1. ANALYSE THE IDEOLOGY BEHIND LOMBROSIAN
THEORY OF CRIME CAUSATION- CRITICALLY
EXAMINE ITS RELEVANCE IN MODERN TIMES.
Govt. Law College,
2. POSITIVIST SCHOOL
The positivist school of criminology emerged in the 19th century as
a contrasting idea to the classical theory of crime.
The classical school of criminology posited that individuals commit
crimes because of their selfish desires and that crime is a product
of free will.
The Positivist School was founded by Cesare Lombroso and led by
two others: Enrico Ferri and Raffaele Garofalo. As the main
exponents of this school were the Italian Criminologists, this
school is called the Italian school of criminology.
In criminology, it has attempted to find scientific objectivity for
the measurement and quantification of criminal behaviour.
Under this school, method was developed by observing the
characteristics of criminals to observe what may be the root cause
of their behaviour or actions.
The advocates of this school completely discarded the theories of
omnipotence of spirit and free will on the ground that they were
hypothetical and irrational. Alternatively, they attributed
criminality to anthropological, physical and social environment.
3. CESARE LOMBROSO
6 NOVEMBER 1835 – 19 OCTOBER 1909
Cesare Lambroso was an
phrenologist, physician and
the founder of the Italian
School of Positivist
Lombroso believed that
criminals have hereditary
incentives, which are
generation to generation in
a genetic way and therefore
believe in the existence of
4. LOMBROSIAN THEORY OF DEVIANCE
Cesare Lambroso was the first criminologist who made an
attempt to understand the personality of offenders in
Lombroso employed scientific methods in explaining criminal
behaviour and shifted the emphasis from crime to criminal.
Lombroso developed the ‘Theory of Deviance’ and according
to this theory, a person’s bodily constitution indicates
whether or not an individual is a born criminal or not.
In developing this theory, Lambroso observed the physical
characteristics of Italian prisoners and compared them to
those of Italian soldiers.
Lombroso also maintained that criminals had less sensitivity
to pain and touch; more acute sight; a lack of moral sense,
including an absence of remorse; more vanity, impulsiveness,
vindictiveness, and cruelty and also other manifestations.
5. Lombrosian theory of deviance
Lombroso was among the first to consider criminality, in
men and women, as a phenomenon worthy of scientific
He recognized the diminished role of organic factors in
many habitual offenders and referred to the delicate
balance between predisposing factors (organic, genetic)
and precipitating factors such as one’s environment,
opportunity or poverty.
Lombroso's research methods were clinical and descriptive,
with precise details of skull dimensions and other
measurements. He did not engage in rigorous statistical
comparisons of criminals and non-criminals.
Although he gave some recognition in his later years to
psychological and sociological factors in the etiology of
crime, he remained convinced of and identified with,
6. CLASSIFICATION OF CRIMINALS
Lombroso classified criminals in to three categories:
The atavist or hereditary criminals
The atavist or hereditary criminals
Lombroso termed them as born-criminals.
According to him, born-criminals were of a distinct type who
could not refrain from indulging in criminality and
environment had no relevance whatsoever to the crimes
committed by the Atavists.
Lombroso considered these criminals as incorrigibles, i.e.,
He enumerated as many as sixteen physical abnormalities of
a criminal some of which were peculiar size and shape of
head, eye, enlarged jaw and cheek bones, fleshy lips,
abnormal teeth, long or flat chin, retreating forehead,
dark skin, twisted nose and so on.
7. Theory of Atavism
The word ‘Atavistic’ comes from the Latin word
“avatus”, which means ‘ancestor’ in Latin.
In his view, criminals reflect a reversion to an early
and more primitive being that was both mentally and
Lombroso’s theory used physical characteristics as
indicators of criminality and suggest that criminals
are distinguished from non criminals by multiple
Lombroso moderated his theory of physical anomaly in
later years but his emphasis throughout his work was
on human physical traits which also included biology,
psychology and environment.
