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social structure theories emphasize group differences (macro level) instead of individual differences (micro level). In 1893, Durkheim developed a general model of societal development based on the economic/labor distribution, in which societies are seen as evolving from a simplistic mechanical society toward a multilayered organic society. In the primitive mechanical societies, all members essentially performed the same functions. These similarities lead to a strong uniformity in values, which Durkheim called the collective conscience. As societies progressed toward more organic societies, the division of labor became more specialized, but a type of solidarity still existed. This solidarity, referred to as organic solidarity, refers to the idea that people still depended on others in the society. However, Durkheim argued that the move from such universally shared roles in mechanical societies to such extremely specific roles in organic societal organization results in vast cultural differences, which leads to contrasts in normative values and attitudes across the group dynamic. When this occurs, the collective conscience weakens and preexisting solidarities among the members breaks down and the bonds are weakened, creating a climate for antisocial behavior. In addition, Durkheim claimed that with rapid change, the ability of society to serve as a regulatory mechanism breaks down and the selfish, greedy tendencies of individuals are uncontrolled, causing a state of anomie, or normlessness. Societies in such anomic states experience increases in many social problems, particularly criminal activity. This theoretical proposal was perhaps the most influential of modern structural perspectives on criminality.

The chapter continues with the discussion of different forms of strain theory. Strain theories vary regarding the exact causes of frustration and how individuals cope with such frustrations, but they all identify strain on individuals as the primary causal factor in the development of criminality. The first strain theory discussed is Merton’s Strain Theory. Merton’s work was perhaps the most influential theoretical formulation in criminological literature. This is partially related to the timing of Merton’s proposal. The influence of the Great Depression was affecting virtually every aspect of life in the United States and people could relate Merton’s proposal to the fall of the economic structure during the time. Merton was heavily influenced by Durkheim’s concept of anomie, but he altered the meaning. For Merton, anomie was the disequilibrium in the emphasis between the goals and the means of societies. Specifically, Merton argued that everyone is socialized to believe in the American Dream. This socialization leads to the belief that everyone can achieve the American Dream as long as they work hard and pay their dues.  However, the reality is, not everyone will be able to achieve the American Dream. It is this failure that leads to the majority of strain and stress. In addition, it is this idea of the American Dream then that leads to the de-emphasis of the means and an over-emphasis of the goals. In response, Merton identifies five adaptations to strain: conformity, ritualism, innovation, retreatism, and rebellion. It is the innovators, retreatist, and rebels that are the most likely to engage in criminal behavior. In 1955, Cohen presented a theory of gang formation using Merton’s strain theory as a basis for why individuals resort to such behavior. Specifically, Cohen argued young males from the lower classes are at a disadvantage in competing in school because they lack the normal interaction, socialization, and discipline instituted by educated parents of the middle-class. The failure to succeed leads to a rejection of the middle-class values. Cohen stated he believed that this tendency to reject middle-class values was the primary cause of gangs because a number of these lower-class individuals who had experienced the same strains and experiences form together into a group. In addition to this concept of the delinquent boy, Cohen proposed the concepts of college boy and corner boy. Five years later, Cloward and Ohlin proposed the Theory of Differential Opportunity. Like the previous propositions, they believe all youth were socialized to believe in the American Dream. What distinguishes their theory from previous theories is that they emphasized three different types of gangs that form based on the characteristics of the social structure in the neighborhood. The types of gangs that form are criminal gangs, conflict gangs, and retreatist gangs. The last strain theory discussed is Agnew’s General Strain Theory. General Strain Theory assumes that people of all social classes and economic positions deal with frustrations in routine daily life. Like previous models, general strain theory focuses on the failure to achieve positively valued goals; additionally, the theory emphasizes two additional categories of strain: presentation of noxious stimuli and removal of positively valued stimuli. Ultimately, these three categories of stain will lead to stress and this results in a propensity to feel anger. It is predicted that to the extent that three sources of strain cause feelings of anger in an individual, that is the extent to which he or she is predisposed to commit crime and deviance.

Furthermore, the chapter discusses the social disorganization and subcultures and their relationship to crime. Park’s discussion related to city growth and concentric circles. Park argued that much of human behavior, especially the way cities grow, follows the basic principles of ecology. In addition, he claimed that all cities contain identifiable clusters, which he called natural areas, where the cluster has taken on a life or organic unity by itself. Applying these ecological principles and others, Park noted that some areas may invade and dominate adjacent areas, as well as the recession of previously dominant areas. Expansions such as these can devastate the informal controls in these areas. Burgess expanded on Park’s proposition by noting that city growth occurs from the inside out. In other words, growth begins in the center of the city. To demonstrate this proposition, Burgess identified primary zones that all cities appear to have. The zones numbered one through five and one unnumbered zone, the factory zone, represent various aspects of cities. Zone I contains the large business buildings, the next zone contains the factories, Zone II is identified as the zone in transition, Zone II is largely made up of relatively modest homes and apartments, Zone IV contains higher-priced family dwellings and more expensive apartments, and Zone V is considered the suburban or commuter zone. The important point of this theory of concentric circles is that growth of each inner zone puts pressure on the next zone to grow and push on the next adjacent zone. The chapter continues with the discussion of Shaw and McKay’s Theory of Social Disorganization. They proposed a framework that begins with the assumption that certain neighborhoods in all cities have more crime than other parts of the city, most of them located in Burgess’ Zone II. According to Shaw and McKay, neighborhoods with the highest rates of crime typically have at least three common problems: physical dilapidation, poverty, and a high cultural mix (heterogeneity). These problems lead to a state of social disorganization, which in turn leads to crime and delinquency.

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