SOCIAL DISORGANIZATION THEORIES OF CRIME
"How did East New York become a Ghetto" (Walter Thabit)
Social disorganization is a rather difficult term to define. It basically refers to the failure of social institutions or social organizations (e.g., schools, business, policing, real estate, group networking) in certain communities and/or neighborhoods (although nothing prohibits such theories from being couched at the "macro" level to talk about all of society). It has its origins in the study of ecology, which is the examination of relations between an organism and its environment. In criminology, social disorganization is usually treated as both perspective and theory, while ecology is an approach or "school." The ecological school refers to a group of professors associated with the Department of Sociology at the University of Chicago from 1920 to 1932, hence their other name, Chicago School Sociology. These professors included: Small, Thomas, Mead, Park, Burgess, Faris, Ogburn, and Wirth. In addition, Sutherland and Thrasher worked there for awhile, and some of the more well-known students were Shaw and McKay, Everett and Helen Hughes, and Saul Alinsky. An important predecessor to the Chicago School was Charles Horton Cooley at the University of Michigan from 1895-1925, who is perhaps best known for his concept of the "looking glass self." Modern social disorganization theories exist, but Shaw & McKay (1942), who borrowed from Park & Burgess, and developed cultural transmission theory in the 1930s and 1940s, are probably the most famous. However, as you can imagine, Shaw & McKay's ideas have been extensively improved upon in recent years. For example, the work of Harvard professor Robert Sampson [see author's website] and colleagues (1997) added the terms "collective efficacy" and "social capital" to the criminological vocabulary. Collective efficacy refers to a community's ability to maintain order in public places; social capital refers...
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