8. Theory of Atavism
In ’The Criminal Man’, first published in 1876, he suggested that
there was distinct biological class of people that were prone to
The ‘atavistic’ characteristics, he argued, denoted the fact that
the offenders were at a more primitive stage of evolution than
non-offenders and they were called “genetic throwbacks” . This
implies that criminality is inherited and that it can be identified
by physical defects.
The theory was that criminals were physically different from
normal persons and possessed a few physical characteristics of
inferior animal world.
This made them, according to Lombroso, wilder, untamed and
unable to fit in the 1870’s society and therefore they would
inevitably turn to crime.
The Theory of Atavism was revised in 1906 and held that only
one-third of criminals were born criminals and not all the
Finally, he conceded that his theory of atavism was ill-founded
and held that there were in fact occasional criminals.
9. Insane Criminals:
The second category of criminals according to Lombroso
consisted of insane criminals who resorted to
criminality on account of certain mental depravity or
The third category of criminals was those of criminoids
who were physical criminal type and had a tendency to
commit crime in order to overcome their inferiority in
order to meet the needs of survival.
Besides describing the term "born criminal,” Lombroso
also described "criminaloids", or occasional criminals,
criminals by passion, moral imbeciles, and
10. LOMBROSIAN VIEW REGARDING FEMALE
Lombroso used his theory of atavism to explain women's
Lombroso viewed female criminals as having an excess of
male characteristics. He argued that, biologically, criminal
females more closely resembled males than females.
According to this theory, Lombroso outlines a
comparative analysis of "normal women" as opposed to
"criminal women" such as "the prostitute.“ However,
Lombroso's "obdurate beliefs" about women presented an
"intractable problem" for this theory:
"Because he was convinced that women are inferior to men
Lombroso was unable to argue, based on his theory of the
born criminal, that women's lesser involvement in crime
reflected their comparatively lower levels of atavism."
11. LOMBROSO AND DARWIN’S THEORY
Lombroso was heavily influenced by a misunderstood Darwin:
criminals were “throwbacks” in the phylogenetic tree to early
phases of evolution.
If a criminal man is an ancestral form of human being, obviously his
anthropological features and physiological reactions would be
different from those of the “normal nineteenth century man”. For
this reason Lombroso quickly applied anthropometry to the criminal
man and woman.
Lombroso argued that criminals were not to blame for their
criminal activities as their behaviour was determined by their
physiology. From this anatomical observation, Lombroso also quickly
extended the theory of deviance as a form of evolutionary
blockage to insanity.
Lombroso considered insanity a milder form of regression in the
evolutionary tree, less dramatic than criminality, and genius a sort
of mental mosaic in which the evolution of positive qualities was
mixed with degeneration of some somatic organs.
12. CHARACTERISTICS OF CRIMINALS
concluded that the
criminals were physically
different. The physical
characteristics that he
used to identify
An asymmetry of the
face or head.
Large monkey-like ears.
13. CHARACTERISTICS OF CRIMINALS
A twisted nose.
Excessive wrinkles on the
Lombroso declared that
Males with five or more of
these characteristics could
be marked as born criminals.
Females, on the other hand,
only needed as few as three
of these characteristics to
be born criminals.
14. CRITICAL VIEW REGARDING LOMBROSIAN THEORY
Enrico Ferri challenged Lombroso’s theory of atavism and demonstrated
that it was erroneous to think that criminals were incorrigible.
He believed that just as non-criminals could commit crimes if placed in
conducive circumstances as also the criminals could refrain from
criminality in healthy and crime –free surroundings. According to him,
crime is the synthetic product of three main factors:
Physical or geographical;
Psychological or social.
Ferri emphasized that criminal behaviour is an outcome of a variety of
factors having their combined effect on the individual. According to
him social change, which is inevitable in a dynamic society, results in
disharmony, conflict and cultural variations.
