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Social Disorganisation and the Chicago School of Criminology

Info: 2107 words (8 pages) Essay
Published: 11th Dec 2020 in Criminology

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This essay will explain the concept of social disorganisation and the Chicago school criminologists who were Robert Park and Ernest Burgerss.  The Chicago school theory suggested that a person’s characteristics such as; age and gender will reflect on what types of crimes they commit (Bond. M, 2015). For example, if an Asian male committed a crime in a deprived area, it means the crimes are bound to happen because individuals who came from a deprived lower- class area and deprived areas are most likely to have highest crime rates as many individuals were in poverty, unemployed and not in education. The definition social disorganisation is a state of society characterized by the breakdown of effective social control, resulting in a lack of functional integration between groups and conflicting social attitudes (Webster, M , 2019).  Social disorganisation meant a variety of things that was conflicting between society which were poverty, residential mobility, racial heterogenety, urban crime and more (Ontario, 2010-15). Chicago was a social experiment designed to investigate expansion and change.  Chicago was a township in 1860 of 10,000. Later in 1910, a huge metropolis of two million people and the main concern was the increases of urban crimes. The Chicago school theory directly links crime rates to neighbourhood characteristics. A person’s residential location is a substantial factor in shaping the likelihood that a person will become involved in illegal activities. According to social disorganisation theory, there are ecological factors that lead to high rates of crimes in these communities and these factors link to constantly elevated levels “high school dropouts, unemployment, deteriorating infrastructures, and single- parent homes”. (Gaines and Miller, 2014)

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Social disorganisation states a person’s physical, social and environmental characteristics are primarily responsible for the behavioural choices that an individual make. (Bond, 2015). The location matters when an individual commits illegal offence and that is what the Chicago school theory is about. (Shaw and McKay) portrayed that neighbourhoods with the highest crime rates have at least three common problems which were physical dilapidation, poverty and ethnic groups and culture mixing.

Park. R and Burgess. E were the Chicago school criminologists. Park taught at the university of Chicago from 1915 to 1933, where Park played a leading role in the development of the Chicago school of Sociology. Park was known for his work in human ecology, race relations, migration, assimilation, social movement and social disorganisation (Hayward. K, 2010). Park the urban explorer and champion of rich, descriptive criminology was the leading light of the Chicago school of Sociology during the 1920s and early 1930s (Hayward.K, 2010). Park believed that crime only takes place in certain locations, certain locations that are deprived with people who are either unemployed or young dropouts from school/college and environmental issues were to blame when crimes were committed. Park took the Chicago school further to get in dept with the theory and established a relationship with his junior colleague. Burgess, and Park together became the driving force of the Chicago school of Sociology (Hayward.K, 2010). Society is everywhere and society had no control organisation in the 1920s and early 1930s. The function of society is supposed to organise, integrate and direct individuals to not commit crimes. Park also believed that if society was a control organisation then less crimes would have happened because society should have had control over individuals and prevent illegal offences from happening (Hayward. K , 2010). Park distinguished four major social processes: competition, conflict, accommodation and assimilation (Coser, 1977). When race or ethnic groups live together; as in an immigrant community, their relationship go through a history of conflict. Park termed the race relation cycle meaning conflict take place and crimes tend to happen more because ethnic groups are most likely in poverty and if ethnic groups wanted to work, they will need skills, which they do not have. Therefore, ethnic minorities in 1920s- 1930s committed crimes to fend for themselves. Park worked with his pupils and his pupils came up with the idea that crime rates were higher in the urban zone in transition which is the low – rent area surrounding around the city centre of Chicago (Tibbetts. G and Hemmens. C, 2010). Chicago was largely made up of citizens who did not speak a common language and did not share each other’s cultural values. 70% of Chicago residents were foreign born and another 20% were fire generation Americans, thus it was almost impossible for these citizens to organise themselves to solve community problems because in some cases, they could not even understand each other (Tibbetts. G and Hemmens. C, 2010).

