Early Chicago School Theory Research Paper

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The Early Chicago School of Sociology was a formative influence on subsequent criminological thought throughout the twentieth century and remains central to current debates. The concept of neighborhood social disorganization is perhaps the most enduring intellectual legacy of the Early Chicago School. In its most prevalent contemporary definition, social disorganization can be understood as the inability of a community to realize common values and maintain effective social controls. The origins of the concept can be traced to the foundational work of the French sociologist Emile Durkheim, particularly his seminal study Suicide. Znaniecki were the first Chicago School researchers to articulate and apply the notion of social disorganization in their study of immigrants adapting to the rapidly changing early twentiethcentury urban context. Subsequently, Park and Burgess pioneered the human ecology perspective contributing a spatial perspective on urban processes that lead some areas to face higher risk of social disorganization. Drawing on these influences and the work of Thrasher on urban gang formation, Shaw and McKay refined the social disorganization approach for the purposes of understanding neighborhood-level variations in crime rates. Specifically, they argued that neighborhood poverty, residential instability, and racial/ ethnic heterogeneity compromised the ability of residents to realize shared values, including the control of crime in public space. Social disorganization theory has proved a remarkably resilient theoretical perspective within criminology and remains among the most influential explanations of variation in crime across urban space.


The University of Chicago founded the first department of sociology in the United States in 1892, a time of increasing industrialization, domestic and international migration, and rapid urbanization. Under the leadership of its Chair, Albion W. Small, the department emphasized the necessity of merging social theory with empirical data collection and analysis in an effort to establish the science of sociology. The “Chicago School of Sociology” would later refer to the theories and methods practiced by faculty and students in the department during the first half of the twentieth century. The Chicago School is often conceptually split into two connected yet distinct cohorts – the “Early Chicago School,”1894–1940 during the Progressive Era, and the “Second Chicago School,” 1945–1960 during the Postwar Period. The Second Chicago School, including graduate students Howard Becker and Erving Goffman, is often credited with developing symbolic interactionism from the work of Herbert Blumer and George Herbert Mead. For a more complete narrative of the Chicago School of Sociology, detailed biographies of its constituents, and discussion of the conflict over the existence of a second “Chicago School,” see Chicago Sociology: 1920–1932 by Robert E. Faris (1967); The Chicago School of Sociology by Martin Blumer (1984); and A Second Chicago School?: The Development of a Postwar American Sociology by Gary Alan Fine (1995).

Exemplified in the work of faculty members Robert E. Park and Ernest W. Burgess, the Early Chicago School (ECS) saw the surrounding urban environment as a natural social laboratory in which to investigate human behavior, including juvenile delinquency and adult crime. Park concludes his essay, “Human Behavior in the City Environment,” with the following statement, “The city, in short, shows the good and evil in human nature in excess. It is this fact, perhaps, more than any other which justifies the view that makes the city a laboratory or clinic in which human nature and social processes may be most conveniently and profitably studied” (1915, p. 612). This perspective strongly influenced the qualitative and quantitative empirical studies conducted by faculty and students in the ECS during the first half of the century. Following the seminal work of Thomas and Znaniecki, Thrasher, Park and Burgess, and Shaw and McKay, as well as the ethnographies of Frederick Thrasher (1927), Harvey W. Zorbaugh (1929), and Walter C. Reckless (1933), among countless others, the ECS became synonymous with urban sociology and research on the effects of the neighborhood context for individual behaviors and outcomes. The ECS’s research on urban social context would furthermore shape social scientists’ approach to urban social problems and provide important theoretical groundwork for contemporary criminology.

This research paper traces the origins and development of the key criminological theory to emerge from the ECS – social disorganization theory. Beginning with the foundational theoretical insights of Durkheim, the paper focuses on the central ECS figures that contributed significantly to the development of the social disorganization model, including Thomas and Znaniecki, Thrasher, and Park and Burgess. The work of Shaw and McKay and the realization of social disorganization theory in their research on neighborhoods and crime is then reviewed. Finally, the paper considers the implications of the ECS emphasis on the spatially situated nature of social phenomena for future directions in criminological research. Although Edwin Sutherland was a student and faculty member at the University of Chicago during the period addressed here, his seminal work on differential association theory began to take shape somewhat later than the period emphasized here, appearing fully formed in Sutherland’s 1947 edition of Principles of Criminology.