As a result of this, social disorganization takes place and a traditional
pattern of social control mechanism totally breaks down. In the wake
of such rapid social changes, the incidence of crime is bound to
increase tremendously. The heterogeneity of social conditions
destroys the congenial social relationship, creating a social
vacuum which proves to be a fertile ground for criminality.
15. GABRIEL DE TARDE
Gabriel de Tarde, the eminent French criminologist
and social psychologist, criticized Lombroso’s theory
of criminal behaviour, and offered a social
explanation of crime.
Tarde asserted that criminal behaviour is the result
of a learning process, therefore, any speculation
regarding direct relationship between physical
appearance and criminal propensities of criminals
would mean overlooking the real cause of criminality.
Tarde further denounced the proposition of
phrenologists who tried to establish a correlation
between the skull, the brain and the social behaviour
of a person.
Goring carried out research on the psychology of criminals.
After a series of comparisons between the criminals and
non-criminals, he concluded that there was nothing like
‘physical criminal type as suggested by Lombroso.
Prof. Sutherland observed that by shifting the attention
from crime as a social phenomenon to crime as an individual
phenomenon, Lombroso delayed for fifty years the work
which was in progress at the time of its origin and in
addition, made no lasting contribution of his own.
LINDESMITH AND LEVIN
Lindesmith and Levin even alleged that Lombroso’s faulty
assumption’s were responsible for hindering the growth of
the scientific criminology for few more decades.
17. RELEVANCE OF LOMBROSIAN THEORY IN
The greatest contribution is the development of criminal
science, which lies in the fact that the attention of
criminologists was drawn for the first time towards the
individual, that is, the personality of criminal rather than
his act (crime) or punishment.
This paved the way for the modern penologists to
formulate a criminal policy embodying the principle of
individualization as a method and reformation. Thus
introduced the methodology and logic of natural science
in the field of criminology.
While analyzing causes of crime, Lombroso laid greater
emphasis on the biological nature of human behaviour and
thus indirectly drew attention of criminologists to the
impact of environment on crime causation.
18. The individualization of punishment, which all humanitarian
and scientific thinkers now agreed upon, is something which
Lombroso's work, more perhaps than that of any other
man, has helped to bring about and amounts to one of the
greatest contribution to criminology.
The emphasis was shifted from penology to criminology and
the objects of punishment were radically changed in as
much as retributory methods were abandoned. Criminals
were now to be treated rather than punished.
Protection of society from criminals was to be the primary
object which could be achieved by utilizing reformatory
methods for different classes of criminals in varying
It is in this context that Lombrosian theory is said to have
given birth to modern sociological or clinical school which
regards criminal as a by-product of his conditions and
experience of life.
19. One thing Lombroso's work has definitely accomplished, and
which will remain forever a monument to his name is that
the criminal man must be studied and not simply crime in
the abstract; that the criminal must be treated as an
individual and not his act alone considered.
At a later stage Lombroso himself was convinced about the
futility of his theory of atavism and therefore extended
his theory of determinism to social as well as economic
situations of criminals. Thus he was positive in method and
objective in approach which subsequently paved way to
formulation of multiple-causation theory of crime by the
propounders of sociological school of criminology
Lombroso accepted that there could be extenuating
circumstances under which an individual might be forced to
commit crime. Therefore, besides looking to the crime
strictly from the legal standpoint, the judicial authorities
should not lose sight of the circumstantial conditions of the
accused while determining his guilt and awarding
Even though the modern positivism in criminology has
developed its own systemic views in which it is told
that there is little scope for Lombroso’s Atavism and
is quite described as ‘Lombrosian Myth’ in
Criminology, we cannot fully close our eyes regarding
the contribution of Lombroso to the development of
the science of criminology.
It can be rightly commented that the sociologists
emphasise on the external factors, psychologists on
the internal factors, while Lombroso held that both
had a common denominator– the ‘individual’.
The ‘individualistic’ approach in crime and criminology
is the foundation on which the present pillars and
structures of criminology is built.