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Adolphe Quetelet and the Origins of Positivist Criminology

Piers Beirne
American Journal of Sociology
Vol. 92, No. 5 (Mar., 1987), pp. 1140-1169
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2779999
Page Count: 30
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Adolphe Quetelet and the Origins of Positivist Criminology
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Abstract

This article examines the largely unacknowledged contribution of Adolphe Quetelet (1796-1874) to the origins of positivist criminology. Quetelet's labors have previously tended to be misrepresented either as a political project that was an unmediated expression of state and class interests or as a discourse that anticipated the subsequent maturation of Lombrosianism and the Chicago school of ecology. It is suggested here, instead, that Quetelet's social mechanics of crime should properly be understood in terms of its emergence from some of the focal concerns of the domains of penality and the statistical movement which, during the Restoration, coincided in the issue of the regulation of the "dangerous classes." This coincidence informed Quetelet's ideas about the constancy of crime, criminal propensities, the causes of crime, the average man, and social regulation. This article tentatively concludes that Quetelet's multifaceted analysis of crime ultimately fostered a rigid binary opposition between normality and deviation and provided the epistemological core for the dominance of biologism, mental hereditarianism, and economism in positivist criminology.

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