The content of the questions may overlap somewhat, but your answers should not have much overlap with each other.
CCJ 5625 – Ecology of Crime Supplementary Lecture Notes Week 7: Differential Organization Background for this week’s readings This week we shift to a different theoretical perspective sometimes referred to as “differential social organization” or just “differential organization.” A fundamental premise of this perspective is that there may be various value systems around which neighborhoods might be “organized.” That is, contrary to the social disorganization perspective, high crime neighborhoods may actually be highly organized, just around a set of values that is more conducive to crime. While social disorganization theory suggests there is something deficient in neighborhoods that prevents them from effectively controlling the behavior of their residents, differential organization theory suggests that some neighborhoods have a different cultural orientation that may actually motivate residents to engage in crime.
This is related to a micro-level theory largely credited to Edwin Sutherland (1939) called “differential association theory.” If you have taken a course on criminological theory, you have probably learned about this perspective. In general, it argues that there is not always complete consensus within a given society about what constitutes appropriate behavior. Given these conflicting sets of rules and attitudes, whether or not an individual engages in crime is largely determined by whether they are more exposed to attitudes favorable toward crime or to attitudes unfavorable toward crime. For Sutherland, the question of why people engage in crime is largely related to this balance of attitudes that people are exposed to.
Nearly everyone is exposed to some people who are supportive of crime, delinquency, or deviance, and nearly everyone is exposed to some people who are not supportive of those things. Sutherland argued if you are exposed to a larger number of people with attitudes favorable to crime, you are more likely to engage in crime yourself.
Again, this is a micro-level theory, but it is not too difficult to see how it could be extended to a macro level such as neighborhoods. Certain neighborhoods may develop a prevailing set of Page 1 norms that are favorable toward , or at least less disapproving of, criminal and delinquent behavior. Of course, r esidents in such neighborhoods are still likely to be exposed to attitudes unfavorable toward crime such as from parents, teachers, and religious leaders. Nonetheless, living in a neighborhood characterized by a greater tolerance of criminal behavior may be enough to tip the balance of unfavorable vs. favorable attitudes, thus mak ing residents in such neighborhoods more likely to engage in crime themselves.
Keep in mind, however, that a macro-level view of differential association is different from simply arguing that the individual-level effect can be aggregated up to neighborhoods. That is, a purely micro-level approach would say some neighborhoods are higher in crime because a larger number of people living there are exposed to attitudes favorable toward crime. That is the description of an individual-level effect. It may be more or less prevalent in certain neighborhoods, which would cause some neighborhoods to be higher in crime, but it is still an individual-level argument. In order to support a macro -level version of differential association, we would need to argue that neighborhoods have an effect on behavior above and beyond the individual-level effect of exposure to attitudes. We would need to claim that there is something about neighborhoods themselves that promotes attitudes favorable to crime. I think one clear way to differentiate these micro- and macro-level explanations is this:
Is there a feature or characteristic of neighborhoods, related to differential association, that would cause an increase in offending even for someone who is not exposed to a disproportionate number of attitudes favorable to crime? For that person, the individual-level explanation would not predict involvement in crime, but it is still possible that a macro-level explanation could predict involvement in crime for that person if they live in a neighborhood that is conducive to crime.
This week’s readings give us an example of a feature of neighborhoods that could contribute to crime and delinquency. As you will see, both assigned readings discuss a concept referred to as the “code of the street.” From the differential organization perspective, we might view this “code” as a value system that supports criminal and delinquent behavior, and specifically violent behavior. Though that support may range from a minimum level (failing to Page 2 sufficiently disapprove of violence) to a maximum level (direct motivation to engage in violence), the point is that some neighborhoods may be organized around a set of prevailing social norms that are more conducive to crime.
As you read through these articles, be sure to think about what might give rise to these different sets of norms. Why would there be one set of norms about crime and violence in one community and a different set in another community? Anderson, in particular, discusses the broad social forces that may have contributed to this, so pay close attention because I could certainly ask about this on the exam.
Have a great week!
References Sutherland, Edwin H. 1939. Principles of Criminology , 3 rd ed. Philadelphia: Lippincott.