Social Disorganization Theory and the Chicago School

February 6, 2019

 

The Chicago School contributed to the development of many theories including social disorganization theory. Social disorganization theory can be defined as “the inability of a community structure to realize the common values of its residents and maintain effective social controls” (Sampson & Groves, 2011, p. 109). Many theorists including: Shaw & McKay, Sampson & Groves, Bursik and Grasmick and Osgood and Chambers have contributed to social disorganization theory. Beginning with the Chicago school social disorganization theory will be traced through its evolution, the main elements of the theory will be identified, supporting evidence and the need for refinement of Shaw and McKay’s theory by other theorists will be looked at, and the different findings among the theories will ultimately show social disorganization theory provides a good explanation for crime.

 

Social disorganization theory originated in the Chicago school of thinking because of its ecological background which means members of the Chicago school actually went out to study humans to gather their information through spatial distribution (Cartwright, 2011c & Cartwright, 2013g). Chicago began as a small town and grew rapidly due to migrants, industrialization and urbanization (Cartwright, 2011d, p. 76). Thomas and Znanieki were first to describe social disorganization theory followed by Burgess and Park who created the concentric zone theory upon which the famous Shaw and McKay’s theory of social disorganization was built (Cartwright, 2013h). Concentric zone theory describes five different zones that make up the city of Chicago which Shaw and McKay used to study juvenile delinquency (Cartwright, 2013h). Shaw and McKay gathered known juvenile delinquent’s addresses and plotted them on a map which showed the zone in transition to have the most concentration of crime (Cartwright, 2011f). Sampson and Groves later performed two re-tests of Shaw and McKay’s theory to see whether it was still applicable 40 years later (Cartwright, 2011a, p. 104). They did this by measuring Shaw and McKay’s main factors of social disorganization and introducing three intervening variables of their own to measure (Cartwright, 2011a, p. 105). Bursik and Grasmick extend Shaw and McKay’s theory by “comparing the structure of relationship between the ecological dynamics associated with crime in Chicago during 1960 and 1980 and interpret the results within the contemporary systemic reformulation of the social disorganization framework” (Bursik & Grasmick, 2011, p. 137). Osgood and Chambers finalized Shaw and McKay’s findings by testing it in a nonmetropolitan setting to assess whether or not results can be generalized (Osgood & Chambers, 2000, p. 81).

 

The main factors or elements associated with social disorganization theory include: concentric zone theory, five characteristics of the zone in transition, three intervening variables, collective efficacy, and the three P’s of social control. Concentric zone theory states there are five zones making up Chicago: business district, zone in transition, working class zone, residential zone and commuter zone (Shaw & McKay, 2011, pp. 83-84). These zones were taken by Shaw and McKay to study how crime correlates to these zones and it was found the zone in transition had the highest crime rate (Cartwright, 2011e, p. 81). Shaw and McKay then came up with five characteristics of the zone in transition that contributed to social disorganization: socioeconomic status, residential mobility, heterogeneity, family disruption and overcrowding (Cartwright, 2011a, p. 107). Family disruption was found to have the largest direct effect on a criminal involved in property offending (Sampson & Groves, 2011, p. 122). These characteristics of the zone in transition led to breakdown in informal social controls: family, school, and religion (Cartwright, 2011f). Sampson and groves came up with 3 intervening variables: ability of a community to supervise and control teenage peer groups, local friendship networks and rate of local participation in formal and voluntary organizations (Sampson & Groves, 2011, 110-111). These intervening variables were between Shaw and McKay’s five characteristics of the zone in transition and social disorganization theory (Cartwright, 2011f). Collective efficacy was then introduced which can be described as the opposite of social disorganization theory (Cartwright, 2011a, p. 106). Private, parochial and public controls were introduced by Bursik and Grasmick which are a measure of how much collective efficacy a community has (Bursik & Grasmick, 2011, p. 148). These 3 P’s of social control are important because they can offer an explanation for crime.

 

Sampson and Groves replicated but extended Shaw and McKay’s social disorganization research, which confirmed Shaw and McKay’s research as well as showed their research was still applicable years later (Sampson & Groves, 2011, p. 127). Sampson and Groves did this because they found Shaw and McKay’s theory needed refinement with the reliance on official data (Sampson & Groves, 2011, p. 108). Bursik and Grasmick’s findings showed economic factors have an effect on delinquency which is what Shaw and McKay found (Bursik & Grasmick, 2011, p. 146). Bursik and Grasmick did further research with Shaw and McKay’s social disorganization model because they recognized key dynamics of their model were implied rather than stated (Bursik & Grasmick, 2011, p. 148). Osgood and Chambers’ findings support Shaw and McKay’s finding that poverty directly produces social disorganization but rather structural factors combined with poverty weakened social relationships that could in turn produce social disorganization (Osgood & Chambers, 2000, p. 107). Osgood and Chambers found Shaw and McKay’s theory could use refinement with their test sample because they focused on the variation within communities in only one urban area (Osgood & Chambers, 2000, p. 89). Overall, these theorists help to improve and reiterate Shaw and McKay’s findings of their social disorganization theory model.

