Social Disorder and Physical Disorder Research Paper

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Urban disorder has now become a center of public policy. Sennett (1970) viewed so-called disorder as a manifestation of the social diversity of a place where people come from different racial, ethnic, social, and economic backgrounds. Thus, disorder is considered a byproduct that comes with the modernization of urban cities. Sennett argued that disorder is actually “useful” for urban dwellers, as a disorderly environment “forces” people to get to know one another and therefore, enhances familiarity among heterogeneous population and reinforces racial integration. On the contrary, disorders are often considered as social negativities by criminologists. For example, James Q. Wilson (1975) pointed out that daily hassles such as street people, panhandlers, rowdy youths, or ‘hey honey’ calls trouble urban residents as much as crime does, if not more. Garofalo and Laub (1978) also argued that these urban characteristics of the modern society (disorder is one of them) are the main sources of the “fear” of residents, rather than the true fear of “crime.” Wilson and Kelling (1982) further suggested that disorder has criminogenic effects with untended disorder eventually leading to crime problems. These contrasting viewpoints illustrate the subjective nature of what disorder is and its corresponding social meanings. Browsing through the studies of disorder, it is difficult to identify one single definition that everyone agrees upon. Disorder from one person’s view might represent the norm to another person. In this research paper, various definitions about disorder will be reviewed. Two major types of disorder, social and physical disorder, and their association with crime will be reviewed and discussed.

A city isn’t just a place to live, to shop, to go out and have kids play. It’s a place that implicates how one derives one’s ethics, how one develops a sense of justice, how one learns to talk with and learn from people who are unlike oneself, which is how a human being becomes human.

“The Civitas of Seeing” Richard Sennett(1989)

The Sources Of Disorder

In the view of the Chicago School researchers, a city is not merely an environmental setting but is rather an organism that grows, changes, and evolves over time (Wirth 1962). Urban areas are usually characterized with diversity in the demographic composition of people who live and work within them. From this perspective, a city looks like a “mosaic of segregated people,” as referred to by Robert Park (1928). In cities, different people demonstrate their cultural heritage, live in different lifestyles, yet cohabitate in the same areas. The close contact of these “differences” naturally leads to tension and conflicts among different groups and the lack of cohesion results in social disorganization. Within the disorganized environment, each social or racial group competes for resources and actively seeks to preserve their peculiar cultural forms in order to sustain their own conception of life (Park 1928).

With the expansion of a city, the influx of population brings different cultures and values into a city. For urban inhabitants, therefore, the increase in exposure to different cultures and other value systems and lifestyles tend to create uneasy feelings for individuals. Due to the unfamiliarity of other cultures, an increased level of diversity might be seen as a sign of disorder by mainstream society (Sennett 1989).

However, disorder is by no means a clearly defined concept in either research or practice. The meaning of disorder, just like all other social norms, changes along with the development of a city. In other words, the definition of disorder might vary by society and represents the social norms separating between approval and disapproval behavior (see Durkheim’s Moral Education, 1961).

The definitions of social norms are always the result of competition and the transaction of different cultures and value systems. This process is critical as the social meaning of a behavior often determines how people react to the behavior. In other words, when a society defines certain behaviors as unwanted or deviant, people will start viewing them as a menace or danger to society. Conflict criminologists have long argued that crime is socially constructed and is used by the powerful groups in the society to control the disadvantaged underclass. This ambiguous nature of the social norm is even more salient when dealing with less severe social phenomena such as disorder. Similarly, the defining process of disorder is not equally influenced by all groups in the society—the powerful groups often enjoy the privilege of determining the “norms” (Durkheim 1961; Sennett 1970).

The Definition Of Disorder

Disorder is not crime, and usually represents minor violations of social norms that do not directly harm other people. Unlike crime, there is no commonly agreeable definition to classify disorder. Skogan referred to it as a “slippery concept” (Skogan 1990, p. 4). He argued that disorders are behaviors that are not prohibited by the criminal law; or disorders in isolation constitute relatively minor offences. The ambiguity nature of disorder leaves room for different ways defining disorder.

