What is the Social Disorganization Theory?

Social disorganization is the community’s inability to agree on shared values or solve problems jointly. The social disorganization theory was first developed in the Chicago School. It directly relates crime rates with the neighbourhood’s ecological characteristics. 

This theory suggests that one’s residential location is a significant factor in determining a person’s likelihood of engaging in illegal activities.

Ideally, a person’s residence has more influence than their characteristics, such as gender, age, or race. For instance, the social disorganization theory outlines that people from disadvantaged neighbourhoods participate in activities that approve delinquency where they acquire criminal behaviour. 

Recently the social disorganization theory has gained more attention in understanding crime and delinquency at the community level

Social Disorganization Theory Variables

This theory aligns with Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution which states that just as some species survive in specific environmental conditions, behaviours such as delinquency only occur in specific environments.

 In this case, it emphasizes that a person’s behavior and attitude are not theirs but instead an accumulation of different rules and regulations applied in their environments. Below are several variables which influence the community’s capacity to develop and maintain strong systems of social relationships.

Residential Instability

When a population is constantly increasing, there is less opportunity of developing strong personal ties with one another and participate in social community organizations. In this case, a massive population change occurs in urban areas, which may cause residential instability. For instance, the rates of juvenile violence are likely to be higher in urban areas due to the contents change of neighborhoods.

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Family Disruptions

Sociologists have found that there is a higher delinquency rate in communities with increased levels of family distractions. In this case, unshared parenting strains parents’ resources, including time and energy, which makes it difficult to supervise their children. It also inhibits them from communicating with other parents in the neighborhood.

As a result, there is a higher likelihood that children from such families will engage in crime following the lack of supervision. Additionally, a community with few parents relative to the number of children leads to a limited network of adult supervision for the children growing up in such areas, which may increase the delinquency rate.

Economic Status

This variable is dependent on the growth of the community. For instance, growth in major urban areas leads to declining social, physical, and economic activities in the areas closest to the Central Business District. As a result, these neighborhoods become readily available for poor people to live in.

In this regard, the lowest average social and economic status has greater instability and ethnic diversity, which leads to social disorganization. For example, urban neighborhoods with high poverty levels have a high delinquency rate which may lead to criminal activities. Nonetheless, less dense populations are more likely to have social isolation, which limits social support to monitor children in the neighborhood and respond to problem resolution.

However, this isolation may present an opportunity to prevent crime. In this case, having fewer people in the neighborhood produces opportunities for potential companions in crime, promoting social organization.

Ethnic Diversity

The social disorganization theory argues that there are high rates of violence in rural communities with high levels of diversity. In this case, ethnic diversity interferes with communication among community members.

The lack of shared experiences and customs may also lead to fear and mistrust. These reasons make it difficult for the community members to trust each other, thereby failing to control the criminal offence rates.

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Therefore, the theory hypothesises that in a neighborhood with diverse ethnic groups, crime results from differences in the relationship between ethnic groups and not having some groups more crime-prone than others. 

Rules and Institution Conflict

Ideally, every community has a set of rules which people follow to enhance organization. However, these rules may not be applicable after specific periods as people develop different beliefs and ideas of social regulations.

For instance, youth are mainly known to resist the older generation’s norms, which may result in conflict in the community as he destroys the social organisation. Ideally, the youth may be influenced by other communities and may want to bring new influence to what they already have in society.

Additionally, people have different opinions regarding different topics, such as women’s empowerment, religious views and family planning which may result in social disorganization.

Video Guide

Examples of Social Disorganization Theory

Crime Rates among People Living in Public House Project

These are high rates of crimes in public house projects mainly due to the weak connection between people living in these residences. There is often a low chance of the neighbours knowing each other, primarily nuclear and single-parent families. As a result, it is easier for juveniles living in this area to engage in criminal activity following the lack of supervision from the adults.

Crimes among Immigrants

There is a high crime rate that happens against immigrants. Usually, the local people are the dominant group in society and have their alienated behaviour, which may make immigrants feel isolated from the community. In this case, they might find adjusting to the new culture difficult, which leads to a higher chance of drifting towards delinquency. As a result, there is an increased crime rate against immigrants in society.


What are the strengths and limitations of the social disorganized theory?

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The social disorganised theory has the following strengths

  • Strong empirical data.
  • It has an accurate framework to determine delinquent behaviour in society.
  • It provides workable insights.

Limitations of the social disorganised theory include,

  • It is highly dependent on sociological factors.
  • It does not explain the reason behind white-collar crimes, especially in a well-organised society.

What are the different causes of social disorganization in the family?

  •  Retirement and job or career change
  • Death of a loved one
  •  Divorce
  •  Illness of a family member
  •  Moving to a new home
  •  Addition of a family member

Who developed the social disorganization Theory?

Clifford Shaw and Henry McKay developed this theory. The theory later shifted into criminology to help understand the relationship between social disorganization and crimes.

How is social disorganization measured?

Social disorganization is measured according to property status and ethnic heterogeneity.

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