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Enjeux épistémologiques de l'usage judiciaire des neurosciences : une analyse du pouvoir explicatif de la neurocriminologie

Abstract : This thesis work proposes an epistemological analysis of publications related to the field of neurocriminology, a vast research program that aims to redefine the problem of crime in neurological terms, and which proposes to isolate the neurobiological characteristics of individuals representing a threat to society. The main objective is to evaluate the scientific legitimacy of the ambitions announced by neurocriminologists, that is, to determine whether these results ensure a relevant explanation to assess the dangerousness of an individual. The aim is both to question the empirical possibility of a neurobiological explanation of criminal behaviour, and to determine whether we can assign a meaning to the ambition to base the risk assessment on neurological criteria.The first level of analysis proposes a historical reconstruction of neurocriminology, starting from the first electroencephalographic studies (EEG) that demonstrated a link between brain abnormalities and violent, impulsive or aggressive behaviour. Based on a review of the literature published since the early 1940s, we show that this research program is entirely built around a neuro-interventionist strategy, which aims to promote the pathologization and medicalization of criminals. The main epistemological obstacle lies in the fact that this logic constrains the construction of the explanatory model at the cost of a series of petitions of principle: the implicit purposes of the researchers introduce a systematic bias in the design of experimental models and in the interpretation of neurobiological data collected on criminals. Throughout the development of neurocriminology, we can observe the emergence of the idea that the more dangerous the criminal is, the more his brain is “monstrous”. This explanatory model aims to define the terms of a dangerousness that is accessible to a neuroscientific intervention, by reducing the figure of the dangerous individual to a "brain to be corrected": a "defective" but above all a "correctable" brain, which encourages the idea that it would be possible to solve the problem of crime by correcting the brains of criminals.The second level of analysis proposes to resituate this project in the history of 19th century criminal anthropology. While neurocriminology seeks to defend the novelty of its research and to conceal the marks of its long legacy, the conceptual and methodological analysis of the literature shows that it is condemned to update presuppositions inherited from the organology of Franz-Joseph Gall and the positivist criminology of Cesare Lombroso. Both Gall's and Lombroso's theories permeate all stages of the studies design: from the research strategies employed by neurocriminologists to the concepts used in the interpretation of data, as well as in the presuppositions underlying each methodological choice. In particular, this analysis allows us to deconstruct the double discourse of neurocriminology, which defends itself from neglecting the influence of socio-environmental factors in the development of criminality, while seeking to confirm a previously accepted preformationist model. The interpretation of the data collected from criminals aims to show that their dangerousness is expressed through a pre-existing potentiality, which satisfies all the conditions for the emergence of criminal behaviour. The result is a perfectly circular approach, condemned to produce confirmation biases in order to promote the purposes of the researchers, without providing any explanation of the psychological phenomena they study.
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Marie Penavayre. Enjeux épistémologiques de l'usage judiciaire des neurosciences : une analyse du pouvoir explicatif de la neurocriminologie. Histoire, Philosophie et Sociologie des sciences. Université de Bordeaux, 2020. Français. ⟨NNT : 2020BORD0175⟩. ⟨tel-03162827⟩

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