Ernest Burgess was also a criminologist in the Chicago school theory. The concentric zone model, also known as the Burgess model of the CCD model, is one of the earliest theoretical models to explain urban social structure (Linde. S, 2003). The zonal theory has four zones or more: Central district, Transnational zone, Residential zone and Commuter zone. Transnational zone which outlined where abandoned buildings were and were immigrant groups would stay with working class zone. Moreover, residential zone and commuter zone and all these zones represented where individuals would live and how people labelled them. For example, the working zone was for single family tenements. Burgess model was based on the city of Chicago and used a concentric ring to show how urban land was (Linde. S , 2003). Burgess was particularly interested in maps and used them extensively (Brown. N, 2017).

Crimes increased because in the early 1800’s, many large U.S cities had virtually no formal social agencies to handle problems of urbanisation: no social workers, building inspectors, garbage collector, or even police officers. Therefore, this could have motivated some neighbourhoods to organise their own community but, when things did not go as people wanted that is when people started to commit illegal offences as that was their purpose of life ‘committing crimes’. Communities were responsible of solving their own problems including crime and delinquency. Chicago explained that their society was breakdown in control (Tibbetts. G and Hemmens. C, 2010). Children were misbehaving and adults did not have the capacity to stop and intervene children and gangs were ruling the streets.

The zonal hypothesis was that new migrants settle into ‘Zone of Transition’ then move to different zones to settle and commit crimes then move. The zone of transition was always experiencing invasion from ethnic minorities and certain types of groups were dominating certain areas and people committed high levels of crimes. It was as though people were competing with different individuals to be successful than others. Also, the zone cycle kept repeating its cycle itself. Delinquency areas were characterised in areas of ‘physical deterioration, overcrowding, a mobile population and proximity to areas of industry and commerce’ (Morris, 1957, p19). Therefore, this meant the environment conflated the causes of crime and not individuals. These community traits leave these neighbourhoods unstable and every changing, yet through cultural transmission, the general subculture of crime and deviance persists (Sigel, 2009). Drug dealing, addiction and prostitution were visible on most street corners as few means of legitimate methods were available to those residing in those areas (Ashley. P).

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Shaw and McKay, 1931 social factors in juvenile delinquency meant that many crimes were taking place in the 1800 – 1900 in Chicago crime rate were so high in different age group. There are different types of ‘plotting’ maps such as: the spot map was were arrested juveniles lived up to 1000 aged 12 – 17 years old with a total of 154,000 crimes involved juveniles (Kaba. M, 2014).  In 1962, cook country had 208 courts such as: the circuit court, superior court and many more. Many of these courts had overlapping jurisdiction which increased organisational problems but, there was no administrative authority to unify, co- ordinate and supervise individuals.

Social disorganisation is the relationship of poverty, residential mobility and racial heterogeneity. Urban crime was the failure of the inner – city environment to encourage proper integration and a sense of the community for its different cultures. If there was increased positive interaction and partnerships with community services and inhabitants, law enforcement could have gained trust and information while combatting issues direr to specific neighbourhoods (Roberg, 2009). The main criticism of community policing was the extent to which socially disorganisation areas were willing to work with law enforcement. The methods mentioned above have been shown to be extremely effective within communities that already display social cohesion and bonding. The cause of these failures is due to the continued discounting of the conditions that originally allowed for these sub – cultures to persist (Lersch, 2011). Sub – standard housing, education, social service and economic opportunity linger despite possible police efforts, without addressing these important issues, community policing was likely to have little effect.

Overall, social disorganisation was that different areas were suffering from poverty, unemployment, ethnic minorities whom first language was not English. The society would have been organised and less crimes would have been committed if local authorities intervened with individuals and helped them to rehabilitate their lives if people committed offences and the local authorities should have helped people to go into finding work or children sticking to school. However, the two Chicago school criminologist Park and Burgess theory were effective because environmental issues these days are the causes of as to why crimes happen because people can tell the differences of different types of crimes being committed in deprived areas, it gives people the sense of different individuals coming from different areas for example, if an area was full of drop outs and this one individual who was not a drop out but, automatically people would judge the individual assuming he is a drop out just because he came from a specific area. Therefore, society as well as local authorities should have worked together to control their social organisation.


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