The Roots Of Social Disorganization Theory

The roots of social disorganization theory can be traced to Emile Durkheim, particularly his seminal work Suicide (1997). In this foundational contribution to the sociological discipline, Durkheim takes as his analytic focus variability in rates of suicide across communities, viewing these as “social facts” worthy of explanation in their own right. Suicide rates thus required explanation with reference to social phenomena, not the aggregation of individual psychological states. In Durkheim’s view, periods of rapid social change – characteristic of modernity – attenuate the strength of the normative order structuring life expectations. For instance, rapid economic change – both declining and expanding economic fortunes – destabilizes expectations for life prospects, generating uncertainty and a state of what Durkheim calls “anomie,” or normlessness. Durkheim’s provocative and counterintuitive claim that rapid increases in wealth lead to increases in suicide rates stems from his conception of human nature. Fundamentally, Durkheim viewed human beings as naturally self-interested and capable of infinite aspirations in the absence of constraining social norms. Normatively destabilizing increases in wealth thus free the fertile human imagination to aspire in an unlimited way, inevitably leading to disappointment.

Although Chicago School research departed in significant ways from Durkheim, a number of important assumptions of the Chicago School approach can be linked to Durkheim’s thinking. First, Durkheim’s emphasis on the link between characteristics of social structures (e.g., economic change) and their implications for the strength of behaviorally consequential norms was a critical aspect of the Early Chicago School tradition. Relatedly, Durkheim relied on a self-interested and fundamentally Hobbesian view of human nature in describing the undesirable implications of normlessness for the functioning of societies. This image of the naturally self- interested human actor – inevitably seeking the most expedient method of satisfying basic appetites in the absence of social constraints – is later adopted as a key assumption of Early Chicago School approaches. Most influentially, these themes found expression in the work of Thomas and Znaniecki, Thrasher, and ultimately – drawing on the ecological and spatial insights of Park and Burgess – Shaw and McKay.

Early Chicago School Urban Research

Even before the work of Park and Burgess’ research reached prominence, William I. Thomas and Florian Znaniecki’s (1918–1928) five-volume ethnological study, The Polish Peasant in Europe and America, had a lasting influence on the methodology and theoretical framework of the department and the ECS. The Social Science Research Council named The Polish Peasant “the most significant piece of research in American sociology” in 1937 (Faris 1967, p. 17).

The Polish Peasant draws from Thomas’ interests in social psychology and provides an in-depth account of the assimilation processes of immigrants arriving in urban ethnic communities from rural regions in Eastern Europe (Young 1962). Thomas and Znaniecki assert that the higher rates of delinquency in immigrant neighborhoods are not the result of personal deficiency or inherent criminal tendency. Rather, these outcomes are a product of the inevitable weakening of immigrant structures of social organization that occur when residents are transplanted from (largely rural) origin country milieus to urban environments. Thomas and Znaniecki’s model of social disintegration within ethnic neighborhoods suggests that, in the face of rapid population growth and increasing racial, ethnic, and cultural heterogeneity, contradictory norms and behavioral expectations cause internal conflict among new immigrants and subsequently weaken the “control of the old social milieu” (1996 [1918–1920], p. 100). The decreasing effectiveness of traditional methods of social control – understood as positive and negative sanctions for conformity or deviation from rules and expectations for behavior – leads to increased rates of crime, domestic violence, and marital dissolution. Thus, in their view, social disorganization was a process characterized by attenuated normative structures precipitated by the interaction of heterogeneous cultural contexts and rapid change.

Thrasher’s Theory Of Gang Formation

Any discussion of the emergence of social disorganization would be incomplete without reference to the early work of Frederick Thrasher on gangs. An empirical investigation of 1,313 gangs, Thrasher’s The Gang (1927) occupies a central place among influential ECS works informing the development of social disorganization theory. Thrasher’s model was an early version of a social control theory, focused directly on the social and community conditions that led to gang formation.

In Thrasher’s view, gangs are spontaneous, unstructured collectivities of adolescents emerging primarily in milieus characterized by ineffective family and institutional organization.

