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Criminological Theories: Social Disorganization and the Anomie Theories


Theories are used by researchers to give a deeper understanding of the events that take place in the world. They are mechanisms that give us a clear insight into why certain things or events happen in the manner in which they do. They do not explain how things ought to be but describe their current statuses.

Theories must however be realistic. Theories should have logical consistency, parsimony, validity, and scope. These characteristics ensure that they are relevant in the real world and also facilitate their reliability in different situations. In criminal cases, the sense of a given theory is usually its logical consistency. The detailed crime explanation is normally the scope of the theory.

The briefness of the explained crime is considered as the parsimony of the theory and the truthfulness or falsehood of the theory is described as its validity. Theories may be essentially good or bad depending on the situation in which they are used. They can however be used for both positive and negative reasons (Lilly, Cullen & Ball, 2007).

Crimes are committed by human beings and therefore, social theories’ perspectives are widely applicable in understanding the criminal behavior of offenders. The victim in a crime is considered as an individual, an organization, or a social movement whose rights have been violated by a perpetrator or criminal.

According to the penal code, different offenses call for different penalties. The capital penalty is practiced in 60% of the world including the US, China, and India. In certain parts of the US, capital punishment has been abolished. It was abolished in 2007 in New York. It was abolished in Illinois and Connecticut in the years 2012 and 2011 respectively. A victim in a case can either be harmed directly or indirectly and therefore liable to report the offense and make a statement. The Supreme Court of the US gives the victim the freedom of defending his side of the story before passing the sentence. A victim support panel is usually established to allow the victim’s family to have contact with the defendant before the trial.

The social disorganization theory

The sociological elements in the environment can be used to formulate sociological theories. Sociological theories generally explain the behavior of people in specific types of social conditions. The environment, culture, and lifestyle of people become great sources of influence on the social sphere. Individuals associate and interact with the immediate environment for different reasons and in several ways. They learn how to manipulate environmental aspects to their advantage and hence engage in certain activities after learning how the environment operates. The social disorganization theory influences social relationships in society.

This fact may be due to the secretive nature of people that live within the same residential area, their superficial lifestyles, and transitory relationships. This aspect also affects the existing relationships among economic frameworks and the neighborhood structures. This theory is associated with the Chicago school of thought and is mainly based on the research of W.I. Thomas and Florian Znaniecki. According to Clifford Shaw (1942), this school of thought in criminology demonstrates how human behavior is determined by empirical sociology and physical environs. It is believed that urbanization and urban migration lead to high crime rates in society.

Unemployed people experience numerous social problems leading to the development of support groups and gangs which may show deviant behavior. The research study conducted in Chicago includes the use of unemployment population data, records and crime figures about their geographical locations.

The life history of the individual involved in crime is also analyzed. According to the criminal case study NSWDC 217, a lot of research is done on the prisoner’s background. The aspect of his geographical location is investigated. The prisoner is from Lebanon and has experienced a lot of difficulties and instabilities during the civil war. He has also undergone several horrifying incidences and is shot six times on different occasions. His migration to Australia is also a factor that is investigated by several theories.

Victoria is a city in which life is superficial and strangers engage in transitory relationships. The association of the prisoner with the people he meets there including the Hell’s Angels Gang influences him to abuse drugs. In this case, he plays both the victim and the offender. He becomes a victim by using drugs that can harm him. He does this without adequate knowledge of the health hazards the drugs pose to him. Others who contribute to the refinement of this theory are Henry McKay and Clifford Shaw.

This theory is based on the description of deviance within the social environment. Crime is associated with the marginalization of certain people in the socio-economic classes of society.

Internal social bonding, norms, and fundamental values which regulate behavior presume social and harmonious organization within conventional society. The Chicago research is however based on a disorganized environment with bad behavioral tendencies and concludes that social patterns in urban areas lead to social disorganization and criminal behavior. The conditions of the places in which the immigrants settle in Chicago are analyzed during the research.

It is reported that the younger generation practices little or no traditions and that it does not assimilate other people. This state leads to an increase in crime in society due to weaker social relations within the neighborhood structure. The NSWDC 217 case has a certain relationship to this theory. The environment in which the prisoner lives when in Australia has a negative influence on his wellbeing. ER and her associates introduce the prisoner to the abuse of drugs and this crime develops with constant interaction with the criminal gangs and societies over some time. Crime in Victoria is brought about by the unequal development, industrialization, and urbanization by the government while neglecting other places (Williams, 2008).

