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Social Structure Theory Essay

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Updated: Dec 28th, 2018


There are various theories that have been devised to ascertain the origin of crime given that crime is a universal problem. Most of the theories of crime have not yet been tried, but they have been relied upon for a couple of years. One of the common theories is the social structure theory that explains the reasons why crime is more pronounced in some areas as opposed to others.

According to social structure theorists, the socioeconomic state of a place has a direct influence on the rate of crime in that given place (Schmalleger, 2012). The theorists suggest that poor people are most likely to commit a crime compared to the rich. This is because poor people will need to have monetary success, and this is mainly achieved through crime. The social structure has three main tenets that help in understanding crime.

They include social disorganization, strain, and cultural deviance. To start with, the social disorganization structure suggests that slum dwellers are likely to participate in acts that violate the law since their social control is broken. This theory was developed by Shaw and McKay (Siegel, 2013). It mainly shows that disorganized areas are marred with divergent values that have the effect of producing criminality. Strain, on the other hand, suggests that the anger that emanates from the failure to achieve success is a cause of crime.

The mentioned theories suggest that people share the same beliefs and social structure. However, this is made different through the arrangement of the social structure. The strain theory has been used to explain why people choose one form of crime as opposed to another (Siegel, 2013). This paper will discuss the social structure theories and their role in criminology.

Social structure theories that seek to explain crime are based on the notion that socioeconomic tendencies have an increasing role in the life of an individual. The individual seeks many means of satisfying the said needs upon that social structure being interfered with. Cultural deviance theories are to the effect that there are various behaviors that are approved in places whereby the lower class of people lives.

These behaviors aggravate to form part of the crime acts. Lower class values emanate from these values and they are designed by their status in life (Siegel, 2013). This mode of behavior is brought about by the fear and the perceptions of people that their means of satisfying their needs are limited.

Although there are individuals who are opposed to these theories, it is clear that they play an increasing role in explaining the utilization of resources and people’s perceptions towards it. It is true that these theories have certain disparities that are based on the mode of research carried out to reach at that theory. The theories have also been modified to include new elements that are a mixture of homelessness, abuse and neglect.

The theories may combine several theories to come up with a standard structured theory that is used to sufficiently explain the cause of a crime. It should be remembered that the theories have many flaws that have hindered the conclusiveness of one theory as it is opposed to the other. These theories have a way of making the social structure questionable. However, the theories tend to suggest that human behavior has a relative connection to the economic setting of human beings (Schmalleger, 2012).

The theory of social structure has been sought to approve various standards that are not possibly the best explanations on why crime prevails in some places but it is low in other places. The theories are mainly focused on few elements that are highly speculative. It should be pointed out that there are several reasons that cause a crime to take place. Socioeconomic ways may be a pointer to the chain of crime, but that is not conclusive. In an individual, there are numerous ways in which a crime may be committed.

An individual may succumb to the pressure from the peers in choosing the appropriate mode of crime commission that may happen (Akers & Jensen, 2009). On the same note, it is important to point out that not all individuals are pushed by poverty to crime. If such a mode of analysis is adopted, then it means that all poor people should be criminals. On the contrary, there are people who face poverty, but their values are strong and they find other means of resilience through family values.

This influences one to consider lawful means in alleviating poverty. It, therefore, explains the notion that some of the theories that discuss the origin of crime are outdated. There are poor communities that have engaged in community initiatives that have promoted the welfare of the disadvantaged neighbors. The theories in the social disorganization have in numerous cases adopted different ways of making sure that there is no conflict between the theories (Siegel, 2013).

It was easy to make sure that social ecology studies had largely invested in research to show that disorganization theories play a major role in increasing the crime rates in the 1950s. The disadvantaged groups in a community have the essence of having isolated groupings that may be later converted to crime groups.

In communities that have deteriorated, the moral thread is interfered with making it easy to adopt a concentration effect. The strain theory has equally helped in arriving at the reasons why crimes are committed at one place and not the other. The profounder of this theory avers that the American society is based on the ideal of the American dream that is based on the dreams of freedom and prosperity (Siegel, 2013).

