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This article is written by Mihuka Singh Chouhan of Maharashtra National law University, Nagpur, an intern under Legal Vidhiya


This study article digs into the origins of criminologists’ work, tracking its development from the classical school to its varied modern landscape. The study examines significant historical figures such as Cesare Beccaria and Jeremy Bentham to investigate the fundamental ideas of classical criminology and the subsequent emergence of the neoclassical and positivist schools. The paper emphasizes criminologists’ dynamic adaptation to the difficulties of the modern world, as they traverse ethical concerns, advances in forensic science, and the confluence of mental health and criminal conduct. By offering a complete overview, this research article adds to a better understanding of the historical roots and ongoing growth of criminologists’ work in tackling the difficulties of crime and justice in the modern world.


Crime, Criminology, Criminologist, Modern, School


Tracing the beginnings of criminologists’ work takes one on a historical trip highlighted by the classical school’s values of reason and rationality, which established the framework for the formation of classical criminology. This early perspective, pioneered by visionaries such as Cesare Beccaria and Jeremy Bentham, stressed individual rationality and the role of deterrence in constructing criminal justice systems. Later, there is an emergence of neo- classical school. As the nineteenth century dawned, the positivist school of criminology emerged, calling for a scientific understanding of crime and criminal behaviour. Figures such as Cesare Lombroso investigated the biological and psychological variables that influence criminal behaviour, signaling a move from philosophical reasoning to empirical study. This research article seeks to investigate the origins of criminologists’ work, tracking the growth of their theories and methodology, and assessing their current efforts to handle the varied issues given by modern crime and justice systems. We hope that this investigation will help us comprehend the long-term impact of historical perspectives on the changing terrain of criminology today.

What is Crime, Criminology, and Criminologist?

Crime – A crime is defined as an illegal conduct or activity for which a person may face legal consequences.[1] Crimes can vary greatly in type and severity, from minor acts like petty theft or jaywalking to more serious crimes like assault, robbery, or murder. The legal definition of crime is frequently set by legislation and laws within a certain area. Many legal systems classify transgressions into multiple categories, such as felonies and misdemeanors, with penalties based on the severity of the crime.

Criminology – Criminology is the study of crime and criminal behaviour based on sociological concepts and non-legal disciplines such as psychology, economics, statistics, and anthropology.[2] It is a multidisciplinary field that employs ideas from sociology, psychology, law, anthropology, and other disciplines to better understand and study criminal behaviour, its causes, and society responses to it. Criminologists strive to uncover patterns, trends, and factors that influence criminal conduct, as well as to devise effective crime prevention, law enforcement, and rehabilitation programs.

Criminologist – A criminologist is a practitioner who analyses crime and works to decrease and prevent it.[3] Criminologists investigate crime patterns, causes, and effects in order to better understand the underlying causes and contributing elements to criminal behaviour. Their job includes a variety of activities such as research, data analysis, policy formation, and the evaluation of crime prevention methods.

Evolution of Criminology

  1. Classical school of Criminology

Criminology originated in Europe between the late 1700s and the early 1800s.[4] The Classical School emerged in the 18th century to reform the judicial system and safeguard accused individuals from arbitrary state punishment.[5] Classical criminologists, including Cesare Beccaria and Jeremy Bentham, believed that people were rational beings capable of making sound decisions. They contended that crime resulted from individuals calculating the prospective benefits and costs of their activities and deciding to engage in unlawful behaviour when the perceived rewards outweighed the hazards.

The Classical School’s central concept is deterrence. In his major essay “On Crimes and Punishments” (1764), Beccaria argued that the goal of punishment should be to prevent people from committing crimes. Punishments, according to this viewpoint, should be appropriate to the offense and specific, fast, and severe enough to offset the benefits of criminal behaviour.

Classical criminologists argued for the equitable application of laws to all individuals, regardless of social class or background. This principle aimed to eradicate arbitrary and discriminatory actions within the judicial system.

The Classical School values legal formalism, which emphasizes the importance of unambiguous, well-defined rules that identify the consequences of unlawful activity. The legal code should be made public, and people should be aware of the potential consequences for breaking the law.

