SocialDisorganization TheoryNameInstitutional Affiliation Crime in our societies is a widespread socialphenomenon dating back centuries ago and ranges from low-level delinquencies tohigh-level offences. Chances are highthat one would be involved in crime during their lifetime, either as a victim,or as an assailant. Nevertheless, what really motivates individuals to commitcrime? Studies have shown that in different political, economic, and culturalbackgrounds, crime occurs in diverse patterns making it a serious socialproblem. Hence, criminology and sociology experts have examined numerousaspects of crime in an attempt to elucidate why individuals commit crime, and cogentlyexplain its social context. The social disorganization theory developed byClifford Shaw and Henry D.
McKay is one theory that endeavors to explain thephenomenon of crime. This essay aims to analyze, assess, and clarify whetherthe social disorganization theory accurately dissects the social problem ofdelinquency.Clifford Shaw and Henry D. McKay,two criminology researchers from the Chicago School of Criminology developed thesocial disorganization theory in 1942. The theory contends that an individual’ssocial and physical environments are the principle influences to the behavioralchoices that they make. In their research, Shaw and McKay measured and assessedcrime, truancy, juvenile delinquency, and mental disorder as part of theproblems in Chicago communities. The research employed three sets of variablesincluding; economic status, physical status, and population status indetermining delinquency rates.
In terms of economic status, Shaw and McKay(1942) found that, the level of delinquency was higher in low economic statusarea where most families depended on social assistance compared to areas with ahigher economic status. Economic statusinfluenced delinquency because residents in affluent areas did not tolerate abnormalbehavior, while their counterparts in poor residents not only condoneddelinquent act but also provided conducive environment, and tacit support dueto disparity in social norms (Shaw & McKay, 1942).The rate of delinquency wasidentified to be high in areas that were physically deteriorated withdilapidated buildings, broken windows, mismanaged littering, and walls withgraffiti. Most of the residents in these areas were on a temporary basis, andwhen the population shifted, delinquency corresponded respectively (Shaw , 1942). The study also took into account the relationship between therate of delinquency and the population composition of a community. It concludedthat communities with high populations of non-native or foreign-bornindividuals had the highest rates of delinquency (Shaw & McKay, 1969). However,it cautioned against equating crime to ethnicity. This is because thedelinquency rates remained constant even in the event of population shift andoccupation by other groups in the same area.
Thus, they concluded that thecontributing factor to delinquency was the area of study and not the nativityof its occupants. According to their studyfindings, Shaw and McKay (1942) then arrived to the conclusion that theenvironmental conditions existing in an area were responsible for the collapseof the social order by providing suitable circumstances for delinquency. They also noted that delinquency wasprestigious and competitive in high-delinquency areas because, for participants,there were more advantages and fewer consequences in the act (Shaw & McKay,1969). With the underlying idea of an individual’s environment rather thantheir character influencing criminal behavior, the social disorganization modelwas developed and replicated in other cities. The achievement of Shaw andMacKay’s social disorganization theory inspired a generation of other moremodern research in criminal behavior.
They hence proved their credibility and cementedtheir legacy as the part of the pioneers of modern criminology theories. However, Shaw and McKay’s socialdisorganization theory has faced it share of criticism. Cohen (1955) arguesthat the social disorganization theory was presented from a singularperspective, and did not consider any societal constraints when observing casesof delinquency or crime. It neglected to illustrate the pressure that motivatedan individual to exhibit abnormal behavior.
Merton (1957) echoes similarconcerns and posits that for the theory to be plausible, the researchers shouldalso have focused on individuals who were not motivated to commit crimes ratherthan only those that engaged in delinquent acts. Again, it is pointed out that evenwithin seemingly disorganized societies, there exist certain levels ofcoordination among the members (Cohen, 1955). For instance, in suchdisorganized communities, you encounter groups of like-minded individuals andnot just a diverse population lumped together as one target group. Cohen(1955), believes that flawed organization does not necessarily equate todisorganization. Sutherland (1960), responds byclaiming that pressure is inconsistent among different social set ups andrelentlessly subjecting individuals to it, would ultimately make it organized. Suttles(1968) further counter-argues that within most societies, coordination occursbut only to some extent but not as a whole. Thus, the level of coordination andorganization is dependent upon the interest of the individual.
To respond to the criticism that socialdisorganization neglects the motivation behind delinquent acts, Merton (1957) suggeststhe inclusion of cultural values. Some of the urban areas where the socialdisorganized theory had been studied; the society expected members to befinancially successful although no resources were provided to assist them. Dueto the pressure exerted upon them, they sought other alternatives in order to realizetheir financial goals, which happened to involve delinquency. However, it is vitalto note that in the turn of the 1960s, the social disorganization theory declinedin studying delinquency and crime in the society due to the resulting problemsof subjectivity associated with it.From the above assessment, the influenceof the social disorganization theory is still intact. It continues to beemployed by criminologists to identify the impacts of environmental factors oncrime rates. Even as researchers advance the theory to fit the context of thecontemporary society, the original configurations developed by Shaw and McKay,are still being used.
Most of futureresearch on delinquency and criminal behavior is likely to borrow tenets of theoriginal social disorganization theory. Therefore, its legacy and essencecannot be understated.