Inventing the Criminal: A History of German Criminology, 1880-1945

By Richard F. Wetzell | Go to book overview
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German criminology emerged as a recognized scientific field in the last quarter of the nineteenth century as a result of three interconnected developments: the emergence of a new German penal reform movement, the publication and reception of Cesare Lombroso's theory of the "born criminal," and an increasing interest in criminological questions among German psychiatrists. First, however, I will provide a brief survey of criminological research in the first three-quarters of the nineteenth century because some familiarity with this background is essential for properly assessing the developments that took place at the end of the century. On the one hand, the existence of medical-biological explanations of crime earlier in the nineteenth century shows that Lombroso was not the first to advance such an explanation. On the other hand, the substantial amount of work in "moral statistics" and on the subculture of professional criminals demonstrates that nineteenth-century researchers paid far more attention to social than to biological factors in crime. Only if this is understood can one appreciate the drastic shift in emphasis from social to medical-biological explanations of crime that occurred at the end of the nineteenth century.

Before setting out on this brief survey, I should point out that the origins of criminology are a matter of debate. Some scholars regard the psychiatrist Lombroso, whose book on the born criminal appeared in 1876, as the founder of criminology, 1. while others argue that modern criminology originated with Ce‐

David Matza, Delinquency and Drift (New York: Wiley, 1964), 3; David Garland, Punishment and Welfare: A History of Penal Strategies (Aldershot: Gower, 1985), 77; Pasquale Pasquino, "Criminology: The Birth of a Special Knowledge," in The Foucault Effect: Studies in Governmentality, ed. Graham Burchell, Colin Gordon, and Peter Miller (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991), 235-50.

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Inventing the Criminal: A History of German Criminology, 1880-1945


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