The Origins of Criminology:
Edited by Nicole Rafter
Abingdon UK and New York USA: Routledge, 2009
In The Origins of Criminology, Rafter assembles over sixty excerpts from nineteenth-century writings regarding crime and criminality. Drawing from diverse fields of study, such as phrenology, evolutionary theory, criminal anthropology, eugenics, statistics, and sociology, Rafter reveals just “how rich, varied, and vigorous nineteenth-century criminology actually was…” (pg. xxiii). As one of the first readers to focus specifically on the roots of criminological thought, Rafter’s purpose with The Origins of Criminology is to provide an understanding of how proto-criminologists, who lacked a shared set of concepts and methods, inadvertently came to establish a scholarly discipline.
Rafter translated several of the excerpts in The Origins of Criminology from the original French and Italian. Each section of the book (there are ten in total) is introduced by Rafter, providing an interpretive context for readers unfamiliar with the place of criminology in the history of science. Rafter includes her own prologue for each reading, explaining why she selected the piece as well as the historical relevance. Some of the excerpts are lengthy enough to be used as readings in undergraduate criminology courses. Many images from the original publications, such as cartoons, are included. The prologues written by Rafter are instructive.
Rafter took care to incorporate writings by early female scholars of crime, demonstrating that women actively contributed to the formation of criminology. For instance, Rafter includes a reading on phrenology from Eliza Farnham, who was the head of Mt. Pleasant State Prison for Women in New York during the mid nineteenth-century. There is a reading from Pauline Tarnowsky, whose anthropometric research concerning female prostitutes was frequently cited by Cesare Lombroso. Rafter also includes Josephine Shaw Lowell’s eugenic writings on ‘moral leprosy’.
Rafter’s selections create the impression that a distinct intertextuality formed amongst proto-criminologists toward the end of the nineteenth-century. For instance, James Cowles Prichard’s writings on moral insanity cite Philippe Pinel’s earlier observations on ‘mania without delirium’. Richard von Krafft-Ebing’s study of ‘pathological sexuality’ is referenced by Lombroso in the latter’s discussion of the ‘born criminal’. Henry Maudsley’s remarks on ‘the borderland between insanity and crime’ borrow from Prichard as well as Bénédict-August Morel’s definition of human degeneration. In his influential text The Criminal, Havelock Ellis consolidates the work of Lombroso but also Richard Dugdale’s writings on heredity. Enrico Ferri’s attempt to reconcile statistical science with Italy’s Positivist School of criminology engages with Adolphe Quetelet’s analyses. Dugdale’s report on heredity is again referenced in Francis Galton’s invention of the term ‘eugenics’.
Rafter argues that “Francis Galton’s significance to the development of criminology has not yet been fully assessed” (pg. 229), regrettable given that his comments on eugenics were implicated in biocriminology’s darkest state of affairs (e.g., sterilization policies across the Western world, Nazi experiments and exterminations). In addition, Galton’s discussion of fingerprinting became more influential in criminal justice institutions than Alphonse Bertillon’s anthropometrical measurement system.
Not wanting to imply that proto-criminology was all ‘bumpology,’ Rafter includes some excerpts that are critical of criminal anthropology and phrenology. In France, Léonce Manouvrier and Alexandre Lacassagne critiqued “the Italian’s fixation on biological and anthropological factors…” (pg. 198). The American Frederick Howard Wines dismantles criminal anthropology on methodological grounds. Similarly, Gabriel Tarde’s writing on crime and imitation sought to undermine Lombroso’s Positivist School.
The only fault of this reader is that it focuses exclusively on the European and American contributions. With The Origins of Criminology, Rafter has produced something of pedagogical value, solidifying her place as one of the most significant criminologists at work today.