Social disorganization theory is a criminological theory that suggests that the physical and social environment of a neighborhood can contribute to high crime rates. But who came up with this theory? Let’s take a closer look.

History of Social Disorganization Theory

The social disorganization theory emerged in the early 1900s when researchers at the University of Chicago were studying crime patterns in the city. One of the first scholars to develop this theory was Robert E. Park, who was an American urban sociologist.

Robert E. Park

Robert E. Park believed that delinquency and crime could be traced back to the breakdown of traditional social institutions, such as churches and schools. He argued that when these institutions fail to provide guidance and support for young people, they may turn to criminal activities.

Ernest Burgess

Another scholar who contributed to the development of social disorganization theory was Ernest Burgess, who was also a sociologist at the University of Chicago. Burgess believed that urbanization and immigration were key factors in creating socially disorganized neighborhoods.

Elements of Social Disorganization Theory

Social disorganization theory posits that certain factors in neighborhoods contribute to high crime rates. These factors include:

It’s important to note that not all socially disorganized neighborhoods will experience high levels of crime, but these factors can increase the likelihood.

Critiques and Controversies

While social disorganization theory has been influential in shaping criminological research, it has also faced criticism. Some scholars argue that the theory places too much emphasis on the physical environment of neighborhoods and overlooks individual factors, such as personal experiences and motivations for criminal behavior.

Additionally, others have argued that the theory can be used to justify policies that Target certain neighborhoods or groups based on their perceived level of social disorganization.


In conclusion, social disorganization theory was developed by scholars at the University of Chicago in the early 1900s, including Robert E. Park and Ernest Burgess. The theory suggests that certain factors in neighborhoods can contribute to high crime rates, including poverty, unemployment, lack of access to quality education, inadequate housing, high population turnover, and ethnic heterogeneity. While the theory has faced criticism and controversy over its emphasis on the physical environment of neighborhoods and potential for discriminatory policies, it continues to be an important framework for understanding crime patterns in urban areas.