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Assessing Social Disorganization Theory Of Crime Sociology Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Sociology
Wordcount: 2136 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Social disorganization is described as the lack of ability of the community members to unite their values or to solve problems that they experience together and as a community. In the past couple of decades, the themes of social disorganization theory have been more clearly explained and improved upon by Sampson and Groves in year 1989. Sampson and Groves traced social disorganization to conditions that were common and widespread to the urban areas that were the only places the newly arriving poor could afford to live in, in particular, a high rate of turnover in the population which caused residential instability and a wide mix of people from different cultural backgrounds (ethnic diversity). Sampson and Groves’ analyses about the delinquency rates to these places allowed them to derive key facts about the community where crime and delinquency are linked together where when one goes up the other goes up, and when one goes down the other goes down. Their work remains useful today as a guide for efforts to address crime and delinquency at the community level.

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Current versions of social disorganization theory assume that strong networks of social relationships prevent crime and delinquency this was pointed out by Sampson and Groves in 1989. When most community or neighborhood members are familiar with each other and are on good terms with one another, a large portion of the adult population has the potential to influence the children and teenagers in their neighborhoods. The bigger the network of acquaintances or contacts, the bigger the community’s ability to monitor itself and perform informal surveillance (because residents are able to tell each other apart from outsiders), for supervision (because people who know each other are willing to get involved and interfered when children and juveniles behave unacceptably), and for shaping children’s values and interests. According to the Sampson and Groves, the community’s characteristics such as poverty and ethnic diversity lead to higher delinquency rates because they interfere with community members’ abilities to work together, for the good of the community.

Just like in urban areas, systems of relationships are related to crime and delinquency in small towns and rural communities. The only feature of the theory that is related to urban areas is the explanation of why social disorganization happens in some geographic locations and not in others.

Rural sociologists concerned with the negative effects of quick population growth provide some evidence that the processes of social disorganization apply in rural settings. Groves and Sampson, for example, argued that the “boomtown” phenomenon brings high rates of crime and other unacceptable behaviors but does not produce alienation or mental health difficulties. Also Sampson and Groves explained these negative effects by the same method as social disorganization theory which states that rapid growth greatly reduces the proportion of people who know one another, which in turn interferes with surveillance and socialization of the young this was originally states by Freudenberg in 1986.

Sampson and Groves theory specified that several variables-residential instability, ethnic diversity, family disruption, economic status, population size or density, and proximity to urban areas-play a huge role in a community’s capacity to develop and maintain strong systems of social relationships.

Based on their research in urban settings, Sampson and Groves expected that rates of juvenile violence in rural communities would increase as rates of residential instability increased. When the population of an area is constantly changing, the residents have fewer opportunities to develop strong, personal ties to one another and to participate in community organizations. This assumption has been central to research on social disorganization since its beginning. Massive population change is the main variable when looking at this theory. They highlighted four important points in their research;

Ethnic diversity: According to social Sampson and Groves, it could be expected that, as in urban areas, rates of juvenile violence would be higher in rural communities with greater ethnic diversity. Ethnic diversity interferes with communication among adults. Effective communication is less likely in the face of ethnic diversity because differences in customs and a lack of shared experiences may breed fear and mistrust. It is important to distinguish this hypothesis about heterogeneity from simple ethnic differences. In other words, this hypothesis sees crime as arising from relations between ethnic groups, not from some groups being more crime-prone than others.

Family disruption: Research in urban areas has found that delinquency rates are higher in communities with greater levels of family disruption, and they expected that this also would be true in rural areas. Sampson and Groves argued that unshared parenting strains parents’ resources of time, money, and energy, which interferes with their ability to supervise their children and communicate with other adults in the neighborhood. Furthermore, the smaller the number of parents in a community relative to the number of children, the more limited the amount of adult supervision will be for all the children.

Economic status: Although rates of juvenile violence are higher in urban areas with lower economic status, it was not clear that this relationship should apply in rural settings. The role of economic status in their theory is based on patterns of growth in urban areas. In many major urban areas, growth leads to the physical, economic, and social decline of the residential areas closest to the central business district. These areas then become most readily available to the poor and to groups who migrate to the area. As a result, areas with the lowest average socioeconomic status will also have the greatest residential instability and ethnic diversity, which in turn will create social disorganization. Therefore, many studies have found that urban neighborhoods with high rates of poverty also have greater rates of delinquency.

The processes that link poverty with population turnover are specific to urban settings. In nonmetropolitan settings, poor populations may be stable and ethnically consistent.

