Good Example Of Essay On Social Disorganization Theory

Type of paper: Essay

Topic: Theory, Sociology, Social Issues, Community, Crime, City, Status, Education

Pages: 5

Words: 1375

Published: 2020/12/01


The theory of social disorganization is one of the oldest and yet influential theories that attempts to explain criminality. Unlike most criminality theories that relate the commission of crime to the personality and behavior of the offender, the social disorganization theory recognizes the role of society and its influence in its analysis. The theory of social disorganization encompasses a wide variety of related theories. As observed by Miller, “A description of the history and current state of social disorganization theory is not a simple undertaking, not because of a lack of information but because of an abundance of it”. The major idea behind this theory though is that it relates socioeconomic factors to the commission of crime. Accordingly, this theory recognizes the fact that there are differences in rate of the commission of crimes relative to an area or place. As observed by Kubrin, Social Disorganization Theory is one of the few social theories regarding crime that explains why there are certain areas or neighborhoods that can be considered as more dangerous, crime ridden or with high potential for crime commission. When used as a basis for analysis, the theory of social disorganization can be used as a tool to determine problematic areas for purposes of intervention and crime prevention initiatives.

Historical Perspective

The emergence of lawless elements and the rise of criminality in the 19th century have triggered scholarly interests as to what influences the commission of crime. During this time, the city of Chicago, just like any other newly industrialized cities in the United States, is experiencing an influx of immigrants from the rural and sub-urban areas as well as immigrants from abroad. As a result of mass migrations, neighborhoods near industrialized zones became densely populated where various forms of criminality and deviant behaviors were observed. Among the most significant observations during this time is the emergence of gangs. Gangs were quite rampant as individuals of similar ethnic background who have migrated in the cities group themselves and perform deviant behaviors. The theory of social disorganization was developed in the 1920’s out of a social study conducted by researchers at the University of Chicago (formerly ‘The School of Chicago) in relation to the rising criminality and gang activity in the city. These social scientists theorized that the crime patterns that they observed in certain neighborhoods in Chicago are strongly influenced by urbanization, industrialization and immigration. Among the pioneering social scientists that have developed this theory was Frederic Thrasher who theorized that adolescent boys become inclined to become members of gangs because of the breakdown of social institutions such as the school, the church and the family. Thrasher believes that if these institutions fail to hold the interest of an individual or neglects him, he would be forced to participate in deviant groups thereby increasing his tendency to commit a crime. During this time, Park and Bugress were also developing a theory that relates the growth of the city to ecology wherein there is extensive competition for resources. Accordingly, the drastic changes that occurred to certain neighborhoods in Chicago as a result of mass migration and industrialization resulted to social disorganization as residents were forced to move away from the expanding central business districts.

Further Development of the Theory

The work of Park and Bugress focused on patterns of population clustering as people move away from central business districts to establish their own communities. As observed, “Certain characteristics of the population tended to cluster in rings set at about 1-mile increments from the center of Chicago and that the patterns changed dramatically from one ring to the next”. As people tend to group themselves, it became easily observable that some communities are more delinquent than the others. In 1940’s, with the direction of Park and Bugress, a study was conducted by Shaw and McKay incorporating the element of criminality to the idea of human ecology that was previously developed by Park and Bugress. In their essay, ‘Juvenile Delinquency and Urban Areas,’ Shaw and McKay laid out the framework of the Social Disorganization Theory as what it is known today (Sampson, & Groves, 1989). In developing their theory of Social Disorganization, Shaw and McKay focused on three variables or factors that categorizes each population cluster: 1) the economic status; 2) the population status; 3) and the physical status of the community (Sampson, & Groves, 1989). Under the economic status, Shaw and McKay examined the pattern of crime rate based on income and economic status of the general population of a certain cluster. Accordingly, as the number of impoverished families increase, so is the levels of delinquency increases in direct proportion to level of economic status. This implies that poorer communities have a higher risk of criminal activities. Under ethnic heterogeniety, Shaw and McKay observed that delinquency is increased as population is increase because of the process of invasion, dominance, and succession, which usually happens when a certain ethnic groups struggle for dominance in an area. Accordingly, the level of criminality stabilizes once an ethnic group has already become a majority. Lastly, Shaw and McKay believe that residential mobility or the high level of moving in and out of people from a neighborhood is also one major factor for delinquency (Sampson, & Groves, 1989). Apparently, people who can afford to move to better communities do so leaving the area in question populated by undesirable elements to worsen in time.