In prior literature, various occurrences and behaviors have been identified as disorder, ranging from deteriorated buildings to teenagers hanging out on the street corner. Even the term “disorder” is not always used to describe these minor violations. Past research has referred to this particular phenomenon as “signs of crime” (Skogan and Maxfield 1981), “early signs of danger” (Stinchcombe et al. 1980), “urban unease” (Wilson 1968), “broken windows” (Wilson and Kelling 1982), “soft crime” (Reiss 1985), “public moral offenses” (Weisburd and Mazerolle 2000), “cues to danger” (Warr 1984), “incivilities” (Taylor 1999), “sign of disrespect” (Bannister et al. 2006), “warning signals” (Innes 2004), and “disorder” (Skogan 1990). Finally, most scholars have now settled on the term of either disorder or incivilities (LaGrange et al. 1992). While disorder has been discussed and theorized prior to 1990 (see Wilson and Kelling 1982), Skogan was the first to clearly articulate disorder and its impacts on neighborhoods (Skogan 1990). In his book Disorder and Decline, Skogan points out that the concept of disorder is ambiguous and can represent a variety of meanings. Thus, he notes that it is important to differentiate between the friendly “active uses of the environment” (not disorder) and disorderly behavior which bothers the residents of a neighborhood, as the former may suggest a very well-connected neighborhood while the latter may represent a disoriented neighborhood.

In addition to how research defines disorder, it is also important to know how law enforcement determines what phenomena are considered disorderly. In Kelling and Sousa’s evaluation of New York City’s Quality of Life Policing effort, they used misdemeanor arrests to represent police efforts without providing a clear list of targeted disorders. In the four scenarios illustrated in the report, the enforcement was mainly targeted at public urination or public drinking (open container). Sure enough, based on the broken window thesis drafted by Wilson and Kelling, the actual practice probably included more types of “minor offense” including things like panhandlers, drunks, addicts, rowdy teenagers, prostitutes, loiterers, and the mentally disturbed. On the other hand, Thacher (2004) summarized order maintenance police practices and noted four main categories of “disorders” that were the focus of police: (1) obstructing or lying down in the subway, (2) public urination, (3) panhandling, and (4) youth or student parties (page 396).

What kind of phenomenon is considered disorderly? After reviewing the various definitions and findings from studies, Kubrin (2008) concluded the following “Definitions of disorder used by researchers and officials studying and practicing broken widows policing are not necessarily consistent with residents’ perceptions in their own communities.” (page 206). From the previous literature review, it is apparent that disorder is indeed a “slippery concept” in both research and practice.

The Disorder And Crime Association

Recently, disorder has become a new center of attention for criminologists and criminal justice practitioners. From the Broken Windows Thesis proposed by Wilson and Kelling (1982), fear of crime research (see Garofalo and Laub 1978), to broken windows policing (or called the quality of life policing in New York City), disorder has been formulated as the core element in the equation of inquiry.

Despite the popularity of the broken windows based ideas among practitioners, the association between disorder and crime has been a much debatable topic (see Taylor 1999 and Sampson and Raudenbush 2004). Wilson and Kelling (1982) asserted that disorders are the root cause of crime. They suggest that signs of disorder lead to a sense of low social control perceived by those in the community, which triggers residents’ fear. Fearful residents may further withdraw from the community, and subsequently more serious types of crimes will occur. Therefore, targeting crime would not solve the fundamental problem, but focusing on disorder intervention will result in a greater crime prevention benefit.

Similarly, Skogan believes that incivilities will eventually result in neighborhood decline because they cause a range of psychological, social-psychological and behavioral outcomes in neighborhoods. Beginning with the appearance of incivilities, the decline of a neighborhood is a gradual process (Skogan 1990, p. 65). First, signs of incivilities cause social withdrawal of residents from participating community activities. It also discourages people from cooperating with their neighbors. Second, the existence of incivilities weakens neighborhood morale. Residents become concerned about their personal safety after a number of incidents happen in their neighborhood. As a result, residents lose trust in each other. Third, from a practical standpoint, incivilities undermine the housing market. It directly affects the willingness of people to invest in the area. Due to a lack of investment, the housing market is suppressed and neighborhood decline becomes an unavoidable outcome. To test his hypothesis, Skogan (1990) collected information from 40 neighborhoods in six different cities during 1977–1983. The simple association between disorder and robbery victimization in those neighborhoods was + .80. However, when other neighborhood factors were taken into account, the association dropped to + .54, though still fairly substantial. Based on these findings, Skogan concluded that with the small number of cases at hand, it is hard to tell “whether they have either separate ‘causes’ or separate ‘effects’ at the area level” (1990, 73).

