Atavism

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  • A condition of savagery associated with regression to a “prehuman” state of evolution. An atavist or atavistic person is considered a primitive “throwback” supposedly representative of an earlier stage of human development. The term gained prominence with the work of Cesare Lombroso (1835–1909), an Italian medical doctor. He was a pioneer in that he applied the emerging empirical scientific method, positivism, to the study of crime. The work of Charles Darwin inspired evolutionary deterministic theories. Lombroso's work followed this tradition. He autopsied bodies, measured skull sizes, and compiled biological data on those convicted of crime in Italy. In his 1876 book, Criminal Man, he posited a criminal typology in which the “atavistic born criminal” was a distinct category. The atavist, he claimed, is devolved in ...

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