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Theoretical Framework: Positivism in Criminology

Question:

Write about Positive and Negative of Positivism, also what is Disadvantage and Advantage.

According to Newburn (2017) the dominant approach in relation to thinking about a crime has been classicism for about a century. However the theory had been put under significant attack in the 19th century where a newly developed and scientific theory of criminology had been established with other scientific developments. The theory of positivism seeks to identify the scientific objectivity in order to quantify and measure criminal behavior. In the modern world where scientific approaches have become a significant example for the purpose of searching knowledge, the classical approach had been taken over by pursuit for scientific laws which were to be identified by experts. The paper provides an argument that that mission of positive criminology was to create an enhanced society by applying scientific and proven principles. According to Taylor, Walton and Young (2013) positivism has the purpose of reducing or eliminating crime. However what actually consists of positivism had caused significant debates in the society. Positivism has also been largely criticized by the advocates of Classicism.

The paper critically analyzes the theory of positivism in relation to criminology by discussing positive and negative of positivism as well as its advantages and disadvantages.

The primary assumption of positivists and the scientific approach to criminology have been discussed in this part of the paper. As stated by Wincup (2017) the approaches of natural science are applicable and therefore must be applied on the society. Data which have been derived through observation is the foundation man’s knowledge and reasoning in relation to the world. Cohen (2017) States that fact have to be differentiated from values and culture. The primary approach of positivism consists of collecting data, developing a hypothesis and then verifying or falsifying such hypothesis. Combining deductive reasoning and natural scientific methods lead to strong preference of quantitative data over qualitative data.


However there has been significant criticism over the methods and approaches which are used along with complete rejection. According to Morrison (2014) the whole idea of positivism is surrounded by a specific controversy and the used in books entirely disparaging. However Vito and Maahs (2015) argues that such controversies are not helpful and therefore before considering early positivism in depth it is necessary to take into account why is it important to carefully think about this as all philosophies of method and approach. The term positivism in criminological circles is never used without pejorative connotations. The act is not at all helpful descriptively and moreover it severs as mean of deflecting attention from the strength of the scientific approaches in criminology. Writers like Casare Lombroso who has been referred to as the father of criminology and whose works are largely discredited is associated with positivism in criminology

Advantages of Positivism

As a theory positivism emphasizes on knowledge and the reasoning of a person has to be based on scientific approaches and research. Conclusion form subjective approaches are not derived by the positivists who do not allow emotions and feelings to form a barrier with respect to the judgment as they belong to the consciousness of a person. “The consciousness, Comte inferred, cannot be objectively observed”. There are a few advantages and disadvantages of positivist approach to criminology.  One of the most significant advantages of the theory of positivism is quantitative approach. Positivism relies on the collection of quantitative data and feel that it is more reliable than the methods of qualitative researches. According to Burke (2013) quantitative searches are more scientific in its approaches than that of qualitative methods and therefore more trustworthy in nature. Objective information is provided by quantitative data in relation to research which can be relied upon by the researchers for making scientific assumptions. Another advantage of positivism is its structure. a well-defined structure is followed by positivism during discussion  and studies. It is believed by the advocates of positivism that as the approach following a set of principles and laws there would be minimum if any room for error.  Only a little room is provided by the structure towards drastic variable changes and variance therefore making the approach increasingly accurate in relation to applications and experiments as it tries to follow certain provisions using scientific and objective mathematical tools.


The approach of positivism contains a few highlighted disadvantages as well. One of the most in light disadvantage of the theory is in relation to Human Behavior. There is a belief in positivism that conclusions and objective inferences can be attained as long as the human who is conducting the observation disregards his or her emotions and is objective. However it has been argued by Matthews (2014) that human behavior naturally comes with emotional responses. Although the positive approach to criminology provides the researchers towards disregarding human emotions and behavior, a guarantee that such a status quo would be maintained at all time during the approach cannot be evidently said to be present. Another disadvantage of the positivism approach is its inflexible nature. It has been argued by Walsh and Jorgensen (2017) that as positivists have a belief that everything can be calculated and measured there is a tendency of them of becoming inflexible in relation to their approach. The positivist approach apprehends things as they exists and also tend to not consider any phenomenon which has not been explained. Thus the positivist would believe in a theory which provides X will take place when Y and Z combine that X can never be Y. Therefore lateral thinking is eliminated by the belief which is useful for identifying and determining answers by indirectly and creatively discovering methods of solving problems.

