Chapter 7 Notes: Social Structure Theories
- Natural Areas: zones or neighborhoods with shared characteristics that develop as a result of social
forces operating in urban areas; some become natural areas of crime
- Chicago School: pioneering research on the social ecology of the city and study of urban crime
developed in the early 20 century by colleagues in sociology at the University of Chicago.
- The concern about the ecological distribution of crime, the effect of social change, and the interactive
nature of crime itself has made sociology the foundation of modern criminology.
Economic Structure and Crime
- All societies are characterized by stratification into social classes.
- These social classes are created by the unequal distribution of wealth, power, and prestige in society.
- People who are in the same classes share similar possessions and attitudes, values, norms and
- Upper class is reserved for a small number of individuals in society
- Lower-class slum areas are scenes of inadequate housing and healthcare, disrupted family lives,
underemployment, depression and despair.
- Some people are driven to desperate measures to cope with their economic situation
- The disadvantages of lower-class citizens are particularly acute for members of racial minorities
- People living in poverty are more likely to experience high crime, poor schools and excessive mortality.
- Culture of Poverty: the separate culture formed by the lower class, characterized by values and norms
that are in conflict with conventional society; the culture is self-maintaining and ongoing.
- Underclass: a world described by Gunnar Myrdal as being cut off from society, its members lacking
the education and skills needed to survive; the culture becomes a breeding ground for criminality.
o Unemployment and Crime
- Crime is linked to economic deprivation
- The data suggests that the disadvantages of economic inequality and crime are interrelated in a
variety of ways, we can look at social structure theory for an explanation:
Branches of Social Structure Theory
Social Structure Theory: An approach that looks at the effect of class stratification in society
Social Disorganization Theory
(focuses on conditions in the environment)
- Deteriorated neighbourhoods, social values, gangs Culture Deviance Theory
(combines the two other theories)
Strain Theory -development of subcultures as a result of
(Focuses on conflict between goals and means) disorganization & stress
- Frustration, unequal distribution of wealth/power -Sub cultural values in opposition to
conventional values Social Disorganization Theory: links crime rates to neighborhood ecological characteristics.
- Crime rates are highly transient, mixed-used neighbourhoods or changing neighbourhoods, in which
the fabric of social life has become frayed.
- These places cant provide essential services: education, healthcare, etc.
o Transitional Neighbourhoods:
- Shaw and McKay
- Explained crime and delinquency within the context of the changing urban environment and ecological
development of the city.
- An area undergoing a shift in population and structure, usually from middle-class residential to lower-
class mixed use.
- As a result of these changes, subcultures emerged and were passed down through succeeding
generations through cultural transmission
The passing down of conduct norms from one generation to the next, which become
stable and predictable within the boundaries of a culture.
- Shaw and McKay also notes that distinct ecological areas had developed in the city, composing a
series of concentric circles or zones, which had significant differences in crime rates.
- Heaviest concentration of crime= transitional inner-city zones, where large numbers of foreign-born
citizens has recently settled.
- The zones farthest from the city’s centre had correspondingly lower crime rates.
- A value conflict arises eventually because slum youths come into conflict with middle-class norms,
which are in line more with the legal code. The result is usually a fuller acceptance of deviant goals
The Social Ecology School
- Social Ecologists: their approach looks at community-level indicators of social disorganization,
including disorder, poverty, alienation, disassociation, and fear of crime.
o Community Deterioration: crime is higher in communities that are “falling apart” (houses
deserted, poor repair, buildings abandoned)
o Employment Opportunities: this relationship is unsettled bc. crime goes up during times of
economic prosperity but also fall during periods of economic decline.
Neighbourhoods with fewer employment opportunities are the most vulnerable to
It also reduces the stabilizing influence of adults in the community for the youth
o Community Fear: the presence of certain activities (rowdy, drunks, dirt and stench,
congestion, loiters, etc.) helps convince residents that their neighborhood is dangerous.
o Siege Mentality: a consequence and symptom of community disorganization, where fear
causes the belief that the outside world is an enemy out to destroy the neighborhood,
o Poverty Concentration: working and middle-class families flee inner-city poverty areas,
resulting in a concentration effect