Lombroso in France. A paradoxical reception

Part of book or chapter of book English OPEN
Renneville , Marc (2013)
  • Publisher: Routledge
  • Subject: forensic medicine | Alexandre Lacassagne | Criminology | Criminal anthropology | Cesare Lombroso | [ SHS.HIST ] Humanities and Social Sciences/History

International audience; An exhaustive examination of French-language responses to Lombroso is beyond the scope of the present study. The theory of atavism would constitute a regular target for Lombroso's critics. For French commentators, atavism was to be understood as a form of 'normal heredity',that is to say as 'the ensemble of hereditary forces belonging to a race'. This process of 'heredity in reverse' was considered to take precedence over 'individual heredity', subject to the influence of the social milieuThat being said, the sheer volume of that critical output was not without consequences. By dint of repetition, Lombroso's ideas gained a paradoxical after-life, both in literature and in the collective consciousness, feeding into both Zola's human beast and Bram Stoker's Dracula. The way in which the debate on criminal anthropology in France was organised around reactions to a foreign author served, moreover, to conceal certain of the approach's internal contradictions behind appeals to national 'schools'. Gradually, however, Lombroso was assimilated into the French collective memory as one of the 'founding fathers' of criminology. This recognition of Lombroso's work as having played a role as important of that of Beccaria can be seen as something of a posthumous triumph for the Turin professor. That being said, this apparent victory, like everything linked to his legacy in France, is paradoxical in more than one respect. First of all, the compliment is generally paid by jurists, the same profession which generated Lombroso's most vociferous critics during the Italian's lifetime.
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