Keizer et al. (2008) conducted a series of field experiments on physical disorder and found that the presence of disorder, such as graffiti, trash etc. increased the likelihoods of passersby to commit minor disorderly behavior. Though this study provides some direct support of the negative effects of disorder, the study did not examine the effects of disorder on crime. Moreover, their study focuses on physical disorder only, rather than both types of disorder. The association between disorder and crime was further confirmed by Weisburd et al. (2012) longitudinal study of crime trends in Seattle, WA. Controlling for opportunity variables as well as characteristics derived from social disorganization theory at street level, physical disorder was found to be one of the strongest indicators predicting crime trends. Specifically, streets with more physical disorder incidents were much more likely to be in the chronic crime pattern instead of crime-free pattern. Also, increases in physical disorder over time were related to increased crime trends. Though the findings lend confidence to the disorder-crime association, only physical disorder measure was included in the study.

While both Wilson and Kelling and Skogan believe disorder in the neighborhoods causes crime and other social negativities, other scholars hold different opinions on the nature of their association. In a study of drug hot spots in Jersey City, Weisburd and Mazerolle (2000) found that serious crime and disorder tend to cluster together in drug hot spots. In other words, disorder and crime are positively correlated at these drug hot spots. In contemporary social disorganization theory, both Bursik and Sampson treat disorder as a consequence of the lack of social control or as a product of structural variables. Thus, disorder is only related to crime through its associations with structural variables. That is, crime and disorder should be positively correlated but the relationship is not causal.

Corman and Mocan (2000) examined the association between disorder and crime rates in NYC over time. However, they did not collect directly measured disorder data; rather, they used misdemeanor arrests as the proxy of disorder. They found that misdemeanor arrests in NYC from 1974–1999 were significantly, negatively related to robbery, motor vehicle theft and grand larceny after controlling for economic conditions and deterrence, but were not significantly related to the other four index crimes. Despite the empirical disagreement, within all the theoretical arguments about disorder/incivilities, most of them assume a positive association between disorder and crime. Meaning, wherever there is disorder, there tends to also have crime problem. The issue is, whether the association is correlational or causal. Also focusing on New York City, Geller (2007) examined housing conditions and the relationship to crime rates in NYC. She tested whether deteriorated housing conditions leads to crime increases as expected by the broken windows thesis. The results of her study did not support such a hypothesis. However, in the study, only the effects of physical disorder were tested. This is an important distinction as some studies have suggested that social and physical disorder may have different relationships with crime.

St. Jean (2007) conducted an ethnographic study in a high crime neighborhood in Chicago and found that disorder and crime tended to coexist in the same areas. However, he pointed out the differential association of social and physical disorder with crime. Yang (2010) in a longitudinal study of City of Seattle, WA, also found a significant correlation between disorder and crime. The direction of causation, however, was opposed to what was suggested by the broken windows thesis. The results from Granger causality tests generally showed no causal relationship between disorder and violence, and in a few places the causality appeared to run from violent crime to disorder. Additionally, Yang shared St. Jean’s findings and argued that research should make a distinction between social disorder and physical disorder. They are not only qualitatively different phenomena; moreover, these two types of disorder have different associations with crime.

Separating Social Disorder And Physical Disorder

Activities under the classification of disorders, or incivilities, are not all homogeneous. Under the big umbrella of disorder, there are two commonly used subcategories: physical disorder and social disorder (Skogan 1990; Hancock 2001; Sampson and Raudenbush 1999). Later, Taylor (1999) proposed very specific operational definitions of social and physical disorder (incivilities). Social incivilities include behaviors such as public drinking, drunkenness, rowdy and unsupervised teens, sexual harassment, arguing and fighting, open prostitution, and public drug sales. While physical incivilities include things like abandoned buildings, graffiti, litter, vacant and trash-filled lots, unkempt yards and housing exteriors, abandoned cars and the conversion of houses and apartments to drug-selling locations.

From a research standpoint, social disorder and physical disorder are qualitatively different. Sampson and Raudenbush (1999) clearly pointed this out in the beginning of their article: “[s]ocial disorder, we refer to behaviors involving strangers and considered threatening… [p]hysical disorder, we refer to the deterioration of urban landscapes (p. 603–604).” From this statement, it is obvious that social disorder requires the involvement of human behaviors, which impose threats to others in the neighborhood. Thus, the key element defining social disorder depends on the presence of actors who perform the offensive actions. St. Jean (2007) also believes that neighborhood disorder exists in two forms: physical and social disorder. He argues that physical disorder refers to “unpleasant neighborhood characteristics” created by messy environment such as litter, trash, abandoned tires, empty lots, and broken windows. On the contrary, social disorder is a result of the “unpleasant and perhaps intimidating social interactions among people in public space.” As such, social disorder includes social behaviors like panhandling, public drinking, fighting, and loitering (St. Jean 2007, p. 196).

