Cesare Lombroso and Italian Criminal Anthropology
Cesare Lombroso is best remembered as the founder of modern criminology and author of ‘odd’ theories of the ‘born criminal’ that strike modern sensibility as both ridiculous and horrific. However mocked, at the time of their inception, Lombroso’s descriptions of the physiognomic characteristics of criminals — their heads were meant to be asymmetrical, their upper lips thin, their ears large and protruding, their bushy eyebrows met over the nose, their eyes were deep-set, and even their toes were pointy — were neither unprecedented nor unique. By relying on constitutional explanations of deviancy, Lombroso, like contemporary British psychiatrists such as Maudsley, conflated crime and disease as part of the same phenomenon. Educated by positivism’s ideals, Lombroso followed the trend of Italian psychiatry of the last three decades of the nineteenth century and believed that there existed a continuity between phenomena like madness and normal physiological states, so that the passions of the insane person were considered an exaggeration of tendencies present in healthy people. Studying pathological behaviours was thus a way to gain a better understanding of the nature of ‘normal’ men.1 Nevertheless, Lombroso’s endless catalogues of deviancy appear to stand at odds with this assumption because his extensive lists of physiognomic markers made the abnormal visually distinguishable and separate from the ‘normal’. It was this last aspect of Lombroso’s research that made his theories very popular: the international medical community was the first to be seduced by it, and the popular imagination of places like Italy, Europe, and North and Latin America soon followed.
KeywordsPsychiatric Category Mental Pathology Sexual Inversion Sexual Instinct Female Criminal
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