 

Sampson and Groves concluded that their three mediating variables showed unreasonably high rates of crime and delinquency (Sampson & Groves, 2011, p. 127). They also concluded that social disorganization theory is useful in understanding the macro-level variations in crime rates (Sampson & Groves, 2011, p. 127). Bursik and Grasmick found that low socioeconomic status does not impact delinquency rates (Bursik & Grasmick, 2011, p. 146). They claimed the best explanation for crime can be found with the combination of severe economic deprivation and residential instability (Cartwright, 2011b, p. 134). Osgood and Chambers found the findings of the earlier research of social disorganization done in urban areas to be applicable to rural communities as well (Osgood & Chambers, 2000, p. 106). From their findings, they were able to conclude that in rural areas residential instability, family disruption, and ethnic heterogeneity correlate with per capita rates of violent juvenile arrests (Osgood & Chambers, 2000, p. 99). All of these theorists used Shaw and McKay’s work as a basis and attempted to further evolve the research on social disorganization theory while trying to solve past limitations.

 

Social disorganization theory like any theory has its strengths and limitations. With this theory the strengths outweigh the limitations and provide a good explanation for crime because even 40 years after Shaw and McKay it was proven that the theory could still be applied (Cartwright, 2011a, p. 104). Some may say the social disorganization model has failed to consider relational networks that pertain to public control (Bursik & Grasmick, 2011, p. 149); however, this limitation can be reversed with future research.  Social disorganization theory is very effective at explaining crime in many cultures other than America which is important because the people occupying earth are very diverse (Sampson & Groves, 2011, p. 127). This theory also gave rise to other theories such as cultural transmission theory, cultural conflict theory and is the forerunner of social control theory (Cartwright, 2011c). This is important because it shows theorists believe it to be an important theory to base new theories off of, and it can be seen as an important theory since theorists have spent time enhancing it. Crime has to have an explanation and if social disorganization theory was not the answer then a new theory would have replaced it.

 

Social disorganization theory can be seen as a good explanation of crime through its evolution, composition factors, the recognition of supporting evidence with the need for refinement and the different findings among theories. Social disorganization describes a break down in the community’s ability to recognize and maintain social controls to keep the community in a state of collective efficacy which can be described as the opposite of social disorganization (Sampson & Groves, 2011, p.109). Social disorganization theory was formed through the Chicago school and later refined by theorists (Cartwright, 2011d, p. 75). Even though Shaw and McKay were not first to talk about social disorganization theory, are seen as the basis of social disorganization theory that other theorists critique both positively and negatively in order make social disorganization theory stronger (Cartwright, 2011c). Sampson and Groves, Bursik and Grasmick, and Osgood and Chamber’s findings through their research of social disorganization can also be seen as an improvement of social disorganization theory because new information is being formulated and old speculations are being confirmed. Social disorganization theory may have limitations like other theories but these limitations can be reversed with future research.

 

 

 

References Cited

Bursik, R. J. and Grasmick, H. G. (2011). Economic deprivation and neighborhood crime rates, 1960-1980. In B. Cartwright (Ed.), Sociological Explanations of Crime and Deviance (pp. 135-153). Boston: Pearson Learning Solutions.

 

Cartwright, B. (2011a). Community structure and crime: testing social-disorganization theory. In B. Cartwright (Ed.), Sociological Explanations of Crime and Deviance (pp. 104-106).             Boston: Pearson Learning Solutions.

 

Cartwright, B. (2011b). Economic Deprivation and Neighborhood Crime Rates. In B. Cartwright (Ed.), Sociological Explanations of Crime and Deviance (pp. 133-135). Boston: Pearson           Learning Solutions.

 

Cartwright, B. (2011c). Social Disorganization Part I- The Chicago School. Retrieved from online tutorial site: http://media,pearsoncmg.com

 

Cartwright, B. (2011d). Social Disorganization Theory. In B. Cartwright (Ed.), Sociological Explanations of Crime and Deviance (pp. 75-77). Boston: Pearson Learning Solutions.

 

Cartwright, B. (2011e). Social Disorganization Theory. In B. Cartwright (Ed.), Sociological      Explanations of Crime and Deviance (pp. 79-82). Boston: Pearson Learning Solutions.

 

Cartwright, B. (2011f). Social Disorganization Theory Part II- Theoretical Advances. Retrieved from online tutorial site: http://media,pearsoncmg.com

 

Cartwright, B. (2013g). “Social Disorganization Part II- The Empire Strikes Back.” Criminology 104 lecture, retrieved from Simon Fraser University on-line lecture site.

 

Cartwright, B. (2013h). “The Chicago School Social Disorganization Theory.” Criminology 104 lecture, retrieved from Simon Fraser University on-line lecture site.

 

Osgood, W. D. and Chambers, J. M. (2000). Social disorganization outside the metropolis: An analysis of rural youth violence. Criminology, 38(1), 81-115.

 

Sampson, R. and Groves, W. B. (2011). Community structure and crime: testing social-  disorganization theory. In B. Cartwright (Ed.), Sociological Explanations of Crime and Deviance (pp. 107-132). Boston: Pearson Learning Solutions.

 

Shaw, C. and McKay, H. (2011). Growth of Chicago and differentiation of local areas. In B. Cartwright (Ed.), Sociological Explanations of Crime and Deviance (pp. 82-103). Boston: Pearson Learning Solutions.

Please reload

Recent Posts

February 4, 2019

Please reload

Archive

Please reload

Tags

Please reload

City, University of London
Clerkenwell, London
EC1V 0HB, UK

©2017 City, University of London Student's Union Law Society 
Image copyrights Rajas R. Chitnis, unless otherwise stated.