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Social Disorganization Theory – Theoretical Perspectives on Deviance | Sociology

Social Disorganization Theory

Social Disorganization Theory was developed at the University of Chicago in the 1920s and 1930s to explain why crime is most likely to occur in communities with weak social ties and a lack of social control. Children who grow up in poor neighborhoods with high rates of alcohol and drug use, violence, teen delinquency, and deprived parenting are likely to become criminals than children who grow up in wealthy neighborhoods with good schools and active families.

According to the social disorganization theory, deviance is a function of broader social factors. People do not become criminals by birth, but they can become one over time due to factors in their social environment. A study of social disorganization can significantly influence public policy. Researchers have found that children from disadvantaged communities who attend preschool programs that teach basic social skills are significantly less likely to commit crimes.

Since its introduction in 1942, the theory of social disorganization has received considerable attention within criminology. In the U.S. large cities, many studies have duplicated the findings of the original Shaw & McKay study. Studies that examine social disorganization can assist governments and law enforcement agencies in making informed decisions about criminal activity prevention strategies that will improve the safety of disadvantaged communities.

Advantages of Social Disorganization Theory

Grounded in Empiricism

Sociology’s empirical turn can be attributed in part to the social disorganization theory. It is estimated that thousands of personal documents, interviews, and case histories went into the Polish Peasant in America, resulting in a five-volume magnum opus. In the case of Shaw & McKay (1969), and Park & Burgess (1925), elaborate theoretical models were developed based on extensive empirical data collected over a number of years, detailed city maps, and voluminous statistics.


The theory has now been around for almost a century during the second decade of the 21st century. The theory, however, continues to be relevant even after several modifications and adaptations since its first formulation, unlike many other premises in the social and natural sciences.


Delinquency could be accurately predicted by mathematical models derived from social disorganization theory within its limited scope. Burgess is noted as a pioneer of the social disorganization theory who developed the unit-weighted regression model to predict parole success rates of convicts. In addition, this model also found application in the fields of insurance and banking. In his model, Burgess gave convicts scores based on various indicators of their integration with their social environment, such as their employment, family, etc.

Provides Actionable Policy Insights 

The theory helps us understand what works and what doesn’t when it comes to fighting crime. By identifying the root causes of delinquency, the theory explains why prison and the penal justice system fail to reduce crime. The incarceration of individuals has been shown to be in inverse relation to crime in several studies, such as Pratt and Cullen According to the theory, public resources should be directed to certain neighborhoods to prevent crime (such neighborhoods can be visualized by maps), how government should be structured in urban areas (delegating more responsibility to neighborhood and community-level organizations), and which social values should be emphasized (family units are effective in preventing social disorganization).

Criticisms Of Social Disorganization Theory

Ecological Determinism and Spatial Discrimination

The social disorganization theory emphasized the concept of concentric zones, where certain areas, especially those close to the city center, were identified as the breeding grounds for crime. Outward movement from the center, meanwhile, seemed to be associated with a drop in crime rates. Such an approach made a claim, however, that could later be proven to be untenable – that certain spaces and neighborhoods within a city induce pathological behaviors by themselves. These hypotheses in turn started to stigmatize and marginalize already marginalized places further.

Neglects the positive role of migration

Migration theory in its earlier formulations, particularly in its earlier formulations, stressed anomie-inducing effects of migration that have been discredited. Sociologists are increasingly finding that immigration actually has a positive effect overall, with immigrants representing a source of innovation, increased wealth creation, and more liberal values in society. Many countries with strong economies, such as Canada, rely on immigration to continue to grow.

An Overreliance on Sociological Factors of Crime

There are social as well as psychological causes of crime, as we now understand. As a result of overemphasizing structural and social causes of crime in the social disorganization theory, it eventually lost ground to psychological explanations of crime, until a balance was found between the two in the late 20th century.

Inability to Explain White Collar Crime

In addition to other similar “location” theories based on urban ecology, which attribute crimes to areas within an urban center (such as those with more immigrants or lower economic status), the social disorganization theory fails to explain white collar crime as well as organized, multinational crime rackets that do not appear to be rooted in any neighborhood or limited to immigrants or economically disadvantaged segments of society.

Social Disorganization Theory Quizlet

Which of the following is a criticism of Social Disorganization Theory?

Which of the following is a criticism of Social Disorganization Theory?

A) Ecological Determinism and Spatial Discrimination
B) Positive Role of Migration is not ignored.
C) Ability to Explain White Collar Crime

The Correct Answer for the given question is Option A) Ecological Determinism and Spatial Discrimination

Which of the following best describes social disorganization theory principles?

Which of the following best describes social disorganization theory principles?

Ans: communities no longer have the capability of regulating the conduct of residents

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