In the Type 2 theory of anomie, Merton proposed that criminal behavior was caused by a state of normlessness or lack of social regulation, where there was a disassociation between valued cultural ends and legitimate societal mean to those ends. In this state of normlessness, society places a strong emphasis on reaching goals but not on socially approved means of reaching those goals. Society promotes the ideal that there is equal opportunity for all to reach their goals, but in reality, the lower classes do not have an equal opportunity to reach their goals.
The remaining Type 1 theory of social disorganization and the remaining Type 2 theory of general strain will now be discussed in detail. Some empirical tests of the two theories and of social structural theories in general will be examined, along with some criticisms of the theories.
Social disorganization theory was first developed by Shaw and Mckay in their studies of juvenile delinquency in urban areas in the 1930’s. It refers to the inability of local communities to realize the common values of their residents or solve their commonly experienced problems. Social disorganization proposes that social order, stability, and integration are conducive to conformity, while disorder and segregation facilitate crime and deviance. A social system is considered organized if it has an internal consensus on its norms and values, a strong cohesion among its members, and there is an orderly social interaction. A system is considered disorganized if there is a breakdown in social control, a disruption in its cohesion, or a lack of integration. This disorganization may lead to a higher rate of crime and deviance. Several empirical studies have tested social disorganization theory.
Although not a definitive test of social disorganization theory, a 1989 empirical study of 238 localities in Great Britain by Sampson and Groves supported the theory. The study found that communities characterized by sparse friendship networks, unsupervised teenage peer groups, and low organizational participation had disproportionately high rates of crime and delinquency. The data supported the theory that low economic status, ethnic heterogeneity, residential mobility, and family disruption lead to community disorganization, which lead to increases in crime and delinquency rates. The researchers believed they demonstrated that social disorganization theory was relevant for explaining macro-level variations in crime rates.