According to some authors (for example Shaw & McKay) it’s very difficult to give an accurate explanation to the term social disorganization. It’s generally agreed that social disorganization may be regarded as deficiency of effective management of existing social institutions which leads to the cases of disorder in society. In many respects the main principles of social disorganization theory is the study and analysis of certain social organizations and communities which can have much in common in different locations so they give the characteristics to the number of social disorganization processes which occur in today’s society.
Social disorganization theory has a lot of common points with the ecological theory as it also views the relations and interaction of an organism with its environment. The most exhaustive study of social disorganization was made by the Chicago Sociology School in 1920’s and in 1930’s. The principles of this theory had a number of applications in further studies which refer to the criminology and criminal justice. Recently, social disorganization theory was enriched by a number of new researches and today the term “social disorganization refers more to the environment or place people live in rather then to people themselves”(from Social disorganization theories of crime). R. Sampson enriched social disorganization theory with the following concepts of “collective efficacy” and “social capital”, which introduce more forms which contribute to disorganization growth: “collective efficacy” describes the ability of community to create order in public places and “social capital” describes informal forms of interaction and interdependence within different social groups and communities which at the certain level substitute formal subordination. Social disorganization theory was also contributed by the cultural transmission theory ideas developed by Shaw and McKay. This theory states that a special role in the creation and promotion of social disorganization is played by traditions which exist in certain communities and neighborhoods and which may result the general order: “traditions of delinquency are transmitted through successive generations of the same zone in the same way language, roles, and attitudes are transmitted.” and that’s why social disorganization is defined as “the inability of local communities to realize the common values of their residents or solve commonly experienced problems.” (From Shaw, McKay Juvenile Delinquency and Urban Areas) Many criminology experts state that criminal traditions of certain ethnic or social communities may co-exist and be inherited by younger generations on the hand with traditional conventional values and norms “lower-class neighborhoods simply tend to have different values and needs, and are simply organized differently in ways that best serve their interests.” Sutherland (1947) defines that: “The three traditional sources of social disorganization in social disorganization theory are: residential instability; racial/ethnic heterogeneity; and poverty. These were also the three ways in which “criminal traditions” got embedded into communities”. Nevertheless today a number of scientists (for example Shaw and McKay) do not fully agree with Sutherland. Sutherland’s statement about sources of social disorganization may looks correct but some authors note that poverty itself doesn’t lead to social disorganization and more over to crime. Residential instability promotes social disorder as usually government does not invest in the security and infrastructure of communities with high population turnover and migration. Racial or ethnic heterogeneity also promotes social disorder as it leads not to interaction but to isolation and alienation of different racial or ethnic groups due to existing prejudices and survivals of stereotyping. The subject of poverty role in crime growth is controversial. Show and McKay say that it’s not poverty that causes the crime but it’s moral and social aspects which can dominate over people’s consciousness for a number of reasons: disease, deterioration and demoralization. That’s why they conclude that: “Poverty, by itself, is never a cause of crime; it only facilitates crime by deprivation of adequate resources to deal with crime.”(From Shaw, McKay Delinquency Areas) These authors concluded ideas of Sutherland that residential instability and social mobility together with racial and ethnic heterogeneity may contribute to social disorganization and can create conditions which may cause crime growth and that such feature are very common for poor areas. That’s why sociologists in majority agree that only residential mobility of poor people in search of work and racial heterogeneity play one of the key roles in the theory of social disorganization. From this point the views of supporters of social disorganization theory on punishment of criminals from poor neighborhoods looks very humanistic.
In many respects their observations, researches and arguments are very accurate and logical as they don’t support incarceration of all criminals from poor neighborhoods, as this type of punishment would not prevent from the crime growth in poor areas but instead would stimulate it in some respects as released criminals would return back to poor neighborhoods and are very likely to get back into prison. That’s why social disorganization supports the idea of alternative rehabilitation of criminals through special community service projects which are directed on promoting safety in poor communities:“Social disorganization would justify youth athletic leagues, recreation programs, summer camps (things tried with the Chicago Area Project and the later Mobilization for Youth), along with urban planning and alternatives to incarceration as crime control policy. By contrast, differential organization (and subcultural theories where people are seen as simply differently organized) might lead to interventionist policies which are seen as ethnocentric and actually increase crime in some neighborhoods. Backlash or boomerang effects have been known to occur when applying social disorganization theory in practice or in applied criminology.”(From Social disorganization theories of crime) Show wanted to introduce his theories into practice and to try top reduce the problem of crime in poor neighborhoods but so called civilian initiative. His social project go the name Chicago Area project and it was directed on the creation of alternative to crime and deviance in poor communities of Chicago by creating local community groups which acted as a crime patrol, neighborhood watch groups or formed community councils. This was the idea to rebuild community from the bottom, which contradicted to existing practices when the order was set by local governments and police forces. Show thought that his project would increase the consciousness of people in local communities and would create more respect to government authorities as their own attitudes would change. Show wanted to create opportunities for recreation by building sport grounds, baseball and basketball lots and the second task was to direct the effort on keeping communities clean. The main idea of such practices was to give the chance to community to compare the life with minimum of facilities they could provide themselves and without them. Such crime control policies appeared to be effective but they of course did not solve the problem of crime. The main problem was misunderstanding from the side of some community members and the most serious other problem was lack of financing. Making a conclusion it’s important to note that the role of different approaches in criminal justice is very important as it allows to define and analyze not only the nature of crime but also the conditions which led to the crime. Social disorganization theory is very helpful in developing methodologies of social analysis and different humanistic approaches to the solution of crime growth in problematic poor neighborhoods and illumination of the criminal background in these neighborhoods through simple promotion of influence of traditional norms through educational and community programs which would basically involve youth and teenagers.
The researches made by Chicago school show that rehabilitation program and crime prevention practices and recommendations through education and community activities are very effective, yet not all of these recommendations should be followed.
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References: Sampson, R., Raudenbusch, S. & Earls, F. (1997). “Neighborhoods and Violent Crime: A Multilevel Study of Collective Efficacy.” Science 227: 918-924. Shaw, C., Zorbaugh, F., McKay, H. & Cottrell, L. (1929). Delinquency Areas. Chicago: Univ. Shaw, C. & H. McKay. (1942). Juvenile Delinquency and Urban Areas. Chicago: Univ. Press. Social disorganization theories of crime, Article available on web resource: http://faculty.ncwc.edu/TOConnor/301/301lect08.htm Cohen, L. & M. Felson. (1979). “Social Change and Crime Rates” American Sociological Review 44: 588-08. Sutherland, E. (1947). Principles of Criminology, 4e. Philadelphia: Lippincott.