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Social Disorganization and Theories of Crime and Delinquency: Problems and Prospects

NCJ Number
Criminology Volume: 26 Issue: 4 Dated: (November 1988) Pages: 519-551
Date Published
33 pages
This paper examines five criticisms of Shaw and McKay's social disorganization model of crime and delinquency and discusses recent attempts to address and resolve them.
According to their theory, areas characterized by economic deprivation have high rates of population turnover (being abandoned as soon as economically feasible) and population heterogenity. These two processes, in turn, are assumed to increase the area's social disorganization. While Shaw and McKay did not clearly explicate the causal link between social disorganization and neighborhood crime rates, they drew on elements of strain, cultural conflict, and control theories. The theory has been criticized on the basis of its group-level analysis in part because of a disciplinary shift to theories concerned with individual motivation. It also has been criticized for its assumption of stable ecological structures that has not been justified by long-term historical evidence. Further, Shaw and McKay often did not clearly differentiate between the presumed outcome of social disorganization and the disorganization itself, and there has been much confusion regarding the conceptualization of social disorganization. An additional major problem has pertained to the empirical deficiencies of the typical research designs used to evaluate the theory and problems inherent in the measurement of social disorganization and crime and delinquency. Finally, the normative assumptions of the theory have appeared to many to be insensitive to the realities of political and social life. While recent reformulations of the theory and associated research have addressed and resolved some of these issues, some remain problematical. 118 references. (Author abstract modified)

Date Published: January 1, 1988