The "biological tragedy of passionate criminals": psychiatry, gender and criminal responsibility in Rio de Janeiro between the 1920s and 1940s


This text aims to investigate the complex and ambivalent construction processes of criminal (ir)responsibility of the so-called "passionate criminals,” as well as the medical and legal ideas triggered for this. Initially, we mapped the general criminological debate, to establish the positions of lawyers and physicians; then, we analyzed a set of significant expert reports produced by psychiatrists and forensic doctors at the Rio de Janeiro Judicial Asylum (MJRJ), between the late 1920s and early 1940s. The argument is that the attribution of criminal responsibility was, in the psychiatric-forensic discourse and practice, linked to current and circulating scientific concepts - diagnostic categories, accepted theories, etc. - and to the ethical and moral evaluations informed by gender expectations arising from this discourse, revealed, mainly, in the understanding of what a truly and pathologically "passionate" man would be. The limits of male power and female autonomy were strongly represented in the psychiatric and medical legal discourses that stated or rejected criminal responsibility. In particular with regard to psychiatric reports, we affirm their growing social and legal appreciation, in the period under focus, as artifacts that bear the truth about whether a man that murders a woman should be considered criminally responsible or irresponsible.

Gender Violence; Republican Brazil; Judicial Asylum; Psychiatry; Criminology

Universidade Estadual Paulista Julio de Mesquita Filho Faculdade de Ciências e Letras, UNESP, Campus de Assis, 19 806-900 - Assis - São Paulo - Brasil, Tel: (55 18) 3302-5861, Faculdade de Ciências Humanas e Sociais, UNESP, Campus de Franca, 14409-160 - Franca - São Paulo - Brasil, Tel: (55 16) 3706-8700 - Assis/Franca - SP - Brazil