Although gangs can form in a variety of settings, in the urban context, Thrasher suggests that slums characterized by deterioration, high levels of mobility, and critically, weakened controls will tend to produce the highest concentrations of gangs. Gangs are not necessarily delinquent in this approach, as their primary function is social. Indeed, Thrasher’s study offers a model for the emergence of gangs that, ironically, shifts attention away from the gang as a causal mechanism in the production of crime. Youth who participate in gangs are essentially pre-selected for such activity by weakened social controls – the principal explanation for their delinquent activity as well (which would likely occur in the absence of gang membership). Thus, the assumption of a natural tendency toward deviance emerges in Thrasher’s work, articulated with reference to Thomas’ “four wishes” – for fellowship, status, excitement, and security. In the absence of institutional structures (rooted in family and community life) in which to pursue these wishes, gangs will emerge to provide a form of inchoate organization. Although some gangs will develop more elaborate structure in the form of hierarchies, high levels of cohesion, and group norms, these are conventionally oriented and relatively rare. Most gangs will remain loosely organized and reliant on conflict with other groups for whatever minimal cohesion they maintain. Lacking structures for the development and enforcement of norms, gangs are likely to serve only as a social conduit of delinquent tendencies already in place due to weakened controls (Kornhauser 1978).

Human Ecology Theory

Thrasher’s emphasis on weakened social controls in the social milieu of urban youth highlights his implicit interest in the role of neighborhoods in shaping gang formation. This incipient acknowledgement of the role of urban neighborhoods in structuring gang formation links Thrasher’s research to the larger ECS theme of urban spatial differentiation. The foundational ECS research of Park and Burgess, however, took the spatial patterning of human behavior and urban social problems as a central theme of their important collection of essays – The City: Suggestions for Investigation of Human Behavior in the Urban Environment (1967 [1925]). They also take up the role of social disorganization as a process endemic to urban environments. For instance, they note that the social disorganization observed by Thomas and Znaniecki is not limited to immigrant communities but, rather, is inherent to the social processes of urban expansion, asserting that social disorganization is a normal component of neighborhood change (p. 54). Their theory of human ecology argues that residential mobility and change in land use patterns lead to social equilibrium imbalance, such that “the physical basis of social relations is altered, thereby producing social and political problems” (p. 64).

Human ecology theory is the study of the social and behavioral consequences of human interaction with the surrounding environment. Park and Burgess’s human ecology model of the city is founded on the assertion that competition is the basic form of social interaction. Park drew on the Danish ecologist Warming’s model of “plant communities” in which species struggle to survive in a complex and interdependent “natural economy.” Such communities are characterized by a dynamic equilibrium marked by periods of both stability and change. In adapting this model to the urban environment, Park employed the metaphor of an organism to describe the “natural areas” – or neighborhoods – that emerge as a result of competition among groups with specific economic, occupational, race/ethnic, or cultural characteristics.

In Human Communities, Park (1952) elaborates the ecological model, emphasizing two key concepts. First, the city as a whole is depicted as a superorganism composed of natural areas linked by symbiotic relationships among its inhabitants. This insight is critical, as it highlights patterns of interdependency across urban areas, in addition to those characterizing the residents of a given neighborhood. For instance, small businesses may rely on one another in a local area, but areas may be characterized by commercial niches that create dependencies on other areas with other specializations. Second, Park argues that natural areas change as the city expands by a process of “invasion, dominance, and succession.” For a discussion of the mechanisms of this process, see Park, Robert Ezra (1936a, b). Periods of relative stability may be disrupted when new residential populations or commerce moves into an area, potentially driving out previously dominant groups or businesses. Thus, Park’s model, at its core, emphasizes the embeddedness and interdependence of urban residents and the areas they occupy as well as the ever-present potential for mobility and change.

These concepts were the foundation of Park and Burgess’ (1967 [1925]) concentric zone model of the city, developed as an explanation of urban growth and expansion, neighborhood change, and segregation (pp. 51–54). The concentric zone model consists of five concentric circles: Zone I, Zone II, Zone III, Zone IV, and Zone V. The center circle in the model, Zone I, consists of the central business district and government offices. Zones II and III compose the “inner city,” including the transition area or “area of deterioration”; this consists of manufacturing and new businesses and a surrounding residential area with the homes of workers. Zones IV and V are residential areas with apartment buildings and single-family homes in the former and suburban areas and satellite cities in the latter. Park and Burgess argue that the city expands by a process of invasion by the inner zones into the outer zones as areas become either more or less desirable for institutions and individuals. Park and Burgess found that neighborhoods in zones undergoing invasion or succession (i.e., with high residential mobility such as Zone II) also have higher rates of poverty, juvenile delinquency, adult crime, marital dissolution, and vice (p. 59). According to this model, the social equilibrium of the city is dependent on the rate of expansion in relation to changes in social organization. Park and Burgess, then, offer a sophisticated and explicitly spatial theory of the process by which urban areas develop over time.

