Mary Douglas' book Purity and Danger is probably one of the top ten most influential books ever written in the




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Beaked nose (up or down) or flat nose

Strong jawline

Fleshy lips, but thin upper lip

Mighty incisors, abnormal teeth

Small or weak chin

Thin neck

Sloping shoulders, but large chest

Long arms

Pointy or snubbed fingers or toes

Tatoos on body

Constitutionalism, or body-type theories, became popular in the 1930s, mostly on account of the work of Ernest Hooton, a Harvard anthropologist. He studied thousands of criminals and noncriminals from eight different states, concluding that criminals are inferior to civilians in all physical respects. There were also racist overtones to his work because he said the Negroid forehead was a perfect example of a criminal forehead. In the 1940s, the work of William Sheldon shifted attention away from adults to the physiques of juvenile delinquents. Sheldon produced an "Index of Delinquency" based on three-way photographs which was used in many states to determine if a child in trouble should be institutionalized or not. Sheldon's approach is sometimes called somatotype theory. Sheldon's methods and results were given considerable support by Sheldon and Eleanor Glueck in the 1950s who found that narrow faces, wider chests, larger waists, and bigger forearms were associated with 60% of delinquents and only 30% of nondelinquents.

Sheldon's classification of physique and temperament (somatotype theory) is as follows:

Endomorphic -- tendency to put on fat, soft roundness of body, short tapering limbs, small bones, velvety skin; viscerotonic temperament, relaxed, comfortable person, loves luxury, an extrovert.

Mesomorphic -- predominance of muscles, bone, and motor organs, large trunk, heavy chest, large wrist and hands, lean rectangular outline; somotonic or Dionysian temperament, active, assertive, aggressive, unrestrained.

Ectomorphic -- predominance of skin, lean, fragile, delicate body, small bones, droppy shoulders, small face, sharp nose, fine hair; cerebrotonic temperament, sensitive, distractible, insomnia, skin troubles, allergies.

Each person possesses the characteristics of all three types. Sheldon therefore used three numbers, between 1 and 7, to indicate the extent to which the three types were evident in each person. A person whose somatotype is 7-1-4, for example, would have many endomorphic characteristics, very little mesomorphic characteristics, and an average number of ectomorphic characteristics. He found that the average institutionalized delinquent was a 3-5-2 somatotype. The Gluecks (always eclectic, or multiple factor, theorists) found that the average adult criminal was a 2-6-3 somatotype, and that 60% of delinquents were mesomorphs. Mesomorphy was associated with criminal behavior, flying in the face of fitness gurus, like Charles Atlas, who was trying to shape up Americans.

In contemporary times, ideas about physical appearance occasionally show up in criminology. All the constitutionalists studied tattoos, for example. They were never really able to make anything of it; they were just there for the study; lots of criminals had them. Tattoo removal (as well as plastic surgery) has found its way into a few correctional rehabilitation programs (Kurtzberg et. al.. 1978). There's a whole subspecialty field that, for lack of a better term, can be called the "physical attractiveness" studies (Cavior & Howard 1973; Agnew 1984) which suggest that ugliness really has got something to do with becoming a criminal.

There's no necessary relationship between criminal anthropology and eugenics (the idea that a nation can save its stock by preventing reproduction of the unfit - negative eugenics -- and simultaneously encourage the fit to produce more offspring -- positive eugenics). A small number of criminal anthropologists support the idea of eugenics; another, larger group strongly rejects it. Almost all criminologists today would be appalled at the idea of eugenics theory, yet it remains in the background of criminology as the field tries to develop agenda-free information, and at one time (during the 1930s, eugenics was taken quite seriously - more on this in the next lecture).

Physiognomy, or at least some bits of it, will sometimes find its way into social psychology and criminal justice, in studies of attractiveness and beauty, and in studies of jury lenience depending upon the physical look of the defendant. This literature is not well-organized, and only appears to be of sporadic interest to researchers.

Twin studies have also looked at physical similarities and differences. Identical twins are more similar in their (criminal) behavior than fraternal twins, however, no definitive conclusions can be drawn from twin studies in general. Adoption studies is another promising area of research, but again, strong causal statements are rare in the whole area of heredity-crime linkages.

The XYY chromosone syndrome became popular during the 1960s. People with this condition tend to be tall supermales who often exhibit aggression and violence. Some researchers have found that XYY types are more likely to have a criminal record. Other observers note that the prison populations are filled with fairly short people, a pattern noticed early on by physiognomists, who also took an interest in height.

Galvanic skin response (the rate at which electricity travels across the surface of the skin) also measures mesomorphy to some extent. Many criminals have slower GSR rates, which means they are somewhat more impervious to pain or at least may have a different neuromusculatory system.

Modern anthropology

It's difficult to describe a field as vast as anthropology or to even begin listing all the inroads into criminology. When I majored in this as an undergraduate, the choices were either physical or cultural anthropology, and those are about the only choices you get at the undergraduate level, and if you express an interest in crime or criminals, they tend to steer you towards physical anthropology which studies bones (presumably so you'll make a good crime scene investigator). However, the area of cultural or sociocultural anthropology is a much larger field (see Benedict 1934 or Garbarino 1977), and then there's symbolic anthropology (Douglas 1966), the field of social anthropology, and all sorts of hard-to-classify kinds of anthropology like Girard (1979). I'll try to explain two of the most popular contemporary anthropologists.

Mary Douglas' book Purity and Danger is probably one of the top ten most influential books ever written in the last 500 years. It is about the subject of ritual, and rituals are the ways societies and people mark out their boundaries. There are many kinds of rituals: for purification, reconciliation, renewal, purity, passage, and mourning, for example. Douglas is concerned with purity rituals, which relate to the feeling of safety from dangers such as crime. You might understand the idea as the notion that there are "lucky charms" which protect you from danger, and there are plenty of theological examples as well (the Ark of the Covenant; the Holy Grail), etc. Each person also has their "bubble space" for self-protection, which is a kind of purity ritual. The existence of an angry person in one's space is considered dangerous, and everything on the margins (of society; one's environment) is also considered strange or dangerous. When people do wrong things, they are also polluting the purity of the environment, and pollution rules are not as equivocal as moral rules. A pollution rule might call for the immediate execution of a transgressor, for example, while a moral code might give them the benefit of the doubt. Like others (Garfinkel 1967), Douglas is saying that our criminal justice system as well as what we consider rights and wrongs are determined by our underlying, inborn, ritualistic responses. We see criminals as contaminating our world (like dirt). Justice provides no guarantee, but our ritual impulses always come out.

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