Thursday, March 27, 2014
TA: Rhys Williams
Professor: Tamy Superle
“We must not say that an action shocks the conscience collective because it is criminal, but rather it is criminal because it shocks the conscience collective. We do not condemn it because it is a crime, but it is a crime because we condemn it” (Durkheim, 1972: 123-4)
Throughout the years, professionals from many fields such as criminology, sociology, psychology etc., have attempted to understand criminality, criminal behavior and deviance in different ways. Questions have always come up but the most thought of and controversial question is whether or not criminal behavior is genetic or environemtal and what are the dangers that come along with suggesting that criminal behavior is biological.
Crime is not biologically inherent nor does it have biological characteristics but is a product of society therefore leaving crime with no essence, accept one which is social. The behaviors leading up to a crime may have biological and psychological aspects surrounding it but criminals are not born, they are a product of their environment. The dangers of suggesting that biological characteristics can help explain crime is one of much controversy.
In the sixteenth century attempts to understand criminals as well as criminal behavior began with an Italian physician, Giambattista della Porta who was infatuated with the understanding of human physiognomy (facial features). Della Porta argued that “thieves tended to have sharp vision and large lips.”1 His theory and research was later carried on by a man named Cesare Lombroso. Lombroso assumed that “being criminal was somehow to be explained through identifying particular characteristics of individuals.”2 His view on a criminal was that they were a separate species and showed different mental and physical traits than other human beings. These characteristics included things such as the asymmetry of the face, lip size, particularities of the palate, imbalance of the hemispheres of the brain, and much more. His thought process was that “criminals were born, not made.”3 Unfortunately, Lombroso’s theory that criminals have different characteristics would allow for discrimination in today’s society towards races with such features. For example, a common trait found in African Americans and people of color are larger lips. According to Lombroso’s theory, if an individual were to have larger lips, than they would automatically be deemed a criminal.4This in turn allows for the idea of ethnocentrism to flourish. Ethnocentrism is “the tendency to regard one’s own culture and group as the standard – and thus superior- whereas all other groups are inferior.” 5 Being that only specific races share the characteristics or features discussed in Lombroso’s theory, other individuals of races that do not share these characteristics will find themselves superior to others because they are not considered to be criminals.
According to an interview with CBC news titled “Killer Genetic: Investigating Adam Lanza’s DNA”, well renowned geneticist Robert Green discussed the potential harmful outcomes that may occur when suggesting that criminals have a so called “mutant” gene. As stated in the interview, Robert Green suggested that testing for a so called “mutant” gene to explain why people commit crime can potentially send the wrong message to the public.6 It has the potential to allow for stigmatization of the individual diagnosed with what would be called, “the killer gene.” 7 The label or stigma attached to the idea that an individual has a mutation in their genetic makeup, allowing for a higher risk of committing horrific crime will no doubt have a negative aspect to it, similar to the stigmatization of an individual with schizophrenia. According to labeling and stigmatization theories, people will