Social Disorganization Theory in a Neighborhood

According to Clifford Shaw and McKay; formulators of the social disorganization theory at the institute for social research in Chicago, classical theory of social disorganization as applied to existing ideas in the social ecology explains crime and delinquent behavior in a place or neighborhood. On examining juvenile delinquency data on residential locations of the youth, they made several observations concerning the distribution of crime cases in the Chicago neighborhoods. They realized that areas that had high rates of physical decay, infant mortality, drug addiction, prostitution, alcoholism, and tuberculosis, also had sustainable high rates of delinquency and crime cases, which resulted in a substantial change in their racial and ethnic composition (Miller, 2009).

Social disorganization can be described by the vulnerability of social institutions in a given community or neighborhood that causes them to fail to realize common goals thereby failing to maintain effective social control of residents, leading to crime and delinquent behaviors. Social institutions that are susceptible to failure include families, schools, churches, or even local authorities. According to the social disorganization theory of criminology, organized communities broadly have their members perform activities controlled by a central representative figure such as community or religious leaders. This theory hypothesis that variation in crime and delinquent behavior in communities is an upshot of absence or breakdown of communal institutions provides residents with guidelines ensuring social control (Parrillo, 2008).

A socially disorganized neighborhood or community is characterized by residential instability, poverty, family disruptions, and even ethnic-racial heterogeneity of its members making it susceptible to violence and crime. It has fragile friendship associations, unmonitored teenagers groups, and poor organizational engagement as a result of the absence of social order. Disorganization of the institutions expected to enforce law and order in the community encourages persistent and systematic crime, and delinquency, leading to the decline of traditions and customs that foster social order (Vito et al, 2006).

Footscray; Melbourne’s inner city is majorly populated by the working class. It is considered to be one of the most affected places with crime-up to 15000 crimes for every 100000 residents (Sexton, 2010). Sunshine station in Footscray is another socially disorganized area. Residents complain of escalating violence in this Melbourne suburb. Darlene Reilly association asserts that the number of violent attacks over the past years has continually increased. Residents have fallen victim to armed robberies, and assorted cases of assault. Drugs abuse particularly around Footscray railway station is rampant thus the prevalence of crime in this area (Drugs & Crime…Next Suburb Please”). The situation got worse to a point that Footscray started a zero-tolerance to drugs, crime, and inappropriate behavior campaign.

Social disorganization in Footscray is propagated by social-economic factors that negatively influence children’s discipline and that of young people (Sexton, 2010). Families in Footscray neighborhoods experience social-economic inequalities, which have a debilitating effect on children as a result of environmental experiences such as stress, nutrition, and parenting. This enhances problems of adult mental health, addictive tendencies, and crime and delinquent behaviors amongst the members of these neighborhoods (Drugs & Crime…Next Suburb Please). Thus, the social disorganization.

Additionally, the absence of adolescent intervention programs for the youth, formulated to create awareness in them through early interventions to avert delinquent behavior and criminal tendencies also causes social disorganization. Accessibility of alcohol outlets has augmented incidents of domestic violence in the neighborhoods, contributing a great deal to economic disempowerment as well as social disorganization (Sexton, 2010).

The neighborhood is densely populated with hotels, pubs, restaurants, and bars where alcohol is easily available and accessible. Conflicting values, beliefs, and norms, which are widely shared in a dominant culture, too encourages social disorganization. The Cultural system here does not enforce adherence to the laws but instead, encourages crime hence the youth engagement in dangerous activities. Gambling and electronic gaming machines being foremost past-time activities among the youth are also contributing to sexual immorality and ethnic differences, leading to escalating criminal incidents (“Drugs & Crime…Next Suburb Please”).

Social disorganization is underscored by crime and delinquent behavior prevalent in a neighborhood or community. Delinquency is a cyclic indicator of social disorganization (Miller, 2009). The collective efficacy theory, advanced by Simpson, explains the link between crime and the structural conditions of the neighborhoods. This theory hypothesis that the well-being of members of a community is guaranteed through issuing of clear collective goals and rules essential to the community. If a society fails to direct members of its communities, the society becomes socially disorganized (Vito et al, 2006). Ecological factors such as poverty and residential mobility contribute to the breakdown of social control (Parrillo, 2008). Footscray suburb of Melbourne is experiencing crime and delinquent behavior due to rampant drug and alcohol abuse mostly by the youth. This has led to recurring incidents of domestic violence, robberies, assault, and prostitution. Through the participation of the community members, Footscray communities can enhance relationships and thus build a sense of the commonality. Consequently, this will promote social cohesion in the neighborhood thus controlling crime and delinquent behaviors.


Drugs & Crime…Next Suburb Please. (2009). The Australia Heroine Dairies. Web.

Miller M. M. J., 2009, 21st century criminology: a reference handbook, vol.1, SAGE, p112.

Parrillo, N.V., 2008, Encyclopedia of social problems, vol. 2, Sage Publications, p238-259

Sexton, R. (2010). Housing up but crime rates high. Victoria. Web.

Vito, F. G., Maahs, R. J. and Holmes M. R., 2006, Criminology: theory, research, and policy, 2nd ed. Jones & Bartlett Learning, p 32-41.

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