Punishing social dangerousness. Criminological positivism and the new notion of criminal responsibility (1870s-1930s).

Event date
10 November 2022
Event time
15:30 - 17:00
Oxford week
MT 5
Wharton Room - All Souls College (and online)

Notes & Changes

Please note that this event will be recorded, if you do not wish to be part of the recording, please feel free to turn your cameras off once the talk begins. The talk will be made available on the Criminology website and YouTube channel at a later date. 

The lecture will discuss the proposals of the criminological movement (from 1870s to 1930s) to substitute the notion of social dangerousness for that of criminal responsibility as the foundation of the right to punish. After examining the theoretical roots of this idea and its potential impact on the then widely prevailing liberal penal theories, it will focus on its more controversial implications (such as the vagueness of the definition of dangerousness and the risk of discretionary judicial assessment) as well as on the legal and political arguments elaborated to limit its implementation. It will be argued that to reject the more radical meaning of social dangerousness, criminal law scholars and lawmakers – especially in continental Europe and in penal codifications modelled on the European framework – were forced to reconceptualize the liberal notion of culpability and elaborated the dual-track system.

Registration will close at 12 midday on Weds 9th November. The link will be sent to you later that afternoon.


Michele Pifferi

Michele Pifferi is Professor of Legal History at the University of Ferrara, Law Department and Alexander von Humboldt Permanent Fellow. He has been visiting researcher at the Max-Planck-Institut for Legal History in Frankfurt a. M., NYU, Berkeley UC - School of Law; University of Oxford; University of Hamburg and Humboldt University in Berlin. He is currently Leverhulme Visiting Professor at the Centre for Criminology, University of Oxford. His research interests focus on the history of criminal law and criminology and the history of migration law. Among his recent publications: Punishment and Social Control in Historical Perspective, in Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics (2022); The Limits of Criminological Positivism. The Movement for Criminal Law Reform in the West, 1870-1940 (editor, Routledge, 2022); Reinventing Punishment. A Comparative History of Criminology and Penology in the 19th and 20th Century (OUP, 2016).

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