Theories of crime typically reflect the discipline of the theorist. There has been little attempt to construct multidisciplinary frameworks that integrate psychological, biological, and sociological concepts in explaining, and controlling, criminal activity. Evolutionary behavioral science is ideally placed to provide a comprehensive and scientifically grounded framework for understanding criminal behavior. As human beings evolved, criminal behavior was a result of adaptations, or the by-products of adaptations.
This book introduces a comprehensive evolutionary behavioral science approach to crime and its management.
- Authored jointly by specialists in evolutionary and forensic psychology
- Integrates psychological, biological, and sociological concepts
- Offers a unified theory to explain why criminal behavior exists
- Introduces evolutionary concepts for non-biology experts to comprehend
Criminology and Evolutionary Theory
Criminology has been a recognized field of scholarly inquiry for more than a century. Even so, our understanding of crime and its causes could be enhanced by consideration of the more distal causes of criminal behavior, an analysis that remains largely unrealized to date. One approach that has been almost completely ignored is the evolutionary approach to criminology and the understanding of criminal behavior. In this chapter, we argue for greater inclusion of evolutionary theory in the interdisciplinary approach that has come to characterize criminology. In recognizing that mainstream criminology has largely neglected evolutionary explanations for criminal behavior, we consider several possible reasons for this neglect, and suggest ways for integrating evolutionary approaches within criminology. In the remainder of the book, we elaborate on and illustrate how this can be accomplished.
Anthropology; Crime research; Criminal law; Criminology; Evolutionary theory; Evolutionary theory of crime; History of crime; Interdisciplinary approaches; Political science; Psychology; Sociology
Depending on exactly when one wants to let off the starting gun, criminology as an organized field of scholarly inquiry is no more than about 140
years old (Godfrey, Lawrence, & Williams, 2008
). The phenomenon of crime is, of course, much older. How much older? The first codified laws of which we have any detailed knowledge come from Babylonia around 1760 BCE, so the origin of crime as "lawbreaking" dates from this period. All human groups, however, set norms that prescribe acceptable behavior and mete out punishment to those individuals who violate these norms (Boehm, 2012
), and the phenomena that are the primary foci of criminologists-violence, rape, punishment, and the appropriation of resources from others-are part of the "deep history" (Shryock & Smail, 2011
) of humankind. In their efforts to provide explanations for criminal behavior, criminologists, forensic psychologists, and others largely focus on proximate factors such as the psychological characteristics of offenders, their developmental history, and the social structure in which they are embedded. These types of explanations are clearly important. They have proven valuable in the development of theories and models of offending that have had some success in both accounting for crime and guiding approaches to effectively managing criminal behavior. We suggest, however, that our understanding of crime and the way that we respond to it can be significantly enriched through a consideration of the more distal causes of criminal behavior-those that reside in the evolutionary history of our species. Moreover, a more comprehensive approach to understanding crime and responding to criminal behavior, we claim, can be achieved through the integration of evolutionary approaches with those that focus on more proximal causal factors. In this book we make one-longish-argument for this approach. Our aim in this opening chapter is more modest. We first clarify what we take as the core subject matter of criminology. Then we make the empirical case that-despite the interdisciplinary aspirations of many criminologists-mainstream criminology has almost completely neglected evolutionary explanations in its attempts to understand the nature of crime and our responses to it. We consider several possible reasons for this neglect and suggest that the time is ripe for a careful consideration of how evolutionary approaches can be integrated within criminology. In the remainder of the book we elaborate on and illustrate how this can be accomplished.