The criminal gangs feel excluded from the rest of the society and hence look for channels of protesting against their alienation. People living in the underdeveloped society engage in crimes and form support groups and gangs like the Hell’s Angels gang that engages in retrogressive practices like possession and distribution of prohibited drugs within Victoria, Sydney, and Melbourne.

The prisoner originates from an Arab nation that has very strict rules on substance abuse. He however does not reside for a long period in Lebanon due to the civil war and his movement to different countries during his studies and employment makes it difficult to integrate not only his traditions but also regulate the environmental conditions in which he lives.

This theory however has certain weaknesses which are both methodological and substantive. The theory includes assumptions made on social capital and ties and collective efficacy which facilitates societal structural conditions and neighborhood crime relations. According to the case NSWDC 217, social ties play a big role in the development of the criminal network of drug production, distribution, marketing, and creation of the Hell’s Angels gang.

The prisoner’s friendship networks expose him to crime. According to Williams (2008), the community’s social control is affected by extensiveness and the power of the society’s networks. It is assumed that social ties control the crime rates in societies that are contrary to the effects of social ties of the prisoner. Social ties can bring about positive and negative effects in lowering crime rates in society. This theory has its strengths. It can relate the criminal’s past experiences, life history, and geographical location to his crimes. Criminals tend to have disturbed, harsh, and violent past experiences and through their lives’ encounters.

The association to people with criminal tendencies for the prisoner enhances his possibilities of engaging in crime. The passing down of penalties is based on several reasons. First, the ability to identify the crime by the subject is considered in the determination of the penalty. For instance, in the case study NSWDC 217, the prisoner’s crime of possession of dangerous drugs is serious although his inadequate knowledge about the nature of the crime and his full cooperation with the authorities reduces the seriousness of the punishment.

The fear of reprisal, utilitarianism, the benefit of pleading guilty, and the use of the counsel expression earn him the maximum discount of his life sentence. Secondly, the jury has to determine if there is any chance of reforming for the prisoner. According to the case, the judgment is founded on a reformed basis. The prisoner goes through detoxification while in custody and abstains from the use of GHP as a pain reliever. He instead uses the prescribed medicine. He also goes through professional psychological counseling.

All these forms of teaching are aimed at making him a better person and by the time of his release, he is expected to be independent of the use of prohibited drugs and his psychological issues are expected to be addressed (Hopkins, 2009).The Standard nonparole imprisonment acts as a reference point and guides the prisoner to better moral values. The reform article of the theory proposes that offenders can be engaged in lessons or undergo a form of teaching that can deter them from committing crimes (Lanier & Henry, 2004). Reform is highly preferred because it can convert the offender to a law-abiding citizen.

It is believed that the background of the offender determines his criminal tendencies. The reformative education offered makes the criminal to be productive and engages him in constructive work upon his release. The theory has both weaknesses and strengths. Its strength is manifested in the subject of background and environmental considerations. The two contribute to the justification of the penalty handed down. Its weakness is that it is based on social aspects and individuality. Practically, this aspect is not lawful and justifiable based on the offense committed.

The anomie and strain theory

According to Durkheim, anomie refers to a situation of norms’ confusion by an individual within an environment or a society. It is the weakening and loss of social norms allowing people within the society to operate without specific guidelines and controls. Durkheim uses this term to understand suicidal crimes in France. This term is however used by other sociologists like Merton, Cohen, Agnew, and Messner to explain crimes and deviance in their theories. The anomie theory can be applied to understand social disorganization by the use of illegitimate ways of achieving society’s goals like class or wealth.

Several sociologists have created theories that vary in explanations but all postulate the same idea of anomie. Agnew’s ideas give several accounts about issues that may bring about strain in a person. The issues are linked to individuals facing negative influences or situations, failure to attain positive societal goals due to personal limits, and elimination of possible positive stimuli within the environment.

He suggests that criminologists should consider the intensity, time of occurrence, period of experience, and accumulation of strenuous situations. Agnew also mentions that certain characteristics make an individual learn to accommodate and live with strain. They include conventional social support, intelligence, self-efficacy, and temperament. According to the case, the prisoner has experienced an unstable lifestyle in his home country. The loss of his parents and the immigration to Australia is also due to strain (McLaughlin, Muncie & Hughes, 2003). His dependence on the prohibited drugs is a result of the painful strain of an accident.

