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Cesare Lombroso (1835-1909)

Cesare Lombroso was an Italian physician and psychiatrist. His work on criminality, now discredited, laid the foundations for modern criminology. He moved away from the nature of the crime towards the criminal’s motivations and habits.

Lombroso was interested in physical differences between different parts of the Italian population. In 1862 he began anthropometric measurements of 3000 soldiers, and also became interested in psychiatry and criminal anthropology. His 1876 book Criminal Man argued some people were born criminals - it claimed they were ‘atavistic’, or throwbacks to a primitive stage of evolution. Lombroso believed ‘primitiveness’ could be read from the bodies and habits of such born criminals - for instance, facial features, body type and tattooing, which he saw as a particular sign of criminality.

Lombroso’s emphasis on external marks and ‘primitiveness’ were part of a broader movement in the late 1800s. This movement believed biology and inheritance explained human behaviour. A great worry was that European ‘races’ were degenerating - slipping back to an earlier stage of evolution.

 

Related links

Bibliography

C Lombroso, Criminal Man, M Gibson and N Hahn Rafter (eds), (North Carolina; London: Duke University Press, 2006)

D G Horn, The Criminal Body: Lombroso and the Anatomy of Deviance (New York; London: Routledge, 2003)

D Pick, Faces of Degeneration: a European Disorder, c.1848-c.1918 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1989)

Glossary:

Anthropometry

The measuring of body parts so that comparisons can be made. The aim is to measure normal and abnormal development. In the past, it has also been used in attempts to measure racial difference.

Anthropology

The social, cultural and geographical study of humans and humankind.