Delinquency Areas And Social Disorganization

Park and Burgess’s insights informed one of the most influential studies of juvenile delinquency ever undertaken. Clifford Shaw and Henry McKay’s monumental work, Juvenile Delinquency and Urban Areas, (1942; 1969) combined the Durkheim-inspired and Thomas and Znaniecki-applied concept of social disorganization with Park and Burgess’s theory of human ecology to generate an ecological, community-level explanation of urban variation in delinquency and crime. In this view, the differential exposure of certain social groups to settings conducive to engagement in crime accounts for variation in their rates of criminal activity.

Extending over multiple decades, this unprecedented effort to empirically assess the link between ecological factors and crime was rooted in Shaw’s early insight that delinquents were not fundamentally different with respect to basic psychological or biological predispositions. For Shaw, delinquency emerged as a function of exposure to urban areas that could not effectively link youth to conventional groups and institutions. Lack of attachment to conventional sources of influence, in turn, led otherwise “normal” youth to participate in delinquent activities that would not have occurred had they resided in areas characterized by lower levels of “social disorganization.”

In combination with his early neighborhood studies (Delinquency Areas (1929) and Social Factors in Juvenile Delinquency (1931)), Shaw’s later collaborative work with McKay established the basis of twentieth-century ecological research on crime rates. In particular, a number of key findings characterized the Shaw and McKay corpus. First, areas characterized by high rates of delinquency were marked by comparatively low economic status (as measured by factors such as home ownership, median income, and receipt of public assistance). Although variation in economic conditions did not directly cause delinquency, Shaw and McKay demonstrated that the poorest areas of the city at any given moment (independent of the actual level of poverty) were characterized by higher rates of crime and other social problems.

A second key factor was residence in areas adjacent to heavy industry. These areas – Zone 2 in the Park and Burgess model – had low quality, dilapidated housing and population loss as commerce and industry occupied and compromised progressively more space within the area. Finally, a third factor related to the ethnic and racial composition of urban neighborhoods. Areas characterized by high concentrations of African American and foreign-born residents exhibited higher delinquency rates than other neighborhoods.

Among the key lasting impacts of Shaw and McKay’s neighborhood research is their emphasis on the structural context of crime and its implications for understanding variation in behavior across race/ethnic groups.

The structural factors Shaw and McKay identified as significant for understanding the distribution of crime across the city – poverty levels and associated population instability and composition – were thought to influence crime rates for a number of reasons. Centrally, poor neighborhoods characterized by rapid turnover in population were assumed to lack stable institutions for the socialization of youth (schools, churches), commitment of residents to improving the conditions of the neighborhood (as they are likely to attempt to move out as soon as finances allowed), and neighborly relations that would facilitate the social control of youth (e.g., informing parents if youth are witnessed misbehaving). Shaw and McKay saw Zone 2 as an area subject to chronic social disorganization as it was continually subject to invasion by new immigrant groups of differing cultural backgrounds. The resulting group heterogeneity further impeded neighborhood commitment and social ties, hampering the ability to maintain social control over youth.

A critical point that emerged from Shaw and McKay’s research was the insight that higher rates of delinquency did not emerge from the predispositions – cultural, psychological, biological, or otherwise – of distinct ethnic or racial groups. As noted, Shaw and McKay engaged in research in the aftermath of a historic period of substantial immigration (around 23 million people) largely from southern, central, and eastern European countries. Shaw and McKay’s empirical findings demonstrated that high delinquency areas remained so across the early decades of the twentieth century despite near total turnover in the composition of these neighborhoods (e.g., from predominantly northern European groups in the late nineteenth century to those from southern, central, and eastern Europe in the early twentieth century). As race/ethnic groups – previously occupying low economic status and high delinquency areas – moved out to more desirable zones of the city, their delinquency rates experienced corresponding declines. Since crime rates did not “follow” groups that exhibited high rates in delinquency areas, Shaw and McKay concluded that the source of higher crime could not be found in predispositions of any given group, but rather the delinquency fostering conditions of the areas in which they resided.

