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The psychopathy of a Victorian serial killer: integrating micro and macro levels of analysis

David Wilson (Based at the Centre for Applied Criminology, Birmingham City University, Birmingham, UK)
Elizabeth Yardley (Based at the Centre for Applied Criminology, Birmingham City University, Birmingham, UK)

Journal of Criminal Psychology

ISSN: 2009-3829

Article publication date: 15 March 2013

Abstract

Purpose

This paper aims to respond to a number of pleas for interdisciplinary – or integrative – approaches to psychology and criminology in exploring the value of simultaneously applying micro and macro analytical tools.

Design/methodology/approach

The study reported in this paper applies both the revised psychopathy checklist (PCL‐R) and structural analysis to the historical case of Mary Ann Cotton, a nineteenth century British serial killer.

Findings

Findings suggest that multi‐level approaches to analysis are valuable in developing holistic understandings into serial murder, which are appreciative of both the psychological characteristics of the individual offender and their location in the broader social and historical context. Micro analysis would now label Cotton a psychopath, but we need to broaden the analysis and to consider macro questions related to gender, poverty and the wider social structure in which Cotton operated.

Research limitations/implications

In the absence of an interview with the offender, this study has supplemented alternative materials and as such, prompts debate into the application of contemporary tools to historical cases.

Practical implications

The findings imply that the application of PCL‐R alongside structural analytical tools reveals more in‐depth and socially rooted insights into the study of historical cases of serial murder and as such, provide a valuable addition to both criminological and the psychological methodology frameworks.

Originality/value

This research prompts academic debate within psychology and criminology into the potential value of a combined, integrative approach to historical cases drawing upon both micro and macro analytical tools.

Keywords

Citation

Wilson, D. and Yardley, E. (2013), "The psychopathy of a Victorian serial killer: integrating micro and macro levels of analysis", Journal of Criminal Psychology, Vol. 3 No. 1, pp. 19-30. https://doi.org/10.1108/20093821311307730

Publisher

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Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2013, Emerald Group Publishing Limited