Positive School of Criminology – Def, Overview & Examples


Positive school of criminology is an academic criminology school that focuses on studying crime as an alternative social process while at the same time attempting to study it to understand the causes of crime.

This school of thought attempts to treat criminals as human beings who have problems with society resulting from their family life or certain characteristics they have been born with – like gender or race – and not as criminals.

They claim that all people from all walks of life can become criminals if they are in the wrong place at the wrong time, with something bad happening to them that makes them react a certain way to society. This post will provide an overview to this school as well as examples in order to help you understand it more clearly.

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What is Positive School in Criminology?

Positive school of criminology is the school of criminology that is based on empirical research. It posits that crime can be explained in terms of environmental variables. There are four distinct aspects to this approach:

1) The positivists emphasized the role of non-social factors, e.g., poverty, unemployment, etc., as a cause for criminal activity. They have stressed the importance of both positivist assumptions and neoclassical economic theory.

2) They believe that criminal behaviour can be explained in terms of actual environmental variables rather than those speculated about by a Wittgensteinian approach. The growth of technology has played an important part in developing this perspective — observed data is more readily available now than ever. It is easier to collect and assess.

3) They believe that psychological interpretations are no longer helpful or necessary for understanding crime. Critics of this approach argue that there is a logical fallacy here — even if economic factors may explain some crimes, they do not account for why people commit those crimes and assume rationality and even-handedness in their economic transactions.

4) The economic approach is non-moralistic and does not attribute blame or responsibility for the crime to any particular social group. It depends on the assumption that all people in society are rational, acting how they believe they will maximize their utility (often understood as self-interest — a concept closely connected to economics). They show how criminal behaviour is explained by using rational choice theory.

Two Major Assumptions Guide a Positivist Approach:

1) The first assumption is that the “facts” of crimes and criminals are open to scientific study. This means criminologists can only make generalizations about groups of people or particular categories of crime. Even then, their research can only record and explain crime as it has been defined in law. They cannot investigate the complex social or psychological causes of an individual’s decision to commit a crime.

2) The second assumption is that criminal behaviour is shaped by environmental variables like any other human activity. Research based on this approach fits easily with neoclassical economic theory, which explains many other aspects of human behaviour.

As a result, positivist theories and methods are often adapted to study issues relating to the economy. Thus, criminologists have researched such topics as unemployment as a factor in crime rates, employment opportunities for ex-convicts, or factors affecting property prices.

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Social Criminology

The main focus of Instrumentalism and positivism is to explain criminal behaviour as a result of external factors that affect an individual’s life experiences and social status, such as poverty, unemployment, etc.

Based on this research, it has been suggested that poverty and lack of human capital affect an individual’s life to resort to criminal behaviour. This perspective assumes that people make their own choices to gain something beneficial out of it, e.g., money or power (Kratcoski, 2003).

This approach is different from structural functionalism, as social criminology assumes that underlying variables affect a person’s decision to engage in criminal activity. While positivism also understands social interactions, it lacks an understanding of the structures and norms present in society. Because of this, if someone chooses to do something against the norm, they do so based on their reasoning (Kratcoski, 2003).

This approach represents a functionalist perspective as it sees crime as a social problem and tries to identify what can be done to prevent it. In the same way that positivism is used to investigate other types of social phenomena, e.g., poverty or unemployment, social criminology uses a positivist methodology to examine the effect of other forces on a person’s decision to commit a crime.

Different theorists have used the social criminology approach to study different types and forms of criminality throughout the years. In particular, strain theory is based on positivist claims. It focuses on an individual’s reaction toward societal pressures (Hughes & Luze, 2001). Crime is seen as a result of an individual’s frustration with the lack of resources.

‘Structures produce crimes; they are not the products either of innate tendencies or personal characteristics alone. Different people may commit different crimes because their social position and its determinants push them in varying directions’ ( Hughes, 1997).

Hughes and Luze (2001) acknowledge that all forms of structural dysfunction place strain on individuals, e.g., social disorganization, disorientation, inequality, etc. However, the focus on crime is on economic inequities related to individual opportunities for material acquisition.

This suggests that a certain level of resources must be present for an individual to feel comfortable enough to avoid criminal behaviour. This is all done while acknowledging the importance of social bonds and informal mechanisms that act as a preventative factor toward criminal activity (Hughes & Luze, 2001).

The problem with this approach is that it fails to discuss or account for events that fall outside these boundaries, resulting in a crime. This is problematic as it does not account for the random nature of crime and how this can affect an individual’s decision to engage in criminal behaviour.

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Who is the Father of Positivist Criminology?

The father of positivist criminology is referred to as Cesare Beccaria, who was an Italian philosopher. He believed that criminal law must be per the dictates of utility and justice (Baecker, 1999).

He felt that since crime as a form of deviance caused harm both to individuals and society, the law needed to protect society from the harm caused by crime.

According to Beccaria, the criminal justice system had to be impartial and blind to work. This led him to develop “the theory of judicial punishment,” which viewed punishment as the goal of the legal process.

Positivist criminology is similar to the theory of utilitarianism as the goal is to minimize pain and maximize pleasure. It is in this interpretation that Cesare Beccaria can be said to be the father of positivist criminology.

How Do You Define Determinism?

Determinism, in criminology, states that human behaviour is governed by rational decision-making (Maruna, 2002). This theory states that people will engage in criminal activity when they believe that their behaviour benefits outweigh the costs. Therefore, as long as someone believes that it is rational to do so, they will engage in crime.

