What is Social Disorganization Theory?
According to the social disorganization theory, the weakening of the social bonds leads to ‘social disorganization,’ and social disorganization is the main cause of the crimes in society. The social bonds could be connections with the family, community, or religious connections. This theory associates the involvement in the criminal activities with the locality of the person, i.e., the location where the person lives influences the behaviour of the person, whether he/she will indulge in the criminal activities or not. This theory emphasises the significance of the residential address of the person even more than the characteristics of the person, i.e., age, race, and gender in determining the decisions to involve in the delinquency. For example, if the person who lives in a society that encourages alcoholism and violent behaviour, will tend to do the same, to gain the attention of the other people of his/her society even if he/she may know that it is not good behaviour. To sum up, the social disorganization theory mainly focuses on the social disorganization in society as the root cause of criminal activities.
Proponents of the Social Disorganization Theory
The social disorganization theory was first developed by the researchers of the University of Chicago in the 1920s. In the initial few decades of the 20th century, there was the boom of industrialization in Chicago due to which the number of immigrants increased rapidly in that area. During this period, Chicago witnessed a massive rise in the number of crimes, which encouraged theorists to research the reason behind the increases in criminology.
Following are the descriptions of the social disorganized theory by the different theorists,
1. Shaw & Mckay
Social disorganization, defined as a sudden influx of a large number of people in and out of a neighborhood, creates a pathological environment that contributes more to crime than the deviant behavior of abnormal individuals.”- (Shaw & Mckay, 1969)
Shaw and Mckay conducted a study to analyse the behaviour of the neighbourhood in Chicago, they found that a high number of crimes were observed in the neighbourhoods where the residents were dealing with low financial stability and the areas where the ethnic minorities were highly concentrated. They also published a book titled ‘Delinquency Areas’ in the year 1942, wherein they mentioned that the neighbourhood of Chicago was classified as per the ethnic lines. They described various characteristics of the neighbourhood that leads to the involvement of the people in criminal activities. For example, Shaw and Mckey showed that the areas where a large number of criminal acts were recorded were found to have various factors such as a crowded neighbour, lack of facilities, residents facing financial instability, the concentration of ethnic minorities. Shaw and Mckey formulated a map that consisted of the geographical distribution of criminal activities and the neighbourhood in Chicago to verify their assumption on the cause of delinquency. They finally concluded that the rate of crime and delinquency is higher in the community’s that were socially disorganized, and this study contributed to the social disorganised theory.
2. Bruskin & Grasmick
neighborhood life is shaped by a network of formal and informal community associations that form the essence of social organization. A disruption in these community associations results in social disorganization.”- (Bruskin & Grasmick, 1993)
Bursik and Grasmick proposed in their study that if there exist a large number of criminal groups or anti-social elements in an area, it leads to high delinquency in that area. They also proposed that the lack of fun and recreational activities in an area result in a rise in criminal activities. Due to the lack of recreational options, people face difficulty in finding a way where they can get involved with society and spent their extra time, and as a result, they choose to form gangs to spend their free time and socialize with others, and eventually becomes more prone to delinquency because the members of the and are more likely to involve in the violent and the criminal activities. Their study also showed that criminal activities can get lower if the job opportunities are increased in that areas because the people may prefer the jobs rather than getting involved in delinquency.
3. Robert E. Lee Faris
social organization theory is the weakening or destruction of the relationships which hold together a social organization.”- (Robert E. Lee Faris, 1955)
Robert E. Faris, proposed in his study that the rise in the crime rates in an area is due to the low number of employment opportunities for the people in that area. He also showed in his study that when the employment opportunities were increased in that area it resulted in a slight reduction in the criminal activities in that area. His theory is supported by the strong empirical data that how unemployment is responsible for high criminal activities. He argued that unemployed people suffer from negative feelings, which results in a bad attitude and they tend to get indulge in illegal activities.
4. Edwin Sutherland
Edwin Sutherland published a book titled “The Professional Theif” in the year 1937. It was based on the life cycle of a professional thief. He proposed that there exist eight steps that professional thieves take. These steps are briefly discussed below,
First Step-‘Choosing the career’: In this step a person chooses to follow theft in their life.
Second Step-‘Freinds’: In this step the person acquires several friends who also belongs to the same league, i.e., thieves.
Third step-‘Set-up-to-bigger-jobs’: At this step the person decides to level up, i.e., he/she decides to do bigger crimes than just small robberies or crimes.
Fourth step-‘Hustle for capital’: The person decides to commit crimes and does stealing to make money at this step.
Fifth step-‘Socially significant contact’: The person starts getting involved and making contacts with the people who are high-level professional thieves and well known in the criminal underworld.
Sixth step-‘Get-out-of-trouble-free-card’: At this step, the person learns how to save himself/herself from being caught by law enforcement.
Seventh step-‘Inside-helper’: The person makes an accomplice at this step.