Disadvantages of Positivism

As stated by Naffine (2014) the work of Classicists have be attacked by critics by providing the argument that all kinds of activists and people were being removed from the society which included mentally ill, drunkards, prostitutes, those moving from one parish to another, poor immigrants, those having sexually transmitted diseases, hardened criminals and petty offenders. In addition it had been argued that all the imprisonment had taken place to control the danger group who were very poor and were perceived by others as posing danger to law and order. Arguments have been provided that where punishing a person for criminal activity does not deter the crime in future there must be an attempt to identify and address the reason why the criminal activity is taking place in the first place.


According to Tierney and O’Neill (2013) the difference between initial offenders and repeated offenders had been deliberately ignored by the classical theory and they had been treated totally alike merely based on the particular act which had been committed by them. Therefore children who had learning difficulties and individuals who had mental shortcomings were treated in a way that they are totally competent and rational.  A Highlighted by Matthews (2014) many psychological and social factors are ignored by the classical theories which affects actions of the people and maintain that people have a free choice to choose criminal behavior. However the free will explanation of criminal behavior has never been completely disregarded by the modern criminal justice systems. The theory is still present within the society and law through which judges are bound.

However significant criticism has been directed towards the situation where arguments have been provided in relation to a positivist methods and a rational approach towards just punishments opposing the power of the judges to unreasonably use their discretion. The principle role of the justice system has to be based upon the scale of the punishments and criminal activities. The positive approach instead of relying upon a particular era develops a new explanation in relation to criminal behavior.


The paper provides an argument that positivism in relation to criminology has been influential enormously and comes with a sustained and substantive criticism. Critics of positivism such as David Matza have provided three sets of assumptions which are problematic. These include Deteminism, pathology and differentiation.  In the initial decades of the twentieth century positive criminology was dominated by concerns which attempted to understand psychological characteristics which is determined genetically.

Form the above conducted analysis of the paper which argues in favor of positivism it can be stated that positivism is much more realistic practical and useful approach in relation to criminology. The theory takes a very practical and scientific approach towards the determination of criminal behavior. The theory is based on pre-established principles and laws which minimize any room for error in its approach. The approach also follows a well developed structure towards determining of a particular aspect of criminology.  Arguments have been provided by the supporters of Classical theory that the positivist approach is not flexible and it does not take into account human behavior at all. However it can evidently be argued that as the positivism theory is scientific and constantly developing it no longer is subjected to such shortcomings. It does not provide support towards giving the same punishment to those who have committed the crime once and those who have repeated the commission of the crime. In addition the approach differentiates between those who are mentally not sound and those who intentionally indulge in criminal activities

References

Burke, R.H., 2013. An introduction to criminological theory. Routledge.

Cohen, S., 2017. Against criminology. Routledge.

Matthews, R., 2014. The Successes and Failures of Modern Criminology. In Realist Criminology (pp. 1-27). Palgrave Macmillan UK.

Matthews, R., 2014. Realist criminology. Springer.

Morrison, W., 2014. Theoretical criminology from modernity to post-modernism. Routledge.

Naffine, N., 2014. Feminism and criminology. John Wiley & Sons.

Newburn, T 2017, Criminology, Taylor and Francis, Florence. Available from: ProQuest Ebook Central. [3 November 2017].

Taylor, I., Walton, P. and Young, J., 2013. The new criminology: For a social theory of deviance. Routledge.

Tierney, J. and O’Neill, M., 2013. Criminology: Theory and context. Routledge.

Vito, G.F. and Maahs, J.R., 2015. Criminology. Jones & Bartlett Publishers.

Walsh, A. and Jorgensen, C., 2017. Criminology: the essentials. SAGE Publications.

Wincup, E., 2017. Criminological research: Understanding qualitative methods. Sage

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