Positivist criminology and rational choice theory can be seen from this perspective. It is important to note that the concept of rationality in terms of criminal behaviour can sometimes be interpreted differently by different researchers. It is worth noting that while positivist criminology depends on determinism, it also acknowledges the importance of other factors like culture and social structure (Maruna, 2002).

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Positivist Criminology Has Certain Fallacies Which May Weaken its Value.

One of the assumptions of Positivist Criminology is that human nature is good.

This perspective may seem to be in line with the Christian view, but it contradicts the biblical and theological foundations because from a criminological point of view, people are not fundamentally evil, they are born neutral (Maruna, 2002). They are only influenced by external forces that lead them to commit crimes.

This is one of the major flaws in Positivist Criminology, which leads to another assumption and an error. The second fallacy of this theory is its unsophisticated analysis that human beings can be described only by their physical and social environment (Baecker,1999).

The theory provides no consideration of internal factors like emotions and thoughts. The problem with this is that while crime can be explained in terms of the physical environment or social environment, it does not account for personal responsibility, which is an important cornerstone of Christian theology.

Positivist criminology sees people as rational individuals who act according to their self-interests. This is a simplified view because while people are aware of personal benefits, they are also influenced by social or external factors which may not be entirely rational (Baecker, 1999).

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What Are the Three Major Schools of Criminology?

There are three main schools of criminology, which include; biological, psychological, and sociological (Odegaard, 2015).

The first school of criminology is the biological school. This theory puts a lot of emphasis on genetics to determine a person’s criminal tendencies. Biological factors like testosterone levels or low intelligence have also been used to explain criminal behaviour.

The second school of criminology is the psychological school. This school has emphasized the importance of psychology to explain crime. Criminals are thought to be individuals with deviant personality disorders or other mental illnesses (Odegaard, 2015).

Psychological theories like psychodynamic theory explained criminal behaviour by exploring the relationship between society and an individual. For example, this theory hypothesizes that a bad childhood experience can lead to criminal behaviour in an adult.

Sociological criminology states the importance of the social context and environment to explain crime. This school has emphasized the influence of society on individuals through mechanisms like socialization, formal control and informal control (Odegaard, 2015). This theory does not depend much on mental illness or genetics but focuses more on the influence of society.

This approach is in line with Christian theology because while genetics and mental illnesses can explain criminal behaviour, they cannot usually deter this behaviour. They are also not sufficient to completely explicate the reasons behind criminal behaviour (Odegaard, 2015). The concept of socialization is also in line with Christian theology because social factors and their environment influence people.

What Are the Major Principles of the Neoclassical School of Criminology?

The neoclassical school of criminology has three major theories. These are; selective association theory, rational choice theory, and labelling theory (Penfel, 2011).

Selective Association Theory

This theory explains crime through social interactions with peers. The premise is that people choose who they hang out with according to their criminal orientation. This theory emphasizes the importance of peer groups and their influence on criminal behaviour. According to this theory, criminals influence each other through association (Penfel, 2011).

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Rational Choice Theory

This theory posits that crime is not a result of psychological problems but rather the person rationally calculating the benefits of criminal behaviour (Penfel, 2011). This was based on the assumptions that people are self-interested and rational and that they choose their actions according to costs and benefits. For example, this theory can be used to explain white-collar crimes like fraud.

Labelling Theory

This theory argues that people are more prone to criminality when labelled as criminals (Penfel, 2011). This theory applies the criminological theories of the classical school, which emphasized external factors. However, it also emphasizes individual choices and behaviour, making it different from other schools.

The approach aligns with Christian theology because it emphasizes the importance of social interaction and peer pressure as factors that determine criminal behaviour.

According to this approach, even without genetic or psychological predispositions, a person can be drawn to criminal behaviour through association with criminals. The theory also emphasizes individual choices, which make people accountable for their actions.

Also, the concept of labelling is in line with Christian theology because it acknowledges that people are not criminals by nature, but they can have a propensity for a crime if labelled as such.

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What is an Example of Positivism?

An example of positivism in criminology is scientific criminology (Schwendinger & Schwendinger, 2014). This type of criminology refrains from making any value judgments and evaluates causes of crime based on statistical evidence.

For example, the positivist approach has been used to explain patterns in domestic violence. Empirical studies have shown that people tend to commit domestic violence on certain days like weekends, public holidays, and occasions when they get paid (Schwendinger & Schwendinger, 2014).

Positivism has also been used to explain patterns in murder. Empirical studies have shown that most murders happen indoors and during peak periods such as summer months or spring break because of reasons like greater opportunities for conflict, increased likelihood of an argument turning into a fight and more people being at home (Schwendinger & Schwendinger, 2014).

Positivist theory is in line with Christian theology because it attempts to understand patterns objectively as possible without any bias. Positivism also emphasizes the importance of empirical evidence and objective analysis.

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The positivist school of criminology is in line with Christian theology because it emphasizes the importance of objective analysis and empirical evidence. It also avoids value judgments which can influence the interpretation of results. The approach also argues against the use of psychological factors to explain criminal behaviour.

Positivism, however, is not without its criticisms. Schwendinger and Schwendinger (2014) argue that positivist theories often disregard the human agency in crime because they emphasize patterns and trends instead of individual actions. This can be harmful to victims as it places less emphasis on individual circumstances and victims, which could potentially lead to less adequate legal treatment.

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