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The classical and positivist approaches to criminological theory

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Introduction

The classical and positivist approaches to criminological theory were both highly influential in their definition of and approach to dealing with crime and criminal punishment. For centuries scholars and theorists have attempted to adopt a new and effective approach to criminal punishment, in the hope that one can understand and thus know how to deal with criminal behaviour in an effective manner. Yet, while the two theories are rather different, they also contain similarities, and both influence the criminal systems of even today around the world. In an attempt to compare and evaluate the two, a brief explanation is necessary, in order to understand exactly how they differ and combine on certain elements. The classical approach to criminal behaviour was the first to move away from the concept of classifying crime as a sin. It thus brought the shift from unfettered power to punish criminal behaviour on a spiritual level to a reason-based approach, with checks on authority. In contrast, the positivist approach adopts a statistical based approach, under which societal factors are assessed to determine which characteristics are more likely to cause crime. At once, one can see the fundamentally different bases upon which each theory is propped. ...read more.

Middle

And one can thus see how the former sought to focus on removing the causes of crime whereas the latter sought ways to punish criminals effectively yet fairly. Yet this is not to say that the classical approach does not seek to prevent or reduce crime. Indeed, punishment was seen as a deterrent; it merely proposed that the intensity of punishment was not necessarily a calculus of the intensity of deterrent effects. Thus, theorists such as Bentham proposed that punishment should outweigh the pleasure deduced from crime, but still on a minimal level; only that which is enough to deter others. Furthermore, concepts such as the speed with which punishment is administered and the publicity of it is seen as more productive of deterrence as the severity. The differences between the two theories are somewhat reminiscent of the eras in which they emerged. The classical theory occurred at a period of religious dominance, where corporal punishment was widely adopted, and the 'eye for an eye' concept allowed the torture of criminals based on the extent of their sinful behaviour. But this proved to be difficult to monitor, and punishments simply depended on the subjective opinion of the authoritative figure administering sentences. ...read more.

Conclusion

The positivist approach was too simplistic also, but on a different plane than that of the classical approach. Lombroso's attempt to classify criminal behaviour into four categories was helpful, but seemed too simplistic and rounded to lead to anything revolutionary. Where the classical approach was arguably too philosophical, the positivist approach appeared to anthropological, thus overlooking factors such as the social contract and concepts of utilitarianism to understand how to administer punishment on a more effective level. Having compared these two approaches to criminology, one can begin to understand their fundamental differences, yet also their similarities. Of course, one has only scratched the surface on these rather complex theories and the concepts they encapsulate, but the overall basis of their approaches is accurate, and appropriately profound enough to understand. Here we have two seemingly entirely different approaches, with some similarities and basic concepts. It is easy to understand how they differ, yet difficult to envisage why they failed to be slightly more realistic in their propositions and promises. However, only through these errors can one formulate different aspects of various theories and understand the different problems that emerged in the field of criminology throughout the decades. 1 P89, first book. 2 First book, p92 ?? ?? ?? ?? ...read more.

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