As the foregoing discussion suggests, the impact of Shaw and McKay’s findings on the criminological discipline has been profound. Although the social disorganization perspective on crime – with which Shaw and McKay are inextricably associated – experienced something of a hiatus during the 1960s and 1970s, research on urban neighborhood context experienced a substantial resurgence after the publication of Kornhauser’s Social Sources of Delinquency, one that continues unabated to this day. Although Shaw and McKay emphasized the process by which delinquent orientations were transmitted from older to younger neighborhood residents once social disorganization had taken root, Kornhauser dismissed this element of the model, drawing heavily on what she saw as a logically consistent “control” model at the heart of their approach. In its reduced form, the key neighborhood-level structural disadvantages identified – poverty, residential instability, and ethnic heterogeneity – lead to diminished informal social network ties among neighborhood residents, weakened institutions relevant for the socialization of youth, and attenuated conventional norms regarding appropriate behavior. In turn, attenuated institutional and network structures as well as conventional cultural orientations lead to increased delinquency and crime. Sampson’s more recent theory of collective efficacy (Sampson et al. 1997) also draws heavily on Shaw and McKay’s basic insights and Kornhauser’s reinterpretation of the Shaw and McKay model.

Current Extensions Of ECS Insights

The current relevance of Shaw and McKay and the Early Chicago School scholars that informed their work suggests the importance of revisiting their central insights. Below, some avenues for advancing the current application of social disorganization-inspired models of criminal activity are discussed, drawing on foundational themes of the ECS approach. In an influential analysis of the Chicago School’s contribution to contemporary sociology, Abbott (1999) has argued that a consistent emphasis on the spatial and temporal embeddedness of social phenomena characterizes the work of the ECS. Contemporary sociology, Abbott suggests, could benefit from a return to this critical ECS theme. The insights of the ECS suggest three key directions for future neighborhood research on criminological outcomes.

First, research on neighborhood and crime might profitably move beyond the typical operationalization of “neighborhood.” Park and Burgess emphasized that natural areas were, themselves, embedded in larger systems of cross-neighborhood exchange and interaction – processes that were crucial for understanding the functioning of urban “superorganisms.” Although their insight is couched in the language of human ecology theory, the basic claim that neighborhoods do not operate autonomously to influence residents’ outcomes is nevertheless apparent.

Neighborhoods are unlikely to contain the routine activity patterns of most urban residents, including youth. Contemporary neighborhood effects research in criminology tends to follow a research design where a neighborhood unit is specified – typically some census aggregation such as a tract or block group – and that unit is assigned to an individual to determine the characteristics of his or her residential context. Youth who reside in, for instance, a high poverty census tract – consistent with Shaw and McKay’s original approach – are hypothesized to be at greater risk of engaging in delinquency and crime. This approach, however, assumes that the residential neighborhood is the sole spatial context relevant for understanding behavioral outcomes. Although some research has now moved toward more sophisticated models whereby contiguous neighborhoods are allowed to influence outcomes as well as “focal” or residential neighborhoods, even these models make assumptions about where youth spend time and what spatial exposures are likely to be most relevant. Drawing out the logic of the ECS emphasis on space and time, however, would argue for more precise information on the actual routine activity exposures of urban youth – information that is sorely lacking in contemporary research on urban neighborhood crime. Where (and how) do youth actually spend their time? To what extent do residential neighborhoods capture the spatial exposures of contemporary urban youth? Although Shaw and McKay pioneered the basic autonomous-neighborhood-influence model still in use, Park and Burgess’s more nuanced discussion of space should inform thinking about contextual effects on crime.

Second, Park and Burgess’s recognition of cross-neighborhood exchange and interaction points to the potential for identifying more complex ecological structures relevant for organizing urban activity patterns. For instance, the longstanding focus on neighborhood of residence neglects shared patterns of routine activity among youth that may or may not be organized by residential address. The locations of important day-to-day destinations such as school, work, grocery shopping, friends and relatives houses, and leisure destinations constitute the critical spatial exposures through which many contextual social processes are likely to operate. Just as some urban residents share a common residential location, they may also share a common set of routine activity locations, resulting in spatial patterning in the structure of shared activity locations. These ecological communities shape the likelihood of a variety of exposures for urban residents – to particular kinds of people, locations, activities, risks, and benefits. Thus, not only may urban residents spend a substantial amount of time outside their neighborhoods; they are likely to do so in systematic ways, resulting in patterned extra-residential exposures that may be relevant for understanding urban crime. Park and Burgess’s ecological insights thus point us toward a more sophisticated model of contextual exposure than the currently prevailing approach.