In addition, Hancock (2001) suggested another less general way of classifying disorder by looking at its duration. Based on its temporal length, he classified disorder into two groups: the episodic disorder which occurs at no fixed time, such as public drinking, and the on-going type of disorder like abandoned buildings which are always there, unless someone takes initiative to change the condition. Putting these ideas together, social disorder is usually an episodic behavior, which only lasts for a short duration. Conversely, physical disorder represents an objective condition that might last for a long period of time unless some actions are taken to change it. The focus of the latter is on the physical conditions rather than on individuals acting within the conditions.

Many of the past studies proposed clear definitions of social and physical disorder along with characteristics included within each category (Sampson and Raudenbush 1999; Skogan and Maxfield 1981; Skogan 1990; Taylor 1999; LaGrange et al. 1992). However, when doing analysis, people often combined these two categories together into one total disorder measure – assuming that they represent the same underlying construct. For instance, Skogan and Maxfield (1981) used a general term of “sign of disorder” to represent the violations of “people’s expectations about fit and proper conditions and conducts.” Within this “sign of disorder” they included a wide range of circumstances like unsupervised teens hanging out on the streets, abandoned buildings, illegal drug use, and vandalism. Sampson and Raudenbush (1999), though proposed clear definitions about social and physical disorder separate, did not examine their individual effects in their test of the broken window thesis. In their analysis stage, they made a statement that “the results are so similar for physical and social disorder, and because the two scales are highly correlated (r ¼ .71), we combine them into a summary index of disorder.. .” (p. 626). As such, the distinction between social and physical disorder and their associations to crime were not fully examined in the study.

In a separate study, Raudenbush and Sampson (1999) tested methodological properties of social and physical disorder measures using item response modeling with hierarchically constructed data. They found that social disorder measures were recorded less often and thus, less reliable compared to physical disorder measures, due to the rarity of the social disorder observations.

Steenbeek and Hipp (2011) also followed the item response modeling approach to explore the reciprocal effects of disorder on social structures and social control under the social disorganization framework. Using data collected in the Netherlands, they argued that the correlations between social disorder and physical disorder items were too strong. Thus, they constructed a disorder measure at the neighborhood level combing all social and physical disorder items rather than separating the two constructs.

In short, despite the fact that many prior studies have acknowledged the distinction between social and physical disorder, their separate effects to crime and other social problems are still understudied empirically.

Social Disorder, Physical Disorder, And Crime

Overall, the qualitative differences between social and physical disorder are rarely addressed. Mixing the concepts of social and physical disorder hinders us from disentangling the intertwined relationship between disorder and crime. From theoretical perspectives, social disorder and physical disorder are different in many ways. First, social disorder involves actors and current actions; thus, the presence of social disorder perhaps provides a pool of potential targets, motivated offenders or both for violent offenses to occur. Physical disorder, however, does not necessarily involve actors. Most of the time, we do not see/know the actors who dump trash or break glass in the next block. We recognize physical disorder when we see it, even without seeing the creator(s) of it. As such, physical disorder provides unmistakable visual cues to the users of the space. Therefore, residents’ perception of physical disorder should be more consistent than their perceptions of social disorder as the latter involves an individual’s value judgment.

Compared to social disorder, physical disorder is generally considered less criminogenic for crime. An abandoned place could attract would-be offenders to engage in criminal activities. However, physical disorder itself, without the presence of potential offender/victims, should be related to crime to a lesser extent than social disorder. It is possible that there exists a sequential relationship between social disorder and physical disorder. This possibility will be examined later using the Granger causality test to see if there is a directional relationship between the two types of disorder.

The distinction between social and physical disorder also carries importance on another equally important subject—fear of crime. In addition to crime, fear is another phenomenon that has long been connected to disorder (see Garofalo and Laub 1978; Kelling and Coles 1996). Kelling and Coles (1996) argued that fear mediates the effects of disorder on crime in a community. However, the differential effects of social and physical disorder were not discussed by Kelling and Coles. Based on Sampson and Raudenbush’s phrases cited earlier, it is expected that social disorder and physical disorder should have different impacts on fear. Social disorder invokes a feeling of fear to residents, while physical disorder provides a more neutral image that might still be bothersome to some residents. As such, the emotional reactions related to social and physical disorder are not necessarily the same.

