Biosociology: An Emerging Paradigm

By Anthony Walsh | Go to book overview
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Chapter 8
The Nature and Nurture of Criminality

We [sociology] are the only branch of social science that has, for the most part, failed to recognize openly the possible influence of nature on human behavior, and nowhere is this more evident than in our studies of crime.

-- Lawrence Cohen

Wilson and Herrnstein ( 1985) open their masterly Crime and Human Nature by informing us that their goal is to understand human nature. They explain that while they could have chosen a variety of human behaviors in their effort to illuminate it, they chose crime "because crime, more dramatically than other forms of behavior, exposes the connection between individual dispositions and the social order" ( 1985:20).

Wilson and Herrnstein chose to emphasize variability in the propensity to commit antisocial acts among individuals rather than sociocultural processes, as I do. We must, therefore, first distinguish between the concepts of crime and criminality. A crime is a legalistic label placed on socially disapproved behavior and is thus a property of the sociocultural order. Crime--its definition, spread, concentration, and prevalence--is rightly the domain of traditional sociological criminology. The spectacular 300-percent increase in Hungarian crime since the demise of communism documented by Gonczol ( 1993), and roughly similar figures reported for the former Soviet Union ( Dashkov, 1992) and for China ( Wang, 1994) reflect social, political, and economic phenomena. They have little to do with individual differences, except perhaps to say that dramatic social change generated anomie, which acted

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