contemporary social disorganization theory.

contemporary social disorganization theory.

Child stress (measured by higher stress hormone levels), anxious and aggressive behavior, and less active or friendly behavior

Perceived financial hardship

Parental stress and depression

Family conflict, less effective parenting behavior, marital strain, and breakup

Child behavior problems, aggressiveness, delinquency, and learning problems

Peeling paint, falling plaster, and fewer opportunities to clean and repaint

Lead poisoning

Low birthweight, hearing loss, brain and kidney damage, reading disability, lower IQ scores, dropping out of school, and attention deficit and hyperactivity disorders


Poor nutrition

Family stress

Fewer resources for learning

Housing problems

underclass Group of urban poor whose mem- bers have little chance of upward mobility or improvement.

truly disadvantaged According to William Julius Wil- son, those people who are left out of the economic mainstream and reduced to living in the most deteriorated inner-city areas.

social structure theories Those theories which suggest that social and economic forces operat- ing in deteriorated lower-class areas, including disorganization, stress, and cultural deviance, push residents into criminal behavior patterns.

Juvenile Delinquency: The Core COPYRIGHT © 2005 Wadsworth, a division of Thomson Learning, Inc

Dream. Structural theories are less concerned with why an individual youth becomes delinquent than with why certain areas experience high delinquency rates.

All social structure theorists are linked in their belief that social conditions con- trol behavior choices. However, there are different interpretations of the nature of the interaction between social structure and individual behavior choices. Three promi- nent views stand out: social disorganization, anomie/strain, and cultural deviance.

Social Disorganization The concept of social disorganization was first recognized early in the twentieth century by sociologists Clifford Shaw and Henry McKay. These Chicago-based schol- ars found that delinquency rates were high in what they called transitional neigh- borhoods—areas that had changed from affluence to decay. Here, factories and commercial establishments were interspersed with private residences. In such envi- ronments, teenage gangs developed as a means of survival, defense, and friendship. Gang leaders recruited younger members, passing on delinquent traditions and en- suring survival of the gang from one generation to the next, a process referred to as cultural transmission. While mapping delinquency rates in Chicago, Shaw and McKay noted that distinct ecological areas had developed what could be visualized as a series of concentric zones, each with a stable delinquency rate (see Figure 4.2).16

The areas of heaviest delinquency concentration appeared to be the poverty-stricken, transitional, inner-city zones. The zones farthest from the city’s center were the least prone to delinquency. Analysis of these data indicated a stable pattern of delinquent activity in the ecological zones over a sixty-five-year period.17

According to the social disorganization view, a healthy, organized community has the ability to regulate itself so that common goals (such as living in a crime-free area) can be achieved; this is referred to as social control.18 Those neighborhoods that become disorganized are incapable of social control because they are wracked by deterioration and economic failure; they are most at risk for delinquency.19 In areas where social control remains high, children are less likely to become involved with deviant peers and engage in problem behaviors.20 Social institutions like schools and churches cannot work effectively in the climate of alienation and mistrust that char- acterizes disorganized areas. The absence of political power limits access to external funding and protection; without outside resources and financial aid, the neighbor- hood cannot get back on its feet.21

Children who reside in disorganized neighborhoods find that involvement with conventional social institutions, such as schools and after-school programs, is either absent or blocked, which puts them at risk for recruitment into gangs.22

These problems are stubborn and difficult to overcome. Even when an attempt is made to revitalize a disorganized neighborhood by creating institutional support programs such as community centers and better schools, the effort may be countered by the ongoing drain of deep-rooted economic and social deprivation.23 Even in relatively crime-free rural areas, areas that are disorganized because of residential instability, family disruption, and changing ethnic composition have relatively high rates of delinquent behavior and youth violence.24

A number of concepts define contemporary social disorganization theory.

Relative Deprivation According to the concept of relative deprivation, in communities where the poor and the wealthy live relatively close to one another, kids who feel they are less well off than others begin to form negative self-feelings and hostility, a condition that motivates them to engage in delinquent and antisocial behaviors.25 This feeling of relative deprivation fuels the frustration that eventually produces high delinquency rates.

Community Change Some impoverished areas are being rehabilitated or gen- trified, going from poor, commercial, or transient to stable, residential, and affluent.

86 C H A P T E R 4

The Northwestern Univer- sity/University of Chicago Joint Center for Poverty Research examines what it means to be poor and live in America. Find this Web site by clicking on Web Links under the Chapter Resources at siegel_ jdcore2e.

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social disorganization Neighborhood or area marked by culture conflict, lack of cohesive- ness, a transient population, and insufficient social organizations; these problems are reflected in the problems at schools in these areas.

transitional neighborhood Area undergoing a shift in popula- tion and structure, usually from middle-class residential to lower- class mixed use.

cultural transmission The process of passing on deviant traditions and delinquent values from one generation to the next.

social control Ability of social institutions to influence human behavior; the justice system is the primary agency of formal social control.

relative deprivation Condition that exists when people of wealth and poverty live in close proximity to one another; the relatively deprived are apt to have feelings of anger and hostility, which may produce criminal behavior.

gentrified The process of transforming a lower-class area into a middle- class enclave through property rehabilitation.

Juvenile Delinquency: The Core COPYRIGHT © 2005 Wadsworth, a division of Thomson Learning, Inc

Other formerly affluent communities are becoming rundown. As communities go through these changes, levels of delinquency increase.26

Communities on the downswing are likely to experience increases in the number of single-parent families, changes in housing from owner- to renter-occupied units, a loss of semiskilled and unskilled jobs, and the growth in the numbers of discouraged, unemployed workers who are no longer seeking jobs. These communities also tend to develop mixed-use areas in which commercial and residential properties stand side by side, an ecological development that increases the opportunity to commit crime.27

Community Fear Disorganized neighborhoods suffer social incivility—trash and litter, graffiti, burned-out buildings, drunks, vagabonds, loiterers, prostitutes, noise, congestion, angry words. This evidence of incivility convinces residents that their neighborhood is dangerous and in decline.28 They become fearful and wary and try not to leave their homes at night.

Fear of crime is much higher in disorganized neighborhoods than in affluent suburbs.29 Residents have little confidence that the government can do anything to

S O C I O L O G I C A L V I E W S O F D E L I N Q U E N C Y 87

Figure 4.2 Concentric Zones Map of Chicago

Loop Lake Michigan

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