Beccaria and others contended that punishment should be viewed as a social compact. Individuals who live in society agree to follow its laws, and in exchange, society protects them and imposes punishments for breaking those laws.

Beccaria also believed that punishments (the balancing of pleasure and pain) should be determined with “geometric precision,” implying that the justice system should be structured around growing scientific ideas and the scientific process.[6]

2. Neo- classical school of thought

Neoclassical criminology is a school of thought that views criminal behaviour as the outcome of individual circumstances and logical thought, while placing crime outside of the context of society. This is the foundation of neoclassical criminology: all criminal activity is situationally dynamic and individual in nature.[7] Raymond Saleilles, author of The Individualization of Punishment, and his tutor, Gabriel Tarde, are well-known neoclassical criminologists.[8]

Like the classical school, neo-classical criminologists believe that individuals are rational actors who assess the potential rewards and costs of their acts. They do, however, acknowledge that emotions and situational circumstances may also influence decision-making. Neo-classical criminology maintains the emphasis on free will, recognizing that people have the ability to make decisions. However, it also acknowledges the importance of factors outside an individual’s control, such as biological, psychological, and social effects, resulting in a more comprehensive understanding of human behaviour.

Neo-classical theorists, such as Chicago School sociologists, added ideas about the importance of social structures and marginalization in criminal behaviour. They claimed that social and economic issues, such as poverty and a lack of opportunities, led to criminal behaviour.

Marcus Felson and Lawrence E. Cohen developed this theory, which holds that societal issues such as poverty, inequality, and unemployment have little effect on crime. Instead, it focuses on the normal behaviours and opportunities that connect offenders and victims. Labeling theory, which proposes that societal reactions and the use of criminal labels might impact an individual’s subsequent behaviour, is also included in neoclassical criminology. This theory emphasizes the relevance of society responses in molding people’ journeys through the criminal justice system. Neo-classical theorists questioned the classical school’s only focus on deterrence. They contended that the threat of punishment does not always discourage people, and that other factors, such as impulsivity or emotional states, may play an important part in criminal decision-making.

3. Positivist school of thought

The Positive School of Criminology emphasizes the role of empirical study and scientific methods in understanding criminal behaviour. It sees crime as a social phenomenon that may be understood and predicted by examining human and environmental factors.[9] While classical criminology emphasized free will, rational choices, and the role of punishment as a deterrent, the positivist school attempted to employ scientific methods to investigate crime and criminal behaviour. Positivism changed the emphasis from philosophical speculation to actual observation and the discovery of quantitative patterns in criminal behaviour.

Positivism opposes the concept of free agency and instead emphasizes determinism. It implies that biological, psychological, and social factors outside of an individual’s control impact criminal behaviour. This viewpoint sees humans as being influenced by numerous forces, and criminal behaviour as a reaction to these influences. Positivists argue for using scientific methods to investigate crime. This entails systematic observation, data collection, and the application of empirical evidence to detect patterns and causal links. Early positivist criminologists aimed to establish criminology as a scientific subject by employing scientific procedures.

Positivist criminology investigates how biological variables influence criminal behaviour. Cesare Lombroso, a significant member in the positivist school, first proposed the concept of the “born criminal.” He proposed that people with specific physical traits were more prone to crime. Positive psychology views personality qualities, mental problems, and IQ to be potential contributors to criminal behaviour. This emphasis on an individual’s psychological composition seeks to understand the internal mechanisms that influence criminal behaviour. While positivism emphasizes biological and psychological aspects, it also acknowledges the role of social influences in criminal behaviour. This covers factors such as family history, socioeconomic level, and peer influence. Positivist criminologists seek to understand how societal factors influence criminal tendencies.

Positivist criminology frequently emphasizes rehabilitation as the primary goal of the criminal justice system. If criminal behaviour is viewed as a result of external circumstances, the emphasis switches from punitive measures to treating and repairing such factors through rehabilitation and treatment.

