Revisiting Lombroso

Matt DeLisi

in The Oxford Handbook of Criminological Theory

Published in print November 2012 | ISBN: 9780199747238
Published online December 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks

Revisiting Lombroso

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  • Criminology and Criminal Justice
  • Theories of Crime



Cesare Lombroso's atavism theory argues that criminals are primitive savages who are evolutionarily backward compared to normal citizens. According to Lombroso, born criminals possess an array of stigmata or markers that may be considered putative evidence of their criminality. These include their excessive tattoos, their manner of writing and talking, or the size and shape of their skull, ears, forehead, and hands. In his work, including Criminal Man , Lombroso provides a wide range of examples where he likens criminal offenders not only to primitive savages, but also to plants and animals. This article examines the factors that motivated Lombroso to become a criminologist, and the reasons why he used the approaches that he did to better understand the causes and correlates of crime. It first provides a brief overview of each chapter of each of the five editions of Criminal Man, before discussing differences between Lombroso's theory and current biosocial criminology.

Keywords: Cesare Lombroso; atavism theory; criminals; savages; criminality; Criminal Man; crime; biosocial criminology; plants; animals

Article.  7922 words. 

Subjects: Criminology and Criminal Justice ; Theories of Crime

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