Positivism is a theoretical and methodological approach in contemporary criminology.

Authors Avatar


Positivism is a theoretical and methodological approach in contemporary criminology. Positivists believe that human behavior is shaped by biological, psychological or social factors and forces. These factors and forces are called individual pathology which deter the decision-making and control ability of an individual and results in behavioral problems (White & Haines, 2003). To extend to legal definition, crime is defined as individual pathology to obey law and to conform to moral consensus of the society. Positivism approach in criminology examines the trait distinctions between offenders, rather than on the criminal acts as the focus of analysis. Also, positivism determines how these differences predispose a person towards criminality (White & Haines, 2003). Positivists believed that these traits observed can be diagnosed and treated by dealing with and removing the factors and forces that cause the offending behavior to occur. Rather than punishment, positivism directs toward the treatment of offender as a response to crime (White & Haines, 2003). The study of positivism is to classify and quantify human behaviors to uncover the causal relations between deviants’ traits and the committed crime. Therefore, positivism is a scientific approach in the criminal justice system.

Psychological positivism

Positivism concerning with psychological factors induced behavior is called psychological positivism. The consequences and impact of individual trauma are psychological factors which provoke behavior problems (White & Haines, 2003). These psychological factors hinder the cognitive development in decision making, social understanding and moral reasoning. Thus, people with psychological problem are potential to commit in crime as they are unconscious in doing so (White & Haines, 2003). Based on psychological positivism, criminals are associated with one of these psychological theories: psychoanalytic, behavioral, cognitive and physiological theory (Senna & Siegel, 1990). The following will explain these theories by the case of man rape against woman.

(a) Psychoanalytic theory

Psychoanalytic theory was developed by Sigmund Freud (Senna & Siegel, 1990). He believed that the personality arises from a conflict between three interacting systems: id, ego and superego (Senna & Siegel, 1990). Id is unconscious energy that strives to satisfy instant gratification, it operates on the pleasure principle. Superego incorporates the moral norms of the society that how one ought to behave. Ego is conscious part of personality that satisfies the id’s desires in ways that realistically bring pleasure rather than pain. It operates on the reality principle and struggles to reconcile the conflict between ego and superego. Psychoanalysts believe that law violators may suffer from personality disorder which is caused by damaged egos or superego (Senna & Siegel, 1990). The personality disorder is self control inability which denoted that the capacity to repress urges is diminished. Criminals seek immediate gratification of wishes without consideration of right and wrong or the needs of others in the absence of self control.

Join now!

Humans are impulsive and anti-social in nature, they learn to aside to law through the system of self control. Low self control is consisted of incapability of defer gratification, lack of perseverance, and preference for risky and physical behavior (White & Haines, 2003). To relate rape with self control theory, rape is seen as a gratification from sexual provocation. Men’s sexual drive is aroused by women’s dress, presence or movements. The drive is power and is so overwhelming to control (Vogelman, 1990). Men have no choice but to rape for a surge of excitement. As Groth and Birnbau (1979) ...

This is a preview of the whole essay