Social Theories: Gang Violence

Topics: Criminology, Sociology, Crime Pages: 7 (1704 words) Published: May 8, 2014

Social Theories:
How It Relates to
Gangs & Gang Violence

By Stuart Brown

Criminology is a complex subject chock-full of theories that attempt to explain crime and criminal behavior. Each base theory has several branches of theory which expand upon and compliment their predecessors. Even some of the sub-theories have branches of theories. This paper is going to discuss two social theories; social structure and social process. It is also going to cover some of the branches of those theories; disorganization theory, strain theory, cultural conflict (deviance), social learning theory, social control theory, and social reaction theory. It will go into some of the branches and thoughts within these sub-theories; differential association theory, neutralization theory, techniques of neutralization, and social bond theory. It is also going to investigate how these theories try to explain the phenomenon of gang violence. Social Structure Theory

Social structure theorists believe that the key elements to criminal behavior are the dominance of social and economic influences that are prominent in rundown neighborhoods where the population is primarily lower-class citizens. Social disorganization theory strain theory and cultural deviance theory all fall under the social structure theory. Each of these three sub-theories attempt to explain what causes people to join violent gangs. Although each of these theories deviates in some aspects from the thought of each other, they all share the common ground of the social structure theory. Social disorganization theory concentrates on the circumstances in the inner city that affect crimes. These circumstances include the deterioration of the neighborhoods, the lack of social control, gangs and other groups who violate the law, and the opposing social values within these neighborhoods. The fact that youth in this lower class are raised in such dilapidated neighborhoods is a primary reason that they choose to participate in violence and become associated with gangs. These people have no pride in where they live and do not feel a need to become involved in activities to preserve the well-being of the neighborhood. To compensate, they take their spare time and invest it into participating in gang activities. Strain theory suggests that crime is brought on by the overwhelming strain that people feel when they have the personal aspirations but no way to reach them. Strain theorists believe that wealth and power are allocated disproportionately between economic classes and the frustration of not being able to achieve goals and strain of not having opportunities are what influence a person’s choice to commit crime. According to the strain theorists, the youth feel that the only chance to obtain the things that they desire is to join gangs. They see other gang members in the community with money from things such as drug sales and feel that joining the gang will benefit them in the same way. Cultural deviance theory combines parts of the disorganization and strain theories. They believe that criminal behavior is the result of the strain people feel and the social isolation that the urban environments put them under. These two things form subcultures within the lower class that adopt values that are much different from the rest of the population. A cultural deviance theorist would say a combination of growing up in deteriorated neighborhoods as well as the strain of seeing no other way out is the reason that people participate in gangs. They believe that it would take both factors to push a person to the point at which they felt they needed to take part in this kind of potentially violent behavior.

Social Process Theory
Social process theory stresses the importance of group involvement and socializing with non-criminal peers within the groups. Social process theorists believe that criminality is determined by a person’s involvement within...

References: Featherstone, R. & Deflem, M. (2003). Anomie and strain: context and consequences of Merton’s two theories. Sociological Inquiry 73(4):471-489, 2003. Retrieved from:
OJJDP Bulletin. (2003). Social disorganization and rural communities. Retrieved from:
Seigel, L. (2010). Criminology: theories, patterns, & typologies (10th Ed.). Belmont, Ca: Cengage Learning/Wadsworth
Topalli, V. (2006). The seductive nature of autotelic crime: how neutralization theory serves as a boundary condition for understanding hardcore street offending. Retrieved from:
Walsh, A. & Hemmens, C. (2008). Introduction to criminology (1st Ed.). SAGE publications. Retrieved from: Section 5 Social Process Theories.pdf
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