Introduction to critical criminology
Introduction to critical criminology

Start this free course now. Just create an account and sign in. Enrol and complete the course for a free statement of participation or digital badge if available.

Free course

Introduction to critical criminology

Positivism and causality

The positivist school introduced the problem of causality into criminological thinking. Examining the potential causes of crime has been tackled from a range of differing perspectives, including:

  • Biological: Are criminals born or made?
  • Psychological: What are the individual factors that lead to criminal behaviour?
  • Sociological: Why do some neighbourhoods have higher crime rates than others?

The project of seeking the ‘scientific facts’ that can explain criminality has been – and continues to be – a dominant strand within academic criminology.

Positivism does not concern itself with the abstract and unprovable, but rather with the tangible and quantifiable. Through the acquisition of ‘objective knowledge’ it is assumed that most social problems can be better understood and treated. The key characteristic of the positive school is its emphasis on applying the methods of the natural sciences to the study of human behaviour. Within criminology, positivist approaches have focused on searching for the causes of criminal behaviour and have assumed that behaviour is predictable and determined.

Key features of positivism

  • The use of scientific methodologies, from which quantifiable data are produced and are then open to further empirical investigation and scrutiny
  • The emphasis on the study of criminal behaviour, rather than on the creation of laws or the operation of criminal justice systems
  • The assumption that ‘criminality’ is different from ‘normality’ and indicative of various pathological states
  • The attempt to establish ‘cause-and-effect’ relations scientifically and to therefore increase the ability to predict criminality (when particular criminogenic factors can be identified)
  • The assumption that, because criminals are ‘abnormal’, criminal behaviour is in violation of some widely held consensus in the rest of society
  • An interest in the treatment of causes, when these become known, with the ultimate goal of eliminating criminal behaviour. Since behaviour is involuntary and not a matter of choice for the offender, punitive responses are misplaced.
D867_1

Take your learning further

Making the decision to study can be a big step, which is why you'll want a trusted University. The Open University has 50 years’ experience delivering flexible learning and 170,000 students are studying with us right now. Take a look at all Open University courses.

If you are new to University-level study, we offer two introductory routes to our qualifications. You could either choose to start with an Access module, or a module which allows you to count your previous learning towards an Open University qualification. Read our guide on Where to take your learning next for more information.

Not ready for formal University study? Then browse over 1000 free courses on OpenLearn and sign up to our newsletter to hear about new free courses as they are released.

Every year, thousands of students decide to study with The Open University. With over 120 qualifications, we’ve got the right course for you.

Request an Open University prospectus371