His whole life in many aspects is full of strenuous situations that may have led to his criminal tendencies. This fact also includes the separation from his wife and doing “odd” jobs to support his daughter. The prisoner is seen to have a high level of intelligence. This reality is evident in the education he receives and his ability to get a consultancy job and also maintain a successful juice delivery business that helps him fulfill part of his familial responsibilities. This theory is therefore relevant to the prisoner’s case (Kubrin, Stucky &Krohn, 2009).

Merton bases this theory on American society and what transpires whenever a person realizes that not everyone can attain success in his desired field. After experiencing the strain, the person can conform, innovate, rebel, retreat, or become ritualistic.

These traits can help the individual achieve the basic societal aspirations or lead him to crime and deviance. The failure of achieving a dream or fulfilling certain societal responsibilities can bring about anomie in an individual. According to the NSWDC case 217, despite the prisoner undergoing enormous difficulties, immigration, and an accident, he does not give up but continues working hard. He works in two different jobs and accepts the right way of earning his livelihood. However, he turns to the consumption of the prohibited drug to control his frustration and continue working although this leads to drug abuse which is a crime. In the handing down of the penalty, the panel of judges has to consider several things. It has to consider that capital punishment is not an option.

The capital punishment aspect of the theory is mostly used on very serious offenders like serial killers, terrorists, and drug traffickers. It involves lengthy prison sentences which ensure that the offenders cannot escape from prison. It secludes violent offenders from the public and therefore inhibits their negative influences. This section does not apply to the prisoner due to the nature of his crime. Secondly, the possession of drugs though devious presents a different offense and penalty. Possession of prohibited drugs warrants life imprisonment. The amount of drugs used also increases the period of imprisonment to the sixth level according to Victorian laws (Bernard, Snipes & Gerould, 2010).

The anomie theory has its strengths. It tries to justify the criminal act about the criminal’s needs and strains (Valier, 2002). The theory in my view is justifiably helpful because it accords priority to both the offender and the victim. The aspect of humanity cannot be given priority at the expense of the law. The victim is however given time to present his views and justify his actions.

The judgment has to consider the aspect of humanity. The concept of humanity gives the jury an opportunity for self-introspection. The theory tries to explain the circumstances that inform the reason for the crime by the victim. The idea gives a criminologist the basis of analyzing the actions of the criminal from the perspective of the criminal himself. Examining the criminal’s past and present experiences can necessitate a fair judgment but also expose the weakness of the theory.


Both the social disorganization and the anomie theories postulate that justice should be accorded to the offender and victim. The theories give justification for fair judgment to the victim as in the NSWDC case 217. The social disorganization theory bases its penalty on the social and environmental dimensions while the anomie and strain theory determines its penalty based on need and strain. In respect to the NSWDC case 217, the social disorganization theory presents a better alternative for the case based on its consideration of background and environmental influences on the victim. Despite its weaknesses, the premises of the theory can determine a deserving penalty to the victim as advanced by the study.


Bernard, T, Snipes, J, & Gerould, A. 2010.Vold’s Theoretical Criminology (6th ed.), Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Hopkins, B, R 2009, An Introduction to Criminological Theory (3rd edition), Willan Publishing, Gloucester.

Kubrin, C, Stucky, T, &Krohn, M. 2009. Researching Theories of Crime and Deviance, Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Lanier, M, M, & Henry, S 2004, Essential Criminology (2nd edition), West View Press, Boulder.

Lilly, J, Cullen, F, & Ball, R. 2007.Criminological Theory: Context and Consequences (4th edition), Sage Publications, Thousand Oaks.

McLaughlin, E, Muncie, J, & Hughes, G. 2003. Criminological Perspectives: Essential Readings (2nd edition), Sage Publications, London.

Valier, C 2002, Theories of Crime and Punishment, Longman Criminology Series, Pearson Education, Harlow.

Williams, K 2008, Textbook on Criminology (6th edition), Oxford University Press, Oxford.

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StudyKraken. "Criminological Theories: Social Disorganization and the Anomie Theories." August 22, 2022.


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