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Social Disorganization

Social disorganization theory links crime rates to neighborhood ecological characteristics. Those who study social disorganization argue that youths from disadvantaged neighborhoods make up a subculture in which delinquency is approved behavior and that criminality is acquired in social settings through interactions.¹

Social disorganization theory grew out of research conducted in Chicago by Shaw and McKay. Using spatial maps to examine the residential locations of juveniles referred to Chicago courts, they discovered that rates of crime were not evenly dispersed across time and space in the city.¹

Shaw and McKay’s findings illustrated that crime tended to be concentrated in particular areas of the city  and that crime rates remained stable within different areas despite continual changes in the populations who lived in each area.¹  Socially disorganized neighborhoods were producing “criminal tradition.”¹

The core principle of social disorganization theory is that place matters more than one’s individual characteristics in shaping the likelihood that a person will become involved in illegal activities.¹ Even though there are ecological factors that lead to high crime rates, social disorganization theory is  not intended to apply to all types of crime, but instead to street crime at the neighborhood level.

Many scholars believe that social disorganization has ian impact on youth violence and crime by affecting a number of mediating processes that facilitate youth violence.

Processes that lead from social disorganization to crime¹:

  1. Family Processes. This can happen by: 
    • Removing an important set of control structures over youths’ behaviour

    • Creating greater opportunities for criminal victimization

  2. Neighborhood Processes

Researchers and practitioners need to consider the linkages between economic deprivation and social disorganization when attempting to explain the genesis of youth violence.¹ Sociologists argue that family preservation programs should be funded because families may be able to resist the negative effects of social organization on their children.¹ It is also suggested that public spending and private investment must be concentrated in the most impoverished areas. Money should be spent mainly on programs physically located in underclass neighborhoods, run by people with ties to the neighborhoods.




1. Ontario Ministry of Children and Youth Services. Review of the Roots of Youth Violence: Literature Review. Retrieved May 8, 2014, from