prevention of crimes. Criminology has made the crime the subject of its study and has already achieved significant results since criminologists have developed a variety of theories which help better understand the nature of crime, its causes and effects on an individual and society at large. Modern criminology is considered to be quite a progressive science incorporating human knowledge from different fields such as psychology, logic, etc. At the same time, it is necessary to underline that the current achievement and the further progress of criminology is possible, to a significant extent, due to the past studies and theories developed by criminologist in the course of the evolution of this science. This is why it is extremely important to know the origin and evolution of criminology in order to be able to keep this science progressing.

The origin of criminology

Basically, criminology is considered to be a relatively new science since it has started to develop just within the last couple of centuries. At the same time, this science was really unusual for the late 18th century when the first works on crimes were created. That epoch was characterized by the rapid progress of natural sciences as well as humanitarian ones, though the study and research of nature and human environment was prior to scientists of the late 18th century. In such a situation it was quite strange that Cesare Becarria, Jeremy Bentham and other pioneers of criminology referred to such a problem as crime its causes and punishment (Barak 122).

However, this profound interest of first criminologists to crime may be easily explained by the profound changes that took place in human society of that epoch. It should be said that the mid- and late-18th century, when the first works on criminology appeared, was characterized by the growing urbanization and increasing number of population living in urban area. Even though, European cities of the mid- and even late-18th century were not so densely populated as in a hundred of years but still, even at that epoch, cities faced a serious problem of growing number of crimes. In fact, until that epoch, crimes were rather occasional and were not perceived as a serious social problem but, in the course of development of European societies, growth of urban areas crimes became a widely spread phenomenon.

It should be pointed out that criminologists still argue what the reason for such a deterioration of criminological situation was but, as a rule, it is explained by the progress of socio-economic relations and evolution of individual conscience leading to the growing “materialism and aggression in relationships between people” (Barak 247).

Nevertheless, whatever the reason for the growth of crimes was this fact posed a serious problem the society had to solve: what is crime and what the effective ways of its prevention are.

Naturally, thinkers of the mid- and late 18th centuries were the first who attempted to solve this dilemma and delivered their views on crimes in their works to the mass audience. In such a way, the first works on criminology, such as “On Crime and Punishment” (1763-1764) by Cesare Beccaria, appeared giving way to the further development of studies on crime and punishment and their evolution in a new science, known as criminology. It is worthy of mention that criminology had been remaining an unnamed science for quite a long time. This means that there was no specific name for this science until the late 19th century when this science was eventually defined as criminology. To put it more precisely, in 1885, the Italian law professor Raffaele Garofalo “coined the term criminology”, and approximately at the same time the French anthropologist, Paul Topinard, used the same term in French to define this science (Brantingham 165). In such a way, criminology as an independent science eventually acquired its own name and could be considered as a new science which was really important at the epoch since by the late 19th century the criminal situation, especially in large cities, had started to deteriorate dramatically as the cities grew rapidly in the result of industrialization, while the socio-economic problems aggravated contributing to the marginalization of a substantial part of urban population. At the same time, the high density and growing rhythm of life produced a profound impact on individuals and their psychological state contributing to the increasing number of crimes making the development of criminology vitally important in the struggle against anti-social behavior and in the prevention of crimes.

The evolution of criminology

As it has been already mentioned above, criminology had started to develop since the mid-18th century. The first works on crime were created by social philosophers who wanted to understand the essence and causes of crime, and work out effective punishment. It is necessary to underline that criminology was initially developed in terms of classical school which inspirers were Cesare Beccaria, the author of “On Crime and Punishment” and Jeremy Banthem, the inventor of panopticon. Basically, they used utilitarian approach to crime. They believed that people have a free will and their actions are determined by internal inclinations and state of mind of each individual. This is why crimes are committed under the command of a criminal’s will. At the same time, they underlined that people commit crimes consciously and rationally. This means that each crime is carefully planned, logical and justified by a criminal. The classical school “ignores the possibility of irrationality and unconscious drives as motivational factors” (Barak 211). In contrast, each crime is supposed to have its own logical and rational boundaries. The followers of this school argued that the punishment should be respective to the crime and the “more swift and certain is punishment, the more effective it is in deterring criminal behavior” (Barak 212).

By the late 19th century, the positivist schools had been developed. According to this school, crimes are caused by both internal and external factors, which, though, are outside of a criminal’s control and are not directly dependent on his/her free will. In this respect, it is worthy of mention the works of Cesare Lombrose, who is considered to be a ”˜father’ of criminology. He estimated that crimes are committed under the impact of inherited factors and physiological traits could indicate at the criminal inclinations of an individual. Other representatives of this school, such as Enrico Ferri, believed that social factors may also negatively affect an individual behavior and lead to crimes.

In the 20th century, this school evolved in direction of psychoanalysis and its major representatives, such as Hens Eysenck, who worked in the mid-20th century, argued that “psychological factors such as extraversion and neuroticism made person more likely to commit criminal acts” (Braithwaite 769). His ideas were supported and extended by Hervey Cleckley and Robert Hare who added that psychopaticism may be another factor contributing to criminal behavior.

At the same time, positivists also underlined the importance of societal factors to criminal behavior since they believed that poverty, low educational level and social status, increases the inclinations of individuals to commit crimes. In such a way, the sociological positivism was shaped, the major developers of which were Adolphe Quetelet, Joseph Fletcher, John Glyde, Emile Durkheim, and others.

Finally, in the early 20th century the Chicago school appeared which developers such as Robert Ezra Park and Ernest Burgess argued that crimes are the characteristic of certain urban zones where the socio-economic situation is unstable and contributes to anti-social and criminal behavior.


Thus, criminology gradually evolved from a rare works on crimes to a serious science. Nowadays, the influences of the past are still quite strong and, basically, it is still argued what is more important in criminal behavior inherited, internal inclinations of an individual or the negative impact of social environment. In all probability, the definite answer could hardly be given. This is why it is necessary to continue the development of criminology and probably its evolution will eventually open new opportunities which could help prevent crimes.

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