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Social structure theories. Societal forces. Social structure theory. Varying patterns of criminal behavior exist within the social structure. Biological and psychological approaches do no account for this. Social structure theories focus on these patterns

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Social structure theories

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social structure theory
Social structure theory
  • Varying patterns of criminal behavior exist within the social structure. Biological and psychological approaches do no account for this. Social structure theories focus on these patterns
  • Social structure theory is also concerned with social change and its effect on behavior
social structure
Social structure
  • Social structure is created by the distribution of wealth, power and prestige
  • Social classes: segments of the population with similar portions of material goods, sharing attitudes, values, norms and lifestyle
  • About 20% of the U.S. children’s population lives in poverty
  • Problems
  • Inadequate housing and health care
  • Disrupted family life
  • Unemployment
  • Lowered motivation, despair
poverty cont
Poverty (cont)
  • Less likely to delay gratification
  • Culture of poverty, passed from generation to generation, includes apathy, cynicism, helplessness, and mistrust of social institutions, especially schools, government, police
  • Primary cause of crime: disadvantaged position
social structure6
Social structure
  • Forces operating in poverty stricken areas push man of its members in the direction of criminal behavior
  • Branches of social structure theory
  • Social disorganization theory
  • Strain theory
  • Culture deviance theory
ecological social disorganization theory
Ecological, Social Disorganization Theory
  • Ecology applied to cities
  • Shaw and McKay: five city zones
  • Business, “downtown” area, Zone I
  • Transitional zones, Zone II
  • Working class residential, Zone III
  • White collar, Zone IV
  • Suburbs, Zone V
social disorganization cont
Social disorganization (cont)
  • Shaw and McKay looked at court records, 1880s to 1930s
  • Plotted the addresses of all those who went to court on large city maps
  • Found that most arrestees lived in Zone II, the transitional zones
  • Held true over time
city areas
City areas

