What Are the Three Branches of Social Structure Theory?


Jane Flores

Social structure theory is a framework used to understand how institutions, social norms, and power dynamics shape the behavior of individuals and groups. It focuses on how these structures affect people’s opportunities and outcomes in life. There are three main branches of social structure theory that provide different perspectives on how social structures impact society.

1. Social Disorganization Theory

Social disorganization theory suggests that crime occurs in areas with weak social ties and ineffective institutions. These areas are characterized by poverty, unemployment, and high rates of mobility, which make it difficult for communities to develop strong bonds. As a result, criminal activity is more likely to occur in these areas as individuals lack the support and guidance necessary to make positive decisions.

Examples of Social Disorganization Theory in Action:

  • In neighborhoods with high rates of poverty, residents may be more likely to engage in criminal activity due to a lack of economic opportunities.
  • In areas with weak educational systems, young people may be more likely to drop out of school and become involved in criminal behavior.

2. Strain Theory

Strain theory suggests that crime occurs when individuals experience strain or pressure due to their inability to achieve societal goals through legitimate means. This strain can result from a variety of factors, including poverty, discrimination, or limited access to education or employment opportunities. When individuals feel that they cannot achieve success through lawful means, they may turn to illegal activities as an alternative.

Examples of Strain Theory in Action:

  • A person who is unable to find employment despite having valuable skills may turn to theft or drug dealing as a way to make ends meet.
  • A student who cannot afford college tuition may resort to selling drugs or engaging in other illegal activities as a way to pay for their education.

3. Cultural Deviance Theory

Cultural deviance theory suggests that crime is more prevalent in communities with their own unique cultural norms and values. These norms may conflict with mainstream societal beliefs and can result in behaviors that are considered criminal. This theory argues that those who grow up in these communities are socialized to accept and engage in these behaviors, leading to higher rates of criminal activity.

Examples of Cultural Deviance Theory in Action:

  • In some neighborhoods, gang membership is seen as a normal part of life and is even celebrated, leading to higher rates of violent crime.
  • In certain subcultures, drug use may be seen as a way to cope with stress or trauma, leading to higher rates of drug-related crimes.

In conclusion, social structure theory provides valuable insights into how social structures impact society and contribute to the prevalence of crime. By understanding the three branches of social structure theory – social disorganization theory, strain theory, and cultural deviance theory – we can better understand the underlying factors that contribute to criminal behavior and work towards creating more equitable societies.