Social Disorganization

Social disorganization-Anomie and Alienation

The social disorganization theory is one of the most important theories developed by the Chicago School, related to ecological theories. The theory directly links crime rates to neighborhood ecological characteristics; a core principle of social disorganization theory is that place matters. In other words, a person’s residential location is a substantial factor shaping the likelihood that that person will become involved in illegal activities. The theory suggests that, among determinants of a person’s later illegal activity, residential location is as significant as or more significant than the person’s individual characteristics (e.g., age, gender, or race). For example, the theory suggests that youths from disadvantaged neighborhoods participate in a subculture which approves of delinquency, and that these youths thus acquire criminality in this social and cultural setting.

Larry Gaines and Roger Miller state in their book Criminal Justice in Action that “crime is largely a product of unfavorable conditions in certain communities”. According to the social disorganization theory, there are ecological factors that lead to high rates of crime in these communities, and these factors linked to constantly elevated levels of “high school dropouts, unemployment, deteriorating infrastructures, and single-parent homes” (Gaines and Miller). The theory is not intended to apply to all types of crime, just street crime at the neighborhood level. The theory has not been used to explain organized crime, corporate crime, or deviant behavior that takes place outside neighborhood settings.

Thomas and Znaniecki

W. I. Thomas and Florian Znaniecki’s The Polish Peasant in Europe and America(1918–1920) introduced the idea that a person’s thinking processes and attitudes are constructed by the interaction between that person’s situation and his or her behavior. Attitudes are not innate; rather, they stem from a process of acculturation. Any proposed action will have social importance to an individual both because it relates to the objective situation within which the subject has to act, and because it has been shaped by attitudes formed through a lifetime of social and cultural experiences.

 This is based on the “four wishes” of the Thomas theorem, viz., “If men define situations as real, they are real in their consequences”. These four wishes are the desire for new experiences, the desire for recognition, the desire for domination, and the desire for security. Combined with the cultural values of a pre-existing situation, the four wishes give rise to certain attitudes which are subjectively defined meanings and shared experience, strongly emphasised and embodied in specific institutions.

  The root of new attitudes arises from the formation of new relationships and interaction between the person and the world outside the community. For example, the emergence of economics as an independent sphere reflected the tendency to reduce quality to a quantity in barter transactions and led to the development of money.

Park and Burgess

Robert E. Park and Ernest Burgess (1925) developed a theory of urban ecology which proposed that cities are environments like those found in nature, governed by many of the same forces of Darwinian evolution; i.e. competition, which affects natural ecosystems. When a city is formed and grows, people and their activities cluster in a particular area (this is the process of “concentration”). Gradually, this central area becomes highly populated, so there is a scattering of people and their activities away from the central city to establish the suburbs (this is “dispersion”).

They suggested that, over time, the competition for land and other scarce urban resources leads to the division of the urban space into distinctive ecological niches, “natural areas” or zones in which people share similar social characteristics because they are subject to the same ecological pressures. As a zone becomes more prosperous and “desirable”, property values and rents rise, and people and businesses migrate into that zone, usually moving outward from the city center in a process Park and Burgess called “succession” (a term borrowed from plant ecology), and new residents take their place.

At both a micro and macro level, society was thought to operate as a super organism, where change is a natural aspect of the process of growth, and is neither chaotic nor disorderly. Thus, an organized area is invaded by new elements. This gives rise to local competition, and there will either be succession or an accommodation which results in a reorganization. But, during the early stages of competition, there will always be some level of disorganization because there will be disruption to (or breakdowns in) the normative structure of the community, which may or may not lead to deviant behavior. Thus, although a city was a physical organization, it also had social and moral structures that could be disorganized.

Anomie and Alienation

Karl Marx first outlined his theory of alienation in The Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts (1844) and refers to a define set of social relationships that were first formed in feudal societies which then became disrupted by modern industrial society. Marx himself said when discussing the topic of alienation “The worker becomes poorer the more wealth he produces and the more his production increases in power and extent. The worker becomes an ever cheaper commodity the more goods he creates. The devaluation of the human world increases in direct relation to the increase in value of the world of things. Labour does not only create goods; it also produces itself and the worker as a commodity, and indeed in the same proportion as it produces goods”. Anomie however, is defined by Emile Durkheim as a change in “normalness” and a breakdown of social regulations.

Durkheim became interested in the social condition characterised by a breakdown of ‘norms’ governing social interactions. “The state of anomie is impossible wherever organs solidly linked to one another are in sufficient contact, and in sufficiently lengthy contact. Indeed, being adjacent to one another, they are easily alerted in every situation to the need for one another and consequently they experience a keen, continuous feeling of their mutual dependence.”. Durkheim went on to develop his interest of anomie further when he began his research into ‘Suicide’, where he suggested that when a person’s ‘norms’ and rules that regulate their lifestyle become week, this can lead to a form of suicide which he called ‘Anomic Suicide’.

Marx believed that there were four degrees of alienation that break down the fundamental link that human beings have to their self defining qualities. Firstly there is ‘product alienation’ which Marx believed was alienating to the worker because the products that they produce do not reflect their creative energies and are merely objects produced by the command of the employer. Which he argues was present in industrialised society but not in feudal societies as a result of capitalism and its economic gain fuelled society. Secondly, Marx said that alienation could come from ‘act of production’. This, according to Marx is linked to ‘product alienation’ as the product of labour is alienating then so is the act of production. So in capitalist societies people have no choice but to work and feel alienated to meet their basic needs. Marx’s work stated that “The worker feels himself only when he is not working; when he is working he does not feel himself. his labour is therefore not voluntary but forced”. Thirdly, Marx suggested that there was alienation due to ‘common purpose’. He outlined that this happened when a worker’s social relationships become debased and they are taken from a cooperative social dimension, for example on factory lines and in open offices. Finally the fourth alienation type that Marx wrote about was ‘alienation from humanity’. Marx believed that this happened when a person worked long hour days -as Marx wrote in the Victorian society this was extremely common- and together with the three other forms of alienation; a person lost their sense of humanity and became alienated from their own inner self.

Durkheim however argued that anomie in the division of labour alike that of alienation, deprived individuals of a sense of connection with society. Durkheim believed that this sense of deprivation caused people to become disorientated and anxious and saw anomie as one of the social factors that influenced suicide.

He argued that there were four types of suicide: Altruistic, Anomic, Egoistic and Fatalistic. Altruistic suicide being too much social integration, for example suicide bombers give up their life for the needs of their social group . Egoistic suicide, in Durkheim’s terms was due to insufficient regulation. This can be seen in societies such as religious groups; Durkheim found that suicide was higher in the Protestant religion than it was in Catholic religious groups. He believed that this was due to the Catholic religion having a more strict regulations, so therefore people believed that it was ‘against god’ to commit suicide and also with the Catholic society being greater regulated, he believed that this closer connected society made the people have a greater sense of community and moral values so did not feel the need to commit suicide.


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