Social structure theory is a framework that seeks to understand how society is organized and how various structures within society influence individual behavior. There are three independent but overlapping branches of social structure theory: social disorganization theory, strain theory, and cultural deviance theory.
Social Disorganization Theory
Social disorganization theory posits that crime and deviance are the result of the breakdown of social institutions in certain neighborhoods. According to this theory, neighborhoods with high levels of poverty, unemployment, residential mobility, and ethnic heterogeneity experience social disorganization, which weakens social bonds and increases the likelihood of criminal behavior.
Research has shown that communities with high rates of crime tend to have low levels of collective efficacy – the willingness of community members to intervene in the supervision and discipline of young people. This lack of collective efficacy allows for the emergence and persistence of criminal activity.
Key concepts in social disorganization theory:
- Poverty: Communities with high poverty rates often lack resources for education, healthcare, and employment opportunities.
- Residential Mobility: Frequent movement in and out of a neighborhood disrupts social networks and weakens community bonds.
- Ethnic Heterogeneity: Communities with diverse ethnic populations may face challenges in establishing shared norms and values.
Strain theory suggests that crime is a result of individuals’ inability to achieve culturally prescribed goals through legitimate means. When individuals face strain or stress caused by blocked opportunities or limited resources, they may turn to criminal behavior as a means to achieve their goals.
The strain experienced by individuals can be categorized into five types:
- Structural Strain: This refers to the strain caused by the structure of society, such as lack of employment opportunities or educational resources.
- Individual Strain: This refers to the strain caused by personal circumstances, such as low self-esteem or feelings of injustice.
- Relative Deprivation: This refers to the strain caused by comparing oneself to others who are better off in terms of wealth, status, or power.
- Disjunction Strain: This refers to the strain caused by a discrepancy between expectations and actual achievements.
- Institutional Strain: This refers to the strain caused by dysfunctional institutions that fail to provide individuals with opportunities for success.
Cultural Deviance Theory
Cultural deviance theory suggests that crime and deviance are more prevalent in certain subcultures due to their unique cultural values and norms. These subcultures emerge in response to social disorganization and strains experienced within society.
Key concepts within cultural deviance theory include:
- Cultural Transmission: Subcultural values and norms are passed down from one generation to another through socialization processes.
- Focal Concerns: Certain subcultures prioritize specific concerns such as toughness, street smarts, and immediate gratification over conventional goals like education or long-term success.
- Differential Opportunity Structure: Subcultures may provide alternative paths for achieving success when conventional means are limited or blocked. These alternative paths often involve criminal behavior.
In conclusion, social structure theory encompasses three distinct yet interconnected branches: social disorganization theory, strain theory, and cultural deviance theory. By understanding the factors that contribute to crime and deviance at the societal level, we can develop strategies to promote social cohesion, reduce strain, and address the root causes of criminal behavior.