What is Criminology?

Criminology is the scientific specialty dedicated to the analysis of the causes and context of crimes. This branch of social sciences is also oriented to the study of the personality of individuals who commit crimes and the actions that are carried out to repress them.

Through the combination of tools from various disciplines, criminology focuses on the study of the criminal with respect to the crime itself. Its purpose is to provide information on the reasons that lead human beings to commit certain crimes so that the authorities can proceed to apply the appropriate punishment.

Notions from psychology, sociology, anthropology, and medicine, among other sciences, appear in criminology. The Italian Raffaele Garofalo (1851-1934) is usually pointed out as the person responsible for coining the notion of criminology, while Cesare Lombroso (1835-1909) is mentioned as the father of this specialty.

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It is important to point out that regardless of the emergence of criminology as a well-defined scientific specialty, there is a historical background of several centuries that contributed to its creation and development. Since ancient times there is evidence of different mechanisms that human beings used to fight crime and also to study the minds of criminals and apply the appropriate punishment.

These topics were covered by Aristotle, Socrates, and Plato, among other philosophers, who also attributed the commission of crimes to certain mental or physical deficiencies, as well as heredity. Other antecedents of criminology can be seen in the work Scholastica, written in the 13th century by Thomas Aquinas, who collaborated with the foundations of criminal law from a philosophical point of view.

At a general level, it can be said that criminology understands crime as the action that constitutes a violation of the essential values ​​of a society, which are protected by law. The criminal is the one who violates these values ​​and therefore also violates the law.

One of the objects of study of criminology is the deviant behavior of an individual: that which moves away from the values ​​respected by the community and that produces some type of harm or damage. The cause of deviant behavior may combine social, psychological, cultural, and biological factors. To prevent and repress deviant behavior, different mechanisms of social control are exercised.

Classical criminology developed on a philosophical basis associated with the Enlightenment (the European intellectual and cultural movement that emerged in England under John Locke in the mid-18th century). For this school, all human beings were rational, equal and free, so that they could act as individuals in a responsible manner.

One of the characteristics of classical criminology that has been questioned throughout its evolution is the fact that it did not distinguish between the person who respects the law and who violates it. The interest was in the act, and not in the actor.

Critical criminology is known as the movement of thought that aims to build a materialist theory of deviation. It is largely based on hypotheses, concepts, and instruments that emerged from Marxist theory. The year 1968 is recognized as the moment in which it was founded, more specifically the National Deviance Conference that took place then.

Critical criminology studies deviant behavior through the opposition of two approaches, one biopsychological and the other macrosociological, in such a way that it manages to show its relationship with the social structure, which can be functional or dysfunctional, and in this way it is located above of the etiological paradigm of classical criminology.