Ernest Burgess of the University of Chicago, sought to explain clear divisions of socioeconomic status within and immediately outside of cities. The disparities from one city block to the next were extremely apparent and Burgess created a tool that has proven to be extremely helpful to future crime study. Working with the city of Chicago, Burgess examined and identified 5 city zones, each with its own particular attributes. Though Ernest’s original publication from 1928 on concentric circles very blatantly divided these zones by concentration of African Americans within the inner zones (Burgess, 1928), the general make-up of these areas today is predominantly comprised of minorities and those of lower socioeconomic status.
The zone distinction within cities will become much more apparent in future discussions about social disorganization and its dominance within inner zones.
Zone II is distinct in its impoverished condition. Houses are dilapidated and abandoned, education standards and facilities are low, and crime is abundant. Brought to light by Clifford Shaw and Henry McKay of the University of Chicago, the term social disorganization became a predominant theme in explaining the occurrence of dysfunction and crime within these inner zones.
The Zone of Transition is one of much despair and hardship. Houses and apartment complexes are left ignored by landlords and tenants allowing them to go into major disrepair. Drug dealing, addiction, and prostitution are visible on most street corners as few means of legitimate methods of work are available to those residing in these areas. High resident turnover occurs as those that find the means are able to move into higher zones. These community traits leave these neighborhoods unstable and ever-changing, yet through cultural transmission, the general subculture of crime and deviance persists (Siegel, 2009). While the outermost concentric zones adapt to “conventional norms”, respect for law enforcement, and a shared interest in the maintenance of communities (Siegel, 2009), inner-city subcultures fail to make the same connections as they are continuously ignored and disenfranchised. Lacking any form of social control, such as family, regular law enforcement, social services, etc., deviance transitions from one generation to another, especially via juveniles and gangs (Lersch, 2011). The continuous cycle of crime and violence in conjunction with the lack of support from outside sources allows these zones to maintain the disorganization as a concrete subculture.
There are criticisms of every theory, yet, they are important and worth mentioning for purposes of future research. Despite the popularity of social disorganization theory, it has been hypothesized that these zones perhaps do not experience heightened crime levels so much as heightened levels of attention to crime.
Discrimination against the impoverished and minorities allows for these neighborhoods to receive increased scrutiny (Lersch, 2011). Upon being targeted by law enforcement because of their neighborhood identity, criminal activity and deviance will have more interaction with law enforcement and the judicial system. This is known as the labeling theory. Once labeled a deviant by association or law enforcement interaction, there is a tendency for future stigmatization by the system (Lersch, 2011).
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