4. Modern criminology

Modern criminology is distinguished by its evolution into a multidisciplinary mosaic, combining multiple strands of information from sociology, psychology, law, and other fields. This interdisciplinary approach represents an awareness that understanding crime and criminal behaviour necessitates insights from a variety of professions in order to provide a thorough and nuanced grasp of the complicated issues at hand.

Sociological viewpoints have been critical in defining modern criminology. Scholars investigate the complex interaction between individuals and society, highlighting how social institutions, inequality, and cultural variables influence criminal conduct. This sociological lens has given rise to theories like strain theory, social learning theory, and labelling theory, which have helped us better understand the societal dynamics that influence crime.

Psychological insights are another important aspect of the multidisciplinary mosaic. Modern criminologists investigate the cognitive processes, behavioural patterns, and psychological elements that influence criminal behaviour. This research helps to develop effective intervention tactics, rehabilitation programs, and a better understanding of the underlying reasons of criminal behaviour.

Legal and forensic dimensions are also important in modern criminology. The field includes advances in forensic science and legal studies, allowing criminologists to use advanced techniques for criminal investigation, evidence analysis, and judicial proceedings. These contributions improve the accuracy and dependability of criminal justice practices.

Furthermore, the evolution of criminology into a multidisciplinary mosaic represents a reaction to the changing character of crime in the modern world. The increase of cybercrime, multinational offenses, and complicated socioeconomic issues needs a comprehensive approach that addresses the many facets of criminal conduct.

In this multidisciplinary mosaic, criminologists work across disciplines, leveraging the strengths of each to gain a more thorough understanding of crime. The collaboration of sociology, psychology, law, and other disciplines provides scholars and practitioners with a diverse toolkit for addressing the difficulties posed by modern criminality. As criminology evolves, this multidisciplinary approach assures that the field is dynamic, flexible, and capable of dealing with the intricacies of crime in the 21st century.

Challenges and Innovations to Adapt to the Modern Landscape

The field of criminology has faced numerous obstacles in adjusting to the intricacies of the modern setting, necessitating novel approaches to handle developing issues. Several important difficulties and accompanying advances demonstrate the dynamic character of criminologists’ work today:

  • Cybercrime and Technological Challenges:

Challenge: The expansion of technology has resulted in new types of crime, such as cybercrime, hacking, and identity theft, which pose challenges to existing criminological frameworks.

Innovation: Criminologists are adapting by concentrating in cyber criminology, which investigates cybercriminals’ motivations and strategies. They create tactics for digital forensics, cybersecurity, and legislative suggestions to combat online crime.

  • Globalization, Transnational Crime:

Challenge: The interconnectivity of global economies and civilizations has aided transnational crimes such as human trafficking, drug smuggling, and terrorism, posing problems to traditional jurisdiction-based solutions.

Innovation: Criminologists are taking a transnational approach, working across boundaries to better understand and battle global crime networks. International cooperation, collaborative task teams, and the creation of global legal frameworks are critical solutions.

  • Societal inequality and social justice

Challenge: Addressing societal inequality and promoting social justice. Persistent societal inequalities, such as racial and economic inequality, and systematic injustices, lead to crime and call into question the criminal justice system’s fairness.

Innovation: Criminologists are increasingly interested in critical criminology, which investigates the intersections between power, privilege, and crime. Advocating for restorative justice models, community-based solutions, and criminal justice reform are novel ways to address systemic concerns.

  • Advances in Forensic Science:

Challenge: Rapid advances in forensic science have prompted ethical questions and challenges about the use of new technology for surveillance, DNA analysis, and evidence collection.

Innovation: Criminologists are frequently involved in ethical discussions about new forensic technologies. They help to set ethical principles, privacy protections, and public awareness in order to balance technological benefits with individual rights.

  • Mental Health and Criminal Behaviour:

Challenge: Traditional punitive measures face obstacles at the junction of mental health and criminal behaviour, necessitating a more nuanced understanding of the relationship between the two.

Innovation: Criminologists are lobbying for diversion programs, mental health courts, and specific law enforcement training to better treat mental health issues. The emphasis is on therapy and rehabilitation, not incarceration.

