Social disorganization theory was developed by the Chicago School of criminology and is one of its most important theoretical perspectives, especially in relation to social ecology. It links crime rates to neighbourhood ecological characteristics through a breakdown of institutions such as family, school, and employment in inner city neighbourhoods and transitional areas. Social disorganization studies community deterioration in relation to crime, and pinpoints issues such as siege mentality, population turnover, weak social controls, insufficient social altruism, and lack of employment opportunities as being fundamental determinants of an individual’s future illegal ventures. Social disorganization also aims to explain how structural and cultural factors shape the nature of social order within urban communities, as well as their self-regulatory mechanisms.
Overall, social disorganization theory focuses on modeling criminal activity via spatial distributions and analysis of key variables and ecological mechanisms leading to an increase in crime in areas of urban growth or decay. It pinpoints crime as resulting due to the function of neighbourhood dynamics, and not as a result of individuals themselves within neighbourhoods. Social disorganization theory also investigates the reciprocal effects of low levels of social control on neighbouring communities, and how socioeconomic disadvantage is related to psychological and social theories of learning, control, and discipline.
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