Eighth-step-‘Success or Failure’: At this step, the person decides either to leave the path of criminal activities or to continue to follow that.
the types of criminals who roam our streets are those committed to a career of crime”- (Mutton, 2015)
5. Ruth Cavan
In the study conducted by Ruth Cavan, he concluded that the area where the people are not well educated, and if there is a high unemployment rate, then it results in extreme poverty in that area. He also showed in his study that the courts or the law enforcement impose high penalties on the offenders belonging to the minority groups, which eventually leads to a high number of incarcerations. Cavan argues that extreme poverty and a large number of needy and homeless people lead to overpopulation. To sum up, According to Ruth Cavan, the residential instability, disruption in the family, and poverty are responsible for the high number of criminal activities in an area.
6. Robert J. Sampson
According to Robert J. Sampson, the increase in the number of people in an area can result in an increase in the criminal activities in that area. They also argued that most of the criminals belong to the gangs, particularly teenage gangs or street gangs, which become professional criminals when the social controls are weak, and they are not guided at their early stages of becoming a criminal. Sampson stated that if the children do not get proper supervision from the parents and do not socialize with others, they become more prone to join criminal gangs, while the children from stable and organized families are less likely to indulge in delinquency because of the constant guidance from the family members. Sampson along with another theorist Willian Julius Wilson proposed that the racial inequalities in a community also lead to the weakening of social control and hence a rise in criminal activities.
According to Sampson,
the empirical data suggest that the structural elements of social disorganization have relevance for explaining macro level variations in violence”
7. Nancy A Gertner and David M. Levine
According to Gertner and David M. Levine, the crime rates and delinquency is lesser in an area that consists of ample job opportunities. They proposed that if the authorities increase the employment opportunities, the lesser people will be unemployed and they won’t think of being involved in criminal activities. They also mentioned that if there exist a large number of non-voters in an area it can also contribute to the criminal activities because due to the awareness of the people towards the voting, these often result in the ineffective government that fails in ensuring the conformity in the society.
8. George Rengert, Jr. and David J. Stoddard
According to George Rengert and David J. Stoddard, the high number of high-school dropouts in an area can result in crime and delinquency in that area. They also argued that the lack of resources such as a proper education system and skill development programmes in a community results in the increase in the number of uneducated or unskilled people in an area, which makes them difficult to find a secured job. Hence, unemployment and poverty increase the chances of crime and delinquency.
9. Derek Bok and Clarence Stone
According to Derek Bok and Clarence Stone, the gangs in the community leads to the rise in criminal activities. Their conclusion is based on the assumption that some neighbourhoods are more prone to gang culture than others. The number of gangs in any community can result in rivalry with each other, which eventually creates a negative and violent environment and high delinquency in that area.
10. Park and Burgees
According to the Park and Burgees, the informal group of institutions that manages the social control in a community gets weakens when the size of the community and the geographical coverage increases. They found in their study that the number of people involved in delinquency rises when the community size grew up, even when the deviant individuals stay in the same location. They argued that the reason behind the increase in delinquency due to the rise in the community is that the increase in the number of people in any particular area can result in the weakening of social control. Hence, criminal activities are more likely to happen in the lesser social control in any area. When the number of people is high in a society, the direct contact between the neighbours gets lowered, and people pay lesser attention to each other’s tasks, and eventually social control weakness due to the absence of the people that ensure conformity in the community.
Characteristics of the Social Disorganization
- The social disorganization theory associates human behaviour with the surroundings, i.e., people’s decisions are consciously or unconsciously dependent upon the area where he/she lives.
- This theory also proposed the concept of ‘city as an environment.’ This is related to Darwin’s theory of evolution, for example, according to the postulates stated by Darwin some kinds of plants or species survive in specific environmental conditions, similarly, certain types of behavioural traits such as delinquency or criminology also survive in some type of environment.
- Social disorganization theory emphasises that the attitude or the behaviour of the person is not innate, instead, it develops through acculturation or assimilating of various rules and regulations.
- Social disorganised theory utilizes the concepts of sociology to explain the rise in criminology especially juvenile crimes. It is based on the assumption that some areas (neighbourhoods) have higher crime rates than others. The following factors are primary factors that are responsible for the social disorganization in society.
Economical Deprivation: According to the social disorganization theory, deviant behaviour is more likely to be observed in economically deprived societies, apartments where residents frequently move in and out, and families with single parents or abusive parents. All these factors are responsible for the weakening of social control and make it easier for the juvenile and adults to get involved in delinquency as they do not develop any type of emotional or psychological attachment with the other residents of the community. People residing in communities with high crime rates often lacks the ability to behave effectively with others. They are usually struggling with family responsibilities or other financial problems which makes them pay less attention to the need for appropriate and socially acceptable behaviour. The parents living in these communities are very less likely to encourage their children for doing good in their studies and aim for a better future. Hence, the lesser cares towards the neighbours or the community make it easier for them to indulge in criminal activities.