  • Community Engagement and Policing:

Challenge: Lack of trust between communities and law enforcement impedes efficient crime prevention and policing.

Innovation: Criminologists are looking into community policing models, restorative justice techniques, and community engagement strategies to help law enforcement and communities develop trust, improve communication, and collaborate more effectively.


In conclusion, the foundations of criminologists’ work, profoundly ingrained in the Enlightenment era and evolving through classical, positivist, and neo-classical perspectives, have laid a solid basis for the diverse subject of criminology we know today. The historical progression from rational calculation theories to the recognition of deterministic effects and societal structures demonstrates a dynamic response to the complexities of human conduct and the search for justice. Modern criminologists face enormous challenges, such as the rise of cybercrime, globalization, and ongoing societal disparities. However, their work is distinguished by resilience and ingenuity. Contemporary criminologists navigate these challenges with a commitment to scientific inquiry, ethical considerations, and a comprehensive understanding of crime, resulting in the development of evidence-based policies, community-centered interventions, and a more equitable and effective criminal justice system. The evolution of criminology from its inception to the present day demonstrates its adaptability, demonstrating a lifelong dedication to understanding, preventing, and responding to crime in an ever-changing world.


  1. COLLINS, https://www.collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/english/crime (last visited Jan. 17, 2024).
  2. MARYVILLE UNIVERSITY, https://online.maryville.edu/online-bachelors-degrees/criminal-justice/resources/what-is-criminology/ (last visited Jan. 17, 2024).
  3. INDEED, https://www.indeed.com/career-advice/finding-a-job/criminologist (last visited Jan. 17, 2024).
  4. CRIMINOLOGY, https://www.criminology.com/the-history-of-criminology-2/ (last visited Jan. 17, 2024).
  5. Clarence Ray Jeffery, The Historical Development of Criminology, 50, JCLC, 3, 4 (1959), https://scholarlycommons.law.northwestern.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=4793&context=jclc.
  6. Charles F Wellford, History and Evolution of Criminology, OMNILOGOS, (Jan. 17, 2024, 03:5 PM), https://omnilogos.com/history-and-evolution-of-criminology/
  7. STUDY, https://study.com/academy/lesson/neoclassical-criminology-school-theory.html#:~:text=Neoclassical%20criminology%20is%20a%20school,situationally%20dynamic%20and%20individually%20determined. (last visited Jan. 17, 2024).
  8. Ayesha Shahid, Positive School of Criminology, LEGAL SERVICE INDIA, (Jan. 17, 2024, 03:59 PM), https://www.legalserviceindia.com/legal/article-13639-positive-school-of-criminology.html

[1] COLLINS, https://www.collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/english/crime (last visited Jan. 17, 2024).

[2] MARYVILLE UNIVERSITY, https://online.maryville.edu/online-bachelors-degrees/criminal-justice/resources/what-is-criminology/ (last visited Jan. 17, 2024).

[3]  INDEED, https://www.indeed.com/career-advice/finding-a-job/criminologist (last visited Jan. 17, 2024).

[4] CRIMINOLOGY, https://www.criminology.com/the-history-of-criminology-2/ (last visited Jan. 17, 2024).

[5] Clarence Ray Jeffery, The Historical Development of Criminology, 50, JCLC, 3, 4 (1959), https://scholarlycommons.law.northwestern.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=4793&context=jclc.

[6] Charles F Wellford, History and Evolution of Criminology, OMNILOGOS, (Jan. 17, 2024, 03:5 PM), https://omnilogos.com/history-and-evolution-of-criminology/

[7] STUDY, https://study.com/academy/lesson/neoclassical-criminology-school-theory.html#:~:text=Neoclassical%20criminology%20is%20a%20school,situationally%20dynamic%20and%20individually%20determined. (last visited Jan. 17, 2024).

[8] CRIMINOLOGY, supra note 4.

[9] Ayesha Shahid, Positive School of Criminology, LEGAL SERVICE INDIA, (Jan. 17, 2024, 03:59 PM), https://www.legalserviceindia.com/legal/article-13639-positive-school-of-criminology.html

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