Sociology Index

Social Disorganization Theory

SOCIAL DISORGANIZATION THEORY is the theory that crime and other deviant behavior is most likely to occur where social institutions are not able to direct and control group of individuals. In Social Disorganization Theory it is argued that gangs will arise spontaneously in social contexts that are weakly controlled. Some criminologists think that the concept of social disorganization in social disorganization theory just reflects middle-class failure to comprehend organization different from their own. 

The social disorganization theory is a theory developed by the Chicago School, related to ecological theories. The theory directly links crime rates to neighborhood ecological characteristics; a core principle of social disorganization theory states that location matters. In other words, a person's residential location is a substantial factor shaping the likelihood that that person will become involved in illegal activities.

After the replications that followed Shaw and McKay’s (1942) research, social disorganization as a theory began to decline. This was primarily a result of attacks on the use of official data in crime studies and growing criticism of theoretical problems with the theory. A few studies, however, continued to follow the principles of social disorganization. In a partial replication of Quinney’s (1964) study, and to address the criticism of using official data in social disorganization research, Johnstone (1978) used self-reported data to test social disorganization theory.

Sampson and Groves (1989) tested social disorganization theory using data from a survey of 10,905 residents in 238 localities in Great Britain. Their rationale was that previous research had relied on census data that were not valid measures of community structure or crime. Sampson and Groves concluded that social disorganization theory was supported, stating that “between-community variations in social disorganization transmit much of the effect of community structural characteristics on rates of both criminal victimization and criminal offending.” They argued for expanded support for social disorganization theory in that “Shaw and McKay’s model explains crime and delinquency rates in a culture other than the United States” (p. 776). An ironic major drawback of social disorganization research has been the relative lack of theory to guide or explain the research (Bursik, 1988). 

Further Testing of Social Disorganization Theory: An Elaboration of Sampson and Groves's "Community Structure and Crime" BONITA M. VEYSEY, STEVEN F. MESSNER. 
In one of the more important studies in the criminological literature over the past decade, Sampson and Groves analyze data from 238 British neighborhoods to test the mediating effect of indicators of social disorganization variables on the relationship between structural community characteristics and crime. The results of their analysis reveal that (1) Sampson and Groves's argument regarding the mediating effect of social disorganization variables is only partially supported, (2) social disorganization is not one construct but rather represents several mechanisms by which communities maintain stability, and (3) the resulting model may be interpreted as supportive of several theories of crime, including peer affiliation theories, as well as social disorganization theory.

New Directions in Social Disorganization Theory - Charis E. Kubrin, George Washington University, Ronald Weitzer, George Washington University 
Social disorganization theory focuses on the relationship between neighborhood structure, social control, and crime. Recent theoretical and work with empirical evidence on the relationship between community characteristics and crime has led to important refinements of social disorganization theory, yet there remain some substantive deficiencies and deficiencies in methodology in this body of work. This article addresses these problems and charts some promising new directions in social disorganization theory.

A Multilevel Assessment of Social Disorganization Theory in Taipei, Taiwan 
SHU-LUNG YANG, National Chung-Cheng University 
JOHN P. HOFFMANN, University of Chicago 
Recent interest in community-level studies of crime has generated substantial evidence that Shaw and McKay's social disorganization model continues to be a notable explanation of crime and delinquency. However, the plausibility of social disorganization theory in a Chinese cultural setting has not been well investigated. This article develops a multilevel social disorganization theory model and tests it using data from a representative sample of 1,704 in-school adolescents from Taipei, Taiwan. The results offer general support for the social disorganization theory model: Higher community income and lower population density in the community are related to lower delinquency, while family disorganization and associations with deviant peers are related to greater involvement in delinquency. These results show the promise of social disorganization as an explanation of delinquency.

American Indian Homicide - A County-Level Analysis Utilizing Social Disorganization Theory - Christina Lanier - University of Delaware, Newark 
Lin Huff-Corzine, University of Central Florida, Orlando 
Research on lethal violence has generally been directed at White and African American populations, with few studies addressing this issue among American Indians. Interestingly, national data indicate that American Indians have one of the highest homicide rates among racial groups. In an effort to identify the etiological underpinnings of this violence, the current study examines whether variation in county-level American Indian homicide rates can be explained by social disorganization theory.

Emphasizing Fear of Crime in Models of Neighborhood Social Disorganization
Rachael A Woldoff
Abstract: This paper discusses the literatures on social disorganization theory and fear of crime, arguing for a model of social disorganization that explicitly incorporates fear of crime rather than ignoring it, assuming it, or using proxies for it. After providing an overview of the links between the social disorganization and fear of crime literatures, this paper elaborates on Robert Bursik's (1988) framework to show how a dynamic model of social disorganization may incorporate fear of crime. Specifically, this paper more closely examines the idea that fear of crime is the point of departure for a reciprocal effect feedback loop in social disorganization theory. This paper also claims that a dynamic model of social disorganization can include the concept of fear of crime as a mediator between community-level structures and the intervening social control variables that causally precede crime.

Community Social Organization as a Predictor of Mortality: Analyzing Chicago Neighborhoods - Seth L Feinberg, Department of Sociology, Western Washington University, Bellingham, WA, USA
Abstract: This research explores the relationship between community social organization and neighborhood rates of mortality. Community social organization is a latent term that captures a variety of social interactions between residents that bring individuals together, providing an opportunity for a collective response to perceived neighborhood problems. Drawing from social disorganization theory, I suggest that more efficacious communities should have lower rates of mortality, particularly for youth.

The Span of Collective Efficacy: Extending Social Disorganization Theory to Partner Violence - Christopher R. Browning
ABSTRACT: This research applies the social disorganization perspective on the neighborhood-level determinants of crime to partner violence. The findings of this study indicate that collective efficacy, neighborhood cohesion and informal social control capacity, is negatively associated with both intimate homicide rates and nonlethal partner violence.

Replicating Sampson and Groves's Test of Social Disorganization Theory: Revisiting a Criminological Classic - Christopher T. Lowenkamp ; Francis T. Cullen; Travis C. Pratt.
Article explores the test of social disorganization theory with data from 1994 British Crime Survey.
Abstract: Social disorganization theory includes three measures of community-level variables thought to cause social disorganization. A convincing test of social disorganization theory was conducted using data from the 1982 British Crime Survey. No single study did more to advance the image of social disorganization theory. The question arises whether this research offers unshakable support for social disorganization theory or merely produced an idiosyncratic finding that was unique to a certain time and place. The British Crime Survey was revisited a decade later to investigate whether the findings reported in the original analysis would remain stable as social disorganization theory would predict. The analysis reveals a relatively high level of empirical evidence support for the social disorganization theory perspective. This analysis provides both empirical support for the social disorganization theory perspective and support for the conclusion that the previous study results were not idiosyncratic to the 1982 data.