The Chicago School of criminological theory arose in the early twentieth century and adopted a sociological approach with respect to studying crime, focusing in particular on neighbourhood studies of crime and delinquency with defined spatial distributions. It comprised the first major body of works specializing in urban sociology, and combined theory with ethnographic field studies in the city of Chicago before expanding to other areas. Although the term is also used interchangeably with the University of Chicago’s sociology department, the Chicago School has influenced contemporary criminological research through a strong focus on social disorganization theory, which posits a breakdown of social structure due to economic impoverishment and lack of resources.
In addition to bringing the idea of social ecology into the modern criminological perception, the Chicago School was also one of the first institutions to engage in qualitative research methodologies, such as studying factors like immigration, community involvement, and family instability and their increasing effect on criminal activity.
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