Meta-Theoretical Resolution for the Contradictions of Shaw and McKay's Social Disorganization Theory

Kennon J. Rice, North Carolina State University

Shaw and McKay's original conception of social disorganization theory has suffered from three major criticisms. First, the theory borrows from several different theoretical traditions without closely adhering to an underlying theoretical orientation. The indiscriminate inclusion of these theories has resulted in contradictory and theoretically inconsistent theoretical propositions. Second, the theory has been criticized for focusing on areas to the exclusion of individuals, since only individuals commit crimes. Third, the theory seems to focus entirely on spatial characteristics of neighborhoods as causal factors while ignoring the possibility that communities may attract different types of individuals with different probabilities of committing crimes. I argue that these three criticisms represent three corresponding dualities: 1) A causal versus an action approach, 2) a rational choice model versus a socialization model, and 3) contextual effects versus compositional effects. The reformulation of social disorganization theory within the framework of Anthony Giddens' structuration meta-theory resolves these dualisms and subsequently eliminates the contradictions for which the theory has previously been criticized. The dissolution of these dualisms helps to specify the micro-macro linkages of social disorganization theory without reducing the theory to the network/control model it has taken in recent literature. This more inclusive model of the theory is said to be more representative of the complex realities of social influences and individual action.

(Return to Program Resources)

Updated 05/20/2006