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Earnest A. Hooton and the Biological Tradition in American Criminology

NCJ Number
Criminology Volume: 42 Issue: 3/4 Dated: August 2004 Pages: 735-771
Nicole Rafter
Date Published
August 2004
37 pages
This article reviews the work Earnest A. Hooton, who launched biological explanations of criminal behavior, which are now enjoying a reemergence in the criminological community.
In the 1930’s and 1940’s, the infancy of criminology was dominated by the work of Harvard anthropologist Earnest Albert Hooton, who espoused a biological explanation of criminal behavior. While the biological tradition in criminology had fallen out of favor, a biological focus is reemerging in criminological research with increased potential. As such, it is important that criminologists of today understand how these biological theories of criminal behavior developed and where they were initially flawed. The work of Hooton, who began publishing his biological explanations of crime in 1939, received mixed reviews at the time they came out yet they engendered wide discussion in criminological texts. His research went through three distinct phases; in the first, lasting from 1915 through 1930, Hooton researched skulls. During the middle phase, spanning from 1926 through 1940, Hooton focused on large-scale surveys of living populations and produced works on race, evolution, and eugenics. During the final phase of Hooton’s work, from 1940 through 1954, he attempted to correlate different body types with different personality types and traits. Hooton’s criminological works were widely reviewed in popular and academic journals, brining both praise and scorn, particularly from the anthropological and sociological journals. However, while his criminological theories incorporate a large race component, to dismiss Hooton as a racist oversimplifies the historical context in which he worked. Hooton considered eugenics and not race the most salient social issue of his time. According this view, criminals belong to a “class of hereditary degenerates” who ruin society and must be brought under control through “sterilization, euthanasia, and cutbacks in welfare.” The biological tradition in criminology is beginning to reemerge, albeit without the trappings of the eugenics model. References