Third, researchers are currently experiencing a critical turning point in their ability to track individual-level movements, through mechanisms such as GPS tracking, and obtain neighborhood and municipal-level data on a grand scale. Social scientists, in collaboration with computer scientists and others, are just beginning to tap the resources of “big data” to examine the kinds of research questions motivated by ECS work. The increasing availability of these data may potentially lead to groundbreaking research on the role of context in criminal activity, research that moves far beyond the standard focus on the economic disadvantage, ethnic heterogeneity, and residential instability levels of administratively defined “neighborhood” units. In the City of Chicago, for instance, tremendous investments in data transparency are underway. This applies, crucially, to data on criminal activity, but also to data on 911 calls, 311 calls (i.e., non-emergency) public health data, transportation information, and social service availability. A critical feature of these newly available data is the fine-grained geographic resolution with which they will be reported, allowing for precise identification of urban conditions in space and time (down to the level of potholes and snowplow locations). Of course, not all of these data will be relevant to understanding patterns of criminal activity, but the increasingly rich information on all manner of phenomena will allow researchers to characterize urban spaces with unprecedented detail. Pinpointing geo-located service requests (e.g., police related) with response times, for instance, could provide new insights into the relationship of a neighborhood to its larger city and neighborhood residents to one another. The availability of data such as these may suggest new research questions and hypotheses about the role of context in crime and delinquency. These data also may allow social scientists to contribute research findings or provide more timely feedback to those who manage and maintain city services. This means that social science findings may be more readily incorporated into policies that shape cities.

Similarly, private sources of geo-referenced data provided by social media sources (e.g., Twitter, Foursquare) will provide yet another rich source of data characterizing patterns of mobility and space use. Although Park and Burgess’s focus on natural areas within cities set the tone for the neighborhood studies of the next century, ECS researchers likely did not conceive of the possibilities that today’s data resources allow. The capacity to characterize the internal and cross-neighborhood ecological dynamics of populations as they engage in their daily routines, using rich real-time “volunteered geographic information” provided by commercial social media sources, opens up tremendous possibilities for thinking about the spatial dynamics of crime. The timing and sequencing of social interaction, and the location and composition of group activity, may provide valuable information about how crime occurs. These data also may provide evidence of pro-social activities and organizations and a richness of resources not easily identified by conventional data sources such as social surveys or the census.


The ECS brought a concentrated period of development for urban sociological research and achievements of remarkable durability. The development of social disorganization theory was characterized by an adaptation of key Durkheimian theoretical innovations to the social processes of immigration and urban expansion characterizing the turn of the nineteenth-century American city. In turn, Park and Burgess’s sophisticated conceptualization of the dynamics and consequences of urban growth provided an organizing spatial framework within which Shaw and McKay’s pioneering application of the concept of social disorganization to crime could take shape. The now classic corpus of ECS research has motivated a vast research literature on neighborhood context and crime, successful and ongoing theoretical development of the perspective, and an increasingly ascendant role for contextual thinking within – and beyond – the discipline of criminology. For instance, research on health has drawn from these sociological perspectives to characterize the social and physical environment in which outcomes such as asthma, obesity, depression, and physical disability are manifested. Conditions once thought to follow largely from individual-level characteristics and behavior are now believed to be influenced by a host of factors at the neighborhood level.

Indeed, the application of social disorganization theory to outcomes other than crime was an innovation that Chicago School researchers also pioneered. Most notably, the work of Robert Faris and H. Warren Dunham (1939) introduced the notion that neighborhood social disorganization might be linked with social isolation and other mental health compromising conditions. Consistent with the expectations of social disorganization theory, these authors demonstrated that mental health outcomes and correlates such as schizophrenia and substance abuse were concentrated in areas characterized by factors such as ethnic conflict and residential mobility. A key legacy of ECS research on social disorganization can be seen in contemporary research focused on the contribution of neighborhood socioeconomic disadvantage as well as conditions such as social and physical disorder, social network density, and collective efficacy to health outcomes and healthcare service use (e.g., diabetes, rehospitalization) within disadvantaged neighborhoods.

Evidence of social disorganization theory’s impact on health research also can be seen in the health-related interventions already in place. Current research on interventions aimed at making communities more “health enhancing” has focused on such actions as ameliorating physical hazards and creating bikeand walk-friendly environments – the foundation for these initiatives is rooted in ECS findings and contemporary elaborations which point to the importance of contextual effects for the emergence of a more general pro-social space (critical for ameliorating crime and promoting health).

The insights of the ECS continue to offer generative directions for the future of contextual research on crime. Combining the ECS legacy with emerging research on activity space and the promise of improved data resources described broadly as “big data” will likely yield fruitful advances. The ECS foundation will continue to inspire scholars who are focused on context and seek to contribute to a greater understanding of the mechanisms that link the social structural conditions of a community to crime and delinquency.


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