Empirical studies also support that social disorder and physical disorder are different and so are their associations to crime. The empirical evidence from Taylor’s (1999) observations in Baltimore provides a good example of how different those two types of incivilities can be. In the study, physical disorder is found to be correlated with changes in rates of aggravated assault, burglary, and motor vehicle theft while social disorder is correlated only with changes in the rate of rape (all of the correlations are significant at .10 level, Taylor 1999, p. 5). St. Jean (2007) analyzed crime data and interviewed residents in poor neighborhoods in Chicago to study disorder and crime. From cross-tabulation analyses, he found that places with high collective efficacy and low social disorder have fewer crime problems. Places with low social disorder tend to have low street drug dealing. However, high physical disorder had no significant association with drug dealing, robberies and batteries. While the finding seems to support the broken windows thesis, he argued that places with high levels of social disorder do not necessarily have more crime problems. The data at best could argue that in the absence of social disorder, it is also less likely for the places to have drug dealing problems.

Nonetheless, St. Jean sought for a more thorough understanding about the underlying mechanism linking disorder and crime by conducting in-depth interviews with street criminals and other individuals who live in the crime ridden areas to get their perspectives. The presence of physical disorder alone does not attract drug dealers to the area; rather, it is the location and the activities occurring within and nearby the area that determine whether it is going to become a drug hot spot. Though the dilapidation of buildings does show that the government did not invest in the area and perhaps there is a demand for drugs in the place from people who could not find any decent jobs. The association between robberies and physical disorder is even weaker. The robbers pick places to commit crime based on accessibility and anonymity, not because of the abandoned buildings or trash lying around in the areas. As for batteries, he found that places with high levels of physical disorder tend not to have battery problems. It is reasonable because places with physical disorder tend to be occupied by abandoned lots or buildings and therefore, are less likely to have domestic disputes due to fewer people living in the area.

From the qualitative interviews, St. Jean found that social disorder has strong and significant associations with narcotic violations, robberies, and batteries. But a closer examination of the mechanism behind the association revealed the complexity in the phenomena. Places with low social disorder tend not to have drug dealings; however, places with high social disorder may or may not attract drug dealers to the areas. Moreover, the association between social disorder and narcotic violations is sometimes reciprocal. That is, people who use drugs might be involved in social disorder while they are waiting for their needs to be met. As for robberies and social disorder, the relationship is positive and significant. But further inquiry shows that the locations and actors in the places matter more than whether the areas have social disorder. Sometimes, having more people hanging around a place provides a potential pool for robbery targets. However, when the people do not seem to be vulnerable or do not possess enough monetary goods, they would not be selected as targets. The tight coupling between social disorder and batteries shows that places with more disorderly people are also more likely to have domestic conflicts. Again, St. Jean found that the association is only supported in places occupied by high social disorder and disruptive families. In places that have high levels social disorder but are occupied mainly by non-disruptive families the association diminishes. Overall, the findings from the ethnographic portion of this study were consistent with what was found in the statistical analyses. That is, physical disorder does not matter in predicting crime places. Moreover, social disorder does not matter in offenders’ decisions in choosing a place as their base; what really matters to them is where the place is located and who are hanging around the place. St. Jean’s study provides a comprehensive picture illustrating the relationships among crime, social, and physical disorder. Nonetheless, the analyses in the study were all based on a short time period and limited the selected poor neighborhoods in one high-crime police beat in Chicago. Therefore, it is hard to know whether the relationships remain the same over time in other places.

Finally, in another study using 16 years of data collected at the census-block-group-level in Seattle, Yang (2010) studied the long-term associations between social disorder, physical disorder, and violent crime. The dual-trajectory analysis findings suggested that a block group with a low level of disorder (for both social and physical disorder) is less likely to experience violence problems. If a block group is assigned to the low rate social disorder trajectory, then there is an 88.1 % of chance that this block group will also be found in the no (or negligible) violent trajectory. Similarly, 82 % of block groups with negligible physical disorder problems are also relatively free of violence.

However, block groups that have high disorder problems are not necessarily also plagued by violence. For block groups within the high social disorder trajectory, there is only about a 30.6 % of chance of also being classified into the high rate violent trajectory group. Also, having been assigned to the high physical disorder trajectory only corresponds to a 30 % of chance of having a high level of violence.

