Sociological Theories

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Sociological Theories

By | Feb. 2011
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swoDuring the early part of the twentieth century, sociological explanations of crime causation grew in popularity. The sociological approach emphasized the environment and social interaction as causal factors in the study of crime and delinquency, rather than individualistic biological and psychological factors. A collection of social scientists in Chicago is credited with starting this trend, and their cohort of researchers came to be known as the Chicago School.

Members of the Chicago School accused existing individualistic theories of myopic reasoning, and proposed a broader approach acknowledging how societal factors play a role in causing crime and delinquency. The social landscape in the United States was changing rapidly, as people left rural farm communities for industrial urban centers. No place better represented this migration than the city of Chicago. The city's population grew rapidly throughout the latter half of the nineteenth century and the early part of the twentieth century, and virtually every racial and ethnic group came to be represented in the Chicago demographic. Members of the Chicago School saw this rapid change as a major factor in causing crime and developed a number of theories to explain the relationship between various societal factors and crime.

Clifford Shaw and Henry McKay are most clearly identified with starting this line of inquiry. Their work in the area of social disorganization explained how areas characterized by poverty and constant social change experience a breakdown in a number of social institutions, such as the family, employment, religion, education, and community. This breakdown results in a weakened value system, and the ability of disorganized communities to discourage deviant and criminal behavior is compromised. Once this disorganized environment, characterized by social instability and crime, takes hold, it is difficult to eradicate, as the compromised value system and resulting crime are passed along...

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