Resiliency of Social Disorganization Theory

Several developments to the theory of Social Disorganization have been rendered by other social scientists and researchers although the main concept of Shaw and McKay remain. Since 1940s up to the 1960s, the theory of Social Disorganization dominated social behavior and criminology. However, during the 1970’s, the rise of personality traits and individual behavior theories led to the decline of Social Disorganization theory. Several studies that aimed to test the theory, for example, revealed mixed results; leading some researchers to conclude that the theory of Social Disorganization is not valid in certain situations. However, it should be noted thought that while some theories that criticize the validity of the Social Disorganization theory, these attacks are mainly technical and does not deviate much to idea that was pionered by Shaw and McKay. Among the modern contribution to the Social Disorganization theory have been provided by Sampson and Groves by proposing the ‘social control’ aspect of the theory. Social control is an important addition to the social disorganization theory that compliments how society can be evaluated based on the ability of its institutions to provide the social needs of its juveniles. It should be noted though that social control is not a new concept. In fact, this concept has been suggested by Tharsher by noticing that the breakdown of social institutions, especially the family, is crucial in determining the risk of delinquent behavior.

Testing of the Theory

In line with criticism on the theory of Social Disorganizations, the theory have been tested and proven to be effective in determining patterns of delinquency. In a replication study conducted by Samson and Groves in Britain, they concluded that the theory of Social Disorganization does not only apply in the United States but can also be applied in any areas in question. The theory was also tested by Roh and Choo, whose study focused on sub-urban areas and concluded that social disorganization theory does not only apply to an urban setting but can also be applied to analyzing crime patterns in sub-urban communities. Among the major findings regarding these tests is that economic status or poverty is a decisive indicator of increased delinquency in an area. Also, it was noticed that social disturbance is more prevalent in poverty stricken areas as compared to areas with greater income mobility. As observed by Roh and Choo, the increase of criminality in poor communities is consistent with the theory of Social Disorganization since family disturbance is more prevalent in poor communities as compared to middle and upper class communities.


In addition to modern theories of criminology and deviant behaviors, the Social Disorganization Theory will remain as one of the most influential theories that is being developed and recognized until today. Among its salient features is the recognition that society has a huge impact in shaping the criminal orientation of its members. For the same reason, the theory of Social Disorganization is not only used to analyze certain criminal activity but can also be used as a tool to determine potential areas of criminal activity. When used appropriately, this theory can provide and indispensable advantage to policy makers and law enforcement agencies in their prevention and intervention campaign against criminality.


Gale Encyclopedia of U.S. Economic History. (1999). Civil War and Industrial Expansion, 1860–1897 (Overview). Retrieved July 2014, from
Howell, J. (1998, August). Youth Gangs: An Overview. Retrieved January 2015, from
Kubrin, C. (2009). Social Disorganization Theory: Then, Now, and in the Future. Retrieved February 2015, from,%20Now%20and%20in%20the%20Future.pdf?uniq=fn2w4g
Miller, J. (2009). 21st Century Criminology: A Reference Handbook, Social Disorganization Theory. Retrieved February 2015, from
Roh, S., & Choo, T. (2008). Looking Inside Zone V: Testing Social Disorganization Theory in Suburban Areas. Retrieved February 2015, from
Sampson, R., & Groves, B. (1989). Community Structure and Crime: Testing Social-Disorganization Theory. Retrieved February 2015, from
Wood, J., & Alleyne, E. (2010). Street gang theory and research: Where are we now and where do we go from here? Retrieved January 2015, from

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