This means that having no disorder can be seen as a powerful protective factor for block groups in preventing future violence – as there is less than 1 % of a chance that a block group will have a high level of violence if it has negligible disorder problems. Although having high disorder can be a risk factor to increase the chance that a block group experiences violence, only about 30 % of block groups that showed a high level of disorder also showed a high level of violence. This means that by using disorder as a risk factor, we will have a 70 % chance of making an incorrect prediction of where high violence places would be located. Perhaps lack of disorder and having high-disorder are not the two sides of the same coin. Or perhaps there is not a linear relationship between disorder and violence.

Furthermore, Yang also conducted geographic analysis on the selected block groups with high levels of social disorder, physical disorder, and violence (see Fig. 1). The visual illustrations on social disorder-physical disorder dyad and violence further confirm the previous findings. First, block groups with high violence trajectory are always located within the areas with a high level of social disorder. However, places having high social disorder do not necessarily have high violence rates. In other words, to locate a high violence block group, social disorder provides more accurate information than physical disorder. This finding echoes St. Jean’s study results from Chicago. Second, places that are low in both social disorder and physical disorder are also free of violence problems. When a block group is free from disorder problems, it is also more likely to be free from violence problem. On the other hand, when a block group starts to show any signs of a disorder problem, it is very unlikely that it will exhibit a low rate of violence. High physical disorder block groups, though not informative of where the high violence block groups are located, are predictive of where the low violence block groups will not be. The spatial concordance between social disorder and violence points out a possibility that there may exist a connecting mechanism that governs both disorder and violence at places. The studies of St. Jean and Yang both show that having more broken windows does not necessarily predict what the level of crime will be at a given place.

Social Disorder and Physical Disorder Research Paper

The Next Step For Disorder Research

Overall, the empirical findings and theoretical arguments point to the need for studying these two types of disorder separately. Social disorder is found to be more relevant to crime than physical disorder. Perhaps it is because people involved in disorderly behaviors are also more likely involved in violence, regardless of the environmental factors. Or, perhaps it is also possible that these people might provide visible targets for motivated perpetrators or they might be the instigators of violent behavior.

Another possible source of variation is the type of measures used in the study. One of the major obstacles on studying the linkage between disorder and crime is whether residents could actually distinguish between disorder and crime (Gau and Pratt 2008). This is crucial as the mechanism outlined in the broken windows thesis to be effective; residents need to be aware of the existence of disorder. As such, some scholars started to research the impacts of perceptual disorder and the factors that could lead to perceived disorder. Clearly, observed levels of disorder play a role in this process, but perceptions are more critical. Generally, it is found that the perceptions of crime and disorder are highly related and do not have discriminant validity (see Gau and Pratt 2008; Worrall 2006). In other word, disorder and crime might be manifestation of the same underlying construct with different level of intensity. Thus, police strategies targeting disorder, as opposed to crime, might not lead to either crime or fear reduction effects as intended.

Innes (2004) also proposed a potential mechanism about how disorder affects residents’ perceptions about crime and disorder. What matters most is not the nature of disorder; rather, it is the interpretation of disorder that leads to fear and negative emotions. The signs of disorder provide a framing function that helps people to give meanings to the quality of places. As such, social disorder and physical disorder might send out different signals to people. Physical disorder might reveal the lack of investment of the places by both government and residents. On the other hand, social disorder can be indicative of the type of people who hangout in the areas and the strengths of social ties in the area.

Hinkle and Yang (in progress) further point out that it is important to evaluate whether residents’ perceptions of disorder matches with the observed level of disorder measured by researchers through systematic social observations. They further argue that social disorder and physical disorder might have differential conditional effects on residents’ perception about the disorder problem, fear of crime, and satisfaction of the residential environment. Thus, scholars who are interested in disorderrelated research need to examine social disorder and physical disorder separately. Moreover, it is also important to control the methods of measurement used to gauge levels of disorder, be it the actual level or the perception of the problem.

Disorder, unlike crime, is a common phenomenon and exists in many people’s daily lives. It has also become an important issue for research in many disciplines. Recent studies have shown the importance of evaluating social disorder and physical disorder separately. These two types of disorder are not only qualitatively different, but they also relate to crime in very different ways. Moreover, the presence of social disorder and physical disorder send very different signals to passersby, residents and potential offenders and possibly lead to different perceptions about places. Future research needs to pay closer attention to the distinction between the two types of disorder and their implications for social policy.


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