History of Social Disorganization Theory

History of Social Disorganization Theory

The theory of social disorganization was developed in the Chicago University, in the early 1920s. The theory can generally be defined as the decrease of the influence of the existing behavior and social rules upon individuals. The theory grew form the extensive research work conducted in Chicago University, by Shaw and McKay. Their particular interest was in the delinquency and crime. They aimed to demonstrate that criminal activities were a normal response of individuals to the cultural, social, and structural properties of the community. They also aimed at explaining why lower class and urban males produced deviant behavior.

Shaw and McKay used the spatial maps to study the juvenile residential locations, commonly referred to as the Chicago courts. They used delinquency data and developed pin, zone, spot and rate maps. They presented a complete discussion of delinquency rating, which covered three periods. These periods were 1900 to 1906, 1917 to 1923 and 1927 to 1933. They together complied several reports and books, which illustrated the rate of delinquency in Chicago. From their research, they discovered that crime rates were unevenly distributed across different places and time in the city. Instead, crime rates seemed to more prevalent on a particular area of the city. The crime also appeared to be relatively stable in various areas of the city, despite the changes in population of these areas with time. For instance, they observed that crime rate remained high, regardless of the ethnic or racial group living in a particular area, at any given time. When the groups living in crime areas moved to areas with lower crime, the criminal activities decreased significantly, according to the corresponding lower rates areas they have relocated. From these observations, Shaw and McKay to develop the conclusion that criminal activities was a function of the dynamics of the neighborhoods, and not specific individuals living within those neighborhoods.

After making the above conclusion, the question that remained was the characteristics of various neighborhoods, which contributed to the stability of the crime rate observed. To answer this puzzle, they focused on the zone of transition, which involved urban areas undergoing rapid social and economic changes. They focused on the areas that experienced low economic status. However, despite the high rate of crime in economically deprived areas, Shaw and McKay indicated that there was no strong relationship, between crime and economic deprivation. Instead, they indicated that economic deprived areas were only characterized by the high rate of population turnover, because they were undesirable areas to live. Therefore, people could leave them when they managed.

There was also high rate of settlement in these areas by the new immigrants. Therefore, they indicated that the social-economical deprived areas experienced high rates of racial heterogeneity and residential morbidity. As a result, these neighborhoods were considered socially disorganized. There were weak social control and conventional institutional in these areas, such as family, churches, community organizations, which made it difficult to control the behavior of youths in those neighborhoods. The crime rate therefore remained high in these areas.

Additionally, Sampson (2002), indicated that those socially disorganized neighborhoods tended to produce a crime culture, which was passed from one generation to another. The new and young youth could learn this criminal behavior, from their older juveniles. In summary, the theory indicated that there were two major ways through which socially disorganized neighborhood contributed to the crime and delinquency activities. The first one is through lack of behavior control and the other is the other is through delinquency values cultural transmission.

As noted by Browning (2002), throughout the period of 1950s and 1960s, the perspective of social disorganization remained both influential and popular. However, with the enhancement in the research and data collection and analysis approaches, there was an increased interest on the theories of social psychology. During the periods of 1960s and 1970s, the focus started to shift to individual processes from group dynamics. The social disorganization theory falls in to disfavor among criminologists who considered it to be irrelevant and marginal as compared to the modern criminology. However, the theory was rediscovered during 1980s. Several criminologist researchers such as Sampson and Grooves in 1989, Bursik from 1986 to 1988 and Wilson between 1990 and 1996 extended it.