The Subject Matter of Criminology
Not all criminologists are in complete agreement about exactly what discipline they are part of, and some argue that criminology should not be considered an academic discipline at all (Garland, 2011
). We suggest, however, that criminology can reasonably be described as an applied social and behavioral science. As such, criminology is organized around a particular set of phenomena-very roughly, crime and our responses to crime-rather than a specific level of analysis like sociology or psychology (Agnew, 2011a
). In this respect, criminology is somewhat like medicine-an applied area of study undergirded by a number of basic sciences or academic disciplines. For criminology, the key areas of inquiry include-but are not limited to-sociology, psychology, anthropology, political science, history, and law. As we note below, some of these disciplines-notably sociology-feature more prominently than others, and one of the main aims of this book is to argue for a more thoroughgoing inclusion of evolutionary biology into the field of criminology. Even if we accept that criminology can be reasonably considered a discipline in its own right, there remains some disagreement regarding the scope of its domain, and criminologists have devoted a considerable amount of energy to the task of defining just what constitutes "crime." The most straightforward approach, paraded in every introductory textbook, is to define crime in legal terms: criminal acts are those that violate the criminal law and are therefore subject to sanction by the state. The major objection to this definition is that by defining crime in purely legal terms, the subject matter of criminology becomes a moving target, as what constitutes a criminal act varies both historically and cross-culturally. Many also argue that this definition of crime is both too narrow and
too broad: it excludes many harmful acts while including many that result in relatively little or no harm (Agnew, 2011a
). In response to these objections (and others), many criminologists prefer a definition of crime that is not yoked exclusively to what is currently proscribed by the law, while others have suggested that the focus on crime sensu stricto is a mistake and urge the acceptance of a "crime-free criminology" (Gottfredson, 2011
). Agnew (2011a
, p. 187) argues for a more inclusive definition of crime that can be defined as "acts that cause blameworthy harm, are condemned by the public, and/or are sanctioned by the state." We think that there is much merit in Agnew's analysis. A much simpler solution, however, is to accept that crime
should be defined in purely legal terms, but the subject matter
of criminology includes more than just crime. How much more? We suggest, largely consistent with Agnew's (2011a)
approach, that criminologists should be concerned with three overlapping kinds of phenomena: 1. Intentionally harmful acts; 2. Acts that violate consensually held social norms and are subject to sanctions by group members; and 3. Acts that violate codified laws and are subject to punishment by the state. Most criminologists accept that harmful acts form a central component of the subject matter of their discipline. Agnew suggests that the focus should be on blameworthy harms
, with harm defined as acts that violate fundamental human rights. We think there is much value in this more inclusive perspective on harm, but-consistent with our overall evolutionary approach-suggest that intentionally harmful acts are those carried out voluntarily that negatively affect the biological fitness of others
. Murder is the ultimate in intentionally harmful acts, because it entails the elimination of any further opportunities to promote reproductive success by the victim. Many other acts also negatively affect biological fitness in lesser ways. Bullying, verbal derogation, and sexual harassment, for instance, may all reduce or limit the survival or reproductive opportunities of others (e.g., through a reduction in status or reputation). This broad definition also encompasses the many harmful acts that have been the focus of critical criminologists such as state-sponsored collective violence, discrimination, corporate maleficence, and the failure to provide health care to those in need. Acts that harm the environment or other species can also be included here, as they have an impact on the biological fitness of other species. Of course, some of these acts are going to be of more enduring interest to criminologists than others (state-sponsored genocide understandably attracts more attention than the use of pesticides to eradicate insect populations), and defining intentional harm in this way does not necessarily imply that these acts are either morally wrong or that they should be subject to sanctions by the state. The second set of overlapping phenomena that we suggest should form the subject matter of criminology concerns those acts that violate consensually held social norms. These acts are largely those that Agnew refers to in his definition as "condemned by the public." There are two key aspects to these acts. First, they violate consensually held social norms. The importance of social norms for group cohesion and collective action is a recurring theme in this book and features prominently in evolutionary approaches to understanding the nature of human cooperation (e.g., Bowles & Gintis, 2011
; Richerson & Boyd, 2005
; see Chapter 5
). All human groups have norms that are typically explicitly articulated and that prescribe the domain of appropriate behavior. Many of these norms clearly relate to intentionally harmful acts, but norms also regulate a wide class of behaviors such as what food can be eaten and when, who is an appropriate...