Population density: Population density is rather different from the other community factors for two reasons. First, evidence of a relationship between population density and urban crime and delinquency is inconsistent. Second, the meaning of density becomes quite different for nonurban communities, where, in the least dense areas, one must travel several miles to have significant contact with people outside of one’s immediate family. The original reason for the urban perspective was that high population density creates problems by producing anonymity that interferes with accountability to neighbors. In the least dense rural areas, it may be social isolation, instead, that limits social support to monitor children and respond to problem behavior. Sampson and Groves suggested that density might be more important in terms of opportunities for offending than in terms of social disorganization. The comparative isolation of living in a sparsely populated area may reduce opportunities for offending because of greater distance from targets and from potential companions in crime. Victimization rates are lowest in communities with the smallest populations, but only for populations of 25,000 or less. In larger communities, the rates were essentially unrelated to population size.

Proximity to urban areas: This final community variable, which moves away from the themes of current social disorganization theory, considers an issue specific to rural settings and to the linkages among communities. As Sampson and Groves have argued, it is important to look beyond the internal dynamics of communities and consider ways in which rates of delinquency might be influenced by relationships between neighboring communities. Various rural and suburban communities have very different relationships with urban communities, and this is an important theme of research on rural settings. Sampson and Groves suggested that “less delinquent groups of youths are being socialized into more sophisticated types of criminal behavior by youths in adjoining areas”. Because average crime rates are higher in communities with larger populations, this phenomenon would produce higher rates of delinquency in rural communities that are adjacent to metropolitan areas. Previous research has not addressed this topic, however, so it is not clear whether such diffusion actually occurs and, if it does, whether it is strong enough to produce higher rates of juvenile violence in counties adjacent to urban areas.

Summary of Sampson and Groves

Sampson and Groves’s theory revolved around the characteristics of communities with high crime rates. They explained that economically deprived, large sizes, multiunit housing apartments (where a lot of people move in and out) and a high rate of divorce and single parents reduces direct control over the neighborhood and reduces the supervision of young people.

Lack of supervision of young people causes a lack of socialization of children against crime; they don’t do well in school and don’t have the connections to secure a good job, since they don’t have close ties with their neighbors.

Because people don’t know their neighbors they are less likely to interfere with neighborhood problems such as crime or monitoring people’s behaviors.

Most residents have no attachment to their neighborhood and as soon as they have enough money they will leave to somewhere better, this reduces the amount of investments they make in their area and how much the care about their surroundings.

Robert Sampson

Growing up in the small, industrial city of Utica, NY, in the 1960s, Sampson witnessed firsthand the changing patterns within his city. Once a bustling city, his hometown was hit with hard times as industries left and almost half of the town’s population went with them. ”I witnessed those changes growing up and was fascinated-why are some communities declining and people leaving, and why are others thriving?” he asks. From a young age, Sampson was a keen observer of community and city life. The self-described ”upstate New York kid” did not stray far from home for college or graduate school, choosing to attend the State University of New York (SUNY).

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As an undergraduate at SUNY-Buffalo, Sampson discovered the tools of psychology and sociology. He graduated in 1977 with a degree in sociology. In the late 1970s, Sampson entered graduate school at SUNY-Albany, where he refined his focus on the study of society. There he worked with some of the most influential sociologists of the time, including Peter Blau and Travis Hirschi.

Hirschi, who later became Sampson’s dissertation advisor, had written what Sampson describes as probably the most cited and influential study of crime in the 20th century, called Causes of Delinquency, which helped launch Sampson’s research on crime. ”It was a very exciting time, very intense. I became interested in the study of crime from a social-ecological perspective,”

Sampson says. During graduate school, he also was introduced to a group of sociologists that have influenced his entire career. ”I was taken by the classical work that was done in what’s known as the Chicago School of Urban Sociology,” Sampson recalls. The group used the rapidly growing population of Chicago in the early 1900s as a sort of ”sociology laboratory” in which to study how social structures and the urban environment influenced human social behavior, particularly crime and delinquency. ”They were studying the massive changes that were occurring based on the waves of immigration coming from Europe,”

Sampson migrated to the home of his ”intellectual mentors” in Chicago, first to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 1984 to take his first faculty position in the sociology department, and in 1991 to the University of Chicago (Chicago, IL), where he became involved in a massive effort to study community-level social processes in urban neighborhoods. In 1994, Sampson became the scientific director of the Project on Human Development in Chicago Neighborhoods; he is now the head of the Sociology department at Harvard University.


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