Mores and Institution Conflict: Every community or society has a certain set of rules (mores) which people follows to regulate the society in an organized manner. But, these mores and institutions may not be applicable after a certain period of time because the next generation of people may have different ideas or beliefs of social regulation. The youth may argue to change the age-old norms as they may seem obsolete, and the new mores and the existing mores of the society may come into conflict. This brings destruction to the social organization. For example, people, specifically the ones residing in the Asian countries have different opinions about the caste system; some strongly argue against castism while some favours castism. People have different opinions on various topics such as family planning, religious views, women empowerment, and so on. Hence this conflict in the mores and institutions results in social disorganization.
Social Disorganization Theory Examples
1. Delinquency among the People Living in the Public Housing Project
The studies conducted by the theorists Wikstrom & Loeber (2000) and Bursik & Grasmick (1993) showed that the juvenile crime rate and other criminal activities are most likely in the public house projects. This is due to the weak connection among the people living in these public projects. In these public projects, the chances that the neighbours know each other are very low, and it usually consists of nuclear families or single-parent families. Hence, the juveniles living in these buildings are likely to indulge in criminal activities due to their weak social bonds and less social control.
2. Self-Regulations in Rural Communities
Traditional or rural communities work on the principles of informal norms. These informal norms are not forced, in fact, it is usually unconsciously followed by the people in the traditional societies; ‘respect your elders,’ ‘stealing is bad,’ are some of the prominent examples of these informal norms. These norms help the people living in traditional societies to stay away from being involved in deviant behaviour. But, the rise in industrialisation and immigrations results in disorganization in society and people becomes more likely to follow delinquent behaviour.
According to Marett, 1992
in a savage community, it is often hard to distinguish any sovereign determinate person vested with the power either of making or maintaining the laws. Nevertheless, the result is often so law-abiding in the sense of being responsive to social order, that it might seem superfluous to provide a legal machinery that must actually but rust in disuse.”
3. Difficulty in Regulating Community due to Diversity
The study conducted by a researcher Elliot et al (1996) shows that the crimes rates in the neighbourhood that consist of a diversity of immigrants are higher than the communities with a similar culture or ethnicity. This happens because people belonging to different countries speak different languages and follows different culture, hence the regulation of the society is difficult.
4. Crimes against Immigrants
The social disorganised theory is not only applicable to understand the crime that happens due to the rise of immigrants in a society but it can also be used to explain the crime that happens against the immigrants by the local or the dominant groups of the society. Some dominant groups often restrict the immigrant from participating in the local group gatherings or other activities. Due to the dominance of the local people and their alienated behaviour, the immigrants may start feeling isolated from society. They may find it difficult to adjust to the new culture and tend to drift towards delinquency. This increases the crime against immigrants in society.
Limitations of Social Organized Theory
The social disorganization theory fails in differentiating between, what is the cause of the crime and what are the causes that result in the symptoms of the crime. For example, one of the proponents of the social organization theory, Park and Burgees proposed low social control as the cause of delinquency, while some other theorists also argued that delinquency leads to low social control. Hence this theory lacks in explaining and predicting the crime (Mutton, 2015). Here are some of the other limitations of this theory,
1. Dependency on Sociological Factor
The social disorganised theory considers only the social factor. It does not talk about the psychological causes that could result in the delinquent behaviour of the person. There is a number of psychological theories of crime that talks about the role of the psychological factor that impacts the behaviour of the people. Hence, the overemphasis on the social causes that leads to delinquency is the limitation of the social disorganised theory.
2. Migration is Not Necessarily Bad
The social disorganised theory, especially the earlier version of this theory emphasise the negative impacts of immigration in society. This theory highlights that the rise in immigration is responsible for the social disorganisation that eventually leads to delinquency. However, this theory does not talk about the positive impacts of immigration in society. For example, there is a number of countries such as Canada, which promotes immigration as it is good for their economy. This means that immigration is not always responsible for the disorganization in the society there are some positive aspects also.
3. White Collar Crimes
According to this theory, the one’s living in a disorganised society (which has low economic status or a high number of immigrations) are highly likely to indulge in delinquent behaviour. But, this theory does not explain the reason behind the white collars crimes. Even though they live in a well-organised society, they still are involved in several criminal activities. These white-collar criminal activities can not be explained from the perspective of social disorganised theory because the cause of the white-collar crimes does not lie in the neighbourhood or the immigrations or economy of the society. The social disorganization theory is mainly applicable in understanding the deviant behaviour of blue-collar workers and those who migrate from other cities or countries.
4. Spatial Discrimination
The concentric zones model is one of the key concepts of the social disorganised theory. This model divides the city into several concentric zones, where certain areas that lie close to the city centre are more prone to criminal activities and delinquency, while the areas farther from the city centre are lesser prone to delinquency. However, this model was found to be unjustified because some areas or the cities reported high criminal rates even they are not near the city centre.