Lake Michigan








Working class


White collar

Steel mills

Steel mills

characteristics of zone ii
Characteristics of Zone II
  • Located next to downtown or industrial areas
  • Substandard, deteriorated housing
  • Low levels of home ownership, rental
  • Low income
  • High rates of TB, infant mortality, mental illness
characteristics cont
Characteristics (cont)
  • High unemployment
  • High crime rates
  • High levels of mobility, short and long term
  • Turnover of ethnic groups
  • Ethnic groups changed over time, but crime rates remained high
characteristics cont12
Characteristics (cont)
  • Successive waves of immigrants lived in these areas. First generation--law-abiding, but their children had a high likelihood of becoming delinquent
  • Held true over time, regardless of ethnic group
  • These neighborhoods produced high levels of crime and delinquency
  • Although specific ethnic groups were blamed at the time, crime was high regardless of the ethnic group or culture
  • Immigration had shut down in 1924 because some claimed that immigrants brought crime with them
explanations cont
Explanations (cont)
  • Appeared, however, that these groups did not bring crime, but that their children were at risk because of living in these areas
  • Shaw and McKay argued that these areas put adolescents at risk for becoming criminal because of community level social disorganization
  • Such factors included:
  • Poverty
  • Alienation
  • Fear of crime, suspicion of others
  • Competition for limited jobs
  • Households destabilized because of limited and uncertain employment, discouraged unemployed
  • Thus, neighborhood structure influences criminal behavior
  • Crime and delinquency arise as a response to adverse conditions in slum areas
  • Community members do not mobilize and help each other because of fear
  • Difficult to control children without neighborhood assistance, stressed parents have less influence
  • Children grow up in the presence of adolescent gangs (which have existed for over 100 years) and adult criminals. They are exposed to criminal activities as an option and opportunity
crime prone areas
Crime prone areas
  • Transitional zones
  • Large number of single-parent families
  • Owner to renter
  • Economic base declining, few jobs
  • Neighborhoods adjoining also experience an increase in crime
strain theory
Strain theory
  • Began with Durkheim’s 19th century concept of anomie
  • Durkheim argued that modern societies differed from those of the past
  • Less group oriented, more individualistic
  • More specialization of labor
  • Less consensus over norms and values
durkheim cont
Durkheim (cont)
  • Societies try to exert control over people
  • In early societies, informal control is sufficient (approval, inclusion in the group)
  • In modern societies, this is much less effective, and formal controls develop
  • As consensus breaks down, more difficult to control people
durkheim cont21
Durkheim (cont)
  • Anomie refers to a condition of relative normlessness, and society can no longer exert control. Demands become unlimited. Without norms, people will feel alienated, not part of a larger society.
  • Crime becomes common in such societies, symptomatic of the problem.
  • Crime also serves a function.
20th century strain theory
20th Century strain theory
  • Sociologists of the 20th century are influenced by Durkheim
  • They argued that crime is symptomatic of a problem, of “strains” in a society, particularly where there is a lack of consensus
  • Merton: crime in the U.S. is the result of strains in American society
merton and strain
Merton and strain
  • However, these strains must also serve a function (some functions of the political machine)
  • Merton theorized that the “American Dream created strains for Americans, although it served an important function
  • American: Americans have the goal of acquiring wealth, success, power, prestige
strain cont
Strain (cont)
  • They are to acquire these things through hard work, education, thrift
  • Everyone presumably has a chance at the American Dream: if you don’t succeed, it is your fault
  • Merton thought that this idea of an equal chance is a myth--some are far more advantaged than others
strain cont25
Strain (cont)
  • Crime is a result of the frustration people experience over their inability to achieve social and financial success
  • People respond in various ways to the pressure of the American Dream
modes continued
Modes (continued)
  • Conformity: balanced society, majority
  • American Dream serves a function because many work hard and achieve, makes for a successful society
  • Innovation: same goals, criminal means
  • Ritualism: hard work, thrift, no expectation of success
  • Retreatism: rejection--drug addicts, vagrants
modes cont
Modes (cont)
  • Rebellion: want new goals and means, revolutionaries, cults, reformers
  • Because society does not evenly distribute the means to attain goals, there will be high-crime areas
  • Social conditions produce crime
  • Does not explain:
  • Why one chooses an adaptation
strain cont29
Strain (cont)
  • Does not explain: desistance, crime among the non-poor
strain cohen
Strain: Cohen
  • Cohen argued that when lower class boys are frustrated by the failure to achieve middle class success, they join gangs
  • Poor children, upon entry to school, are judged against the standards of middle class teachers
  • Middle class measuring rod
cohen cont
Cohen (cont)
  • Many poor children have lacked adequate preparation and stimulation for school. They are not used to scheduling, structured activities, and have little familiarity with books, letters and numbers, etc...
  • They are found lacking by the teachers and become frustrated
cohen cont32
Cohen (cont)
  • Might react in different ways to this frustration: corner boy, college boy, delinquent boy
  • Implications: development of preschool programs such as Headstart
differential opportunity
Differential opportunity
  • Conceptualized in terms of access to legitimate and illegitimate (criminal) opportunities
  • If conventional opportunities were blocked, youths would turn to criminal opportunities
  • For middle class youth, legitimate opportunities might be available
opportunity theory cont
Opportunity theory (cont)
  • For middle class, criminal opportunities might not be readily available
  • Some youths might have both available
  • Some might have both legitimate and criminal opportunities “blocked”
  • Even access to criminal options may be blocked
  • Cloward and Ohlin argued that there are different types of gangs
  • criminal gang: seek monetary gain through crime]
  • Conflict gang: specialize in violence, occur in areas so disorganized that youths are denied access to both legitimate and criminal opportunities
gangs cont
Gangs (cont)
  • Retreatist: drug related. The persons in such gangs might not have either the skills or the opportunities to succeed in criminal or conflict gangs
  • Overlap among gangs
  • Opportunity theory led to the War on Poverty. Programs such as Job Corps still reflect their impact