This means that many people find cultural, economic, as well as psychological motivation in the dream. Many believe that the dream is achievable by building on the right culture. The expectant society finds it hard to deviate from the dream since it means that they are capable of achieving the dream. This keeps the community secure from any form of crime since everyone concentrates on ensuring that they achieve the dream.

This does not mean that there are no frustrations in attempts to achieve the dream. However, these frustrations are dealt with before they aggravate to other forms of crime. At the same time, there are some instances whereby crimes are committed. It explains the reason why different individuals find it hard to live while having expectations on the dream (Akers & Jensen, 2009).

The strain theory has showed that achieving the dream is mainly a focus in the belief that it can be achieved. The social structure in numerous instances may prevent individuals from realizing their dreams. This has the effect of causing them to turn to illegitimate means in order to achieve their aspirations.

This means may take the form of crime. Deviant subcultures such as gangs are evident. Sub-cultural theorists have observed that small groups may detach themselves from the society, thereby making sure that their own values and meanings about life are adopted (Schmalleger, 2012). This acts to the detriment of the whole society since these groups may engage in crimes to satisfy their needs.

The criminal approaches among youth from the lower social class are due to the social norms of the lower class. Their perception about life draws a sense of low self-esteem that may be from the youth in other poorer areas. Such youth have crime as their only way of livelihood. This may provide the youth with lucrative benefits that are preferable to a minimum wage. Theorists have observed that criminal tendencies have been used as a solution to the imaginary solutions.

The gangs act under the belief that the proceeds of the crime are the main solution to their problems. Violent crimes in individuals are designed to retaliate since the mindset of the criminal is to the effect that the upper class in the society contributes to the poverty status of the lower class. In some cases, the class struggle builds a wall between the less privileged and the privileged in the society (Siegel, 2013).

The social control theories have, in numerous occasions, established a way in which the crimes committed do not fall under the categories that they come up with. Control theories have come up with theories that explain reasons why not every person can become a criminal.

The consensus among these theorists has been to identify a functionalist perspective that views the society as a system that consists of mutual parts with a broad normative structure. In the various institutions, it is likely to have every society with specialized social functions (Siegel, 2013).

This aids the society in running smoothly. In solid societies, it is easy to achieve a level of modern organic specialization whereby the rate of occupation is less than that of every modern society. This happens to be a very normal and an inevitable phenomenon. It has been observed that individuals have limited behavior that defines what the society expects from everyone in the social structure. Some sociologists have maintained that crime is a normal occurrence in every society, thus it should not be viewed as a weakness.

The thriving of a society depends on the social structure that may at one time include different levels of crime rates. It has been identified that various people aspire to show that natural talent is useful in attaining the pleasures and understanding the deficiencies of the society. The social structure is bound to be broken down in situations where there is no sense of maintaining middle class norms (Schmalleger, 2012).

The explanations of crime levels being high in some areas than others are attributable to the dilution of the social structure norms. The society plays a key role in maintaining or making them unrealized.

In the interest of society, it is easy to establish a connection between the economic status of a person and the reasons for a certain form of behavior. It has been identified that individuals who are isolated from the family or the society have a tendency of engaging in crimes. Engaging in crimes is not a choice to some individuals as they need to survive (Siegel, 2013).

The use of illegitimate means to satisfy the basic needs is unavoidable. The community affected has various ways of formulating an appropriate approach to deal with the problem. The gangs are sometimes willing to stop any criminal acts provided that they get enough support from the society. Individuals in such circumstances should reach the less privileged in order to reduce the gap between the rich and the poor. There are various instances in which such cases can be avoided.

It is mainly not easy to avoid people who are less privileged in the structuring of the communities. This may not be avoidable in all communities. There are measures that can be taken to make sure that rates of crime are reduced, especially by working on the causal factors (Barlow & Kauzlarich, 2010).

The organization of a society includes having a clear framework that is based on the thriving of every member of the society. The formulation of a structural functioning in a society is not designed to avoid crime entirely, but to eliminate any forms of crime that may have a recurring element (Barlow & Kauzlarich, 2010).

The theories have a clear backing on the reasons that explain the existence of a crime in society. It, therefore, follows that the theories have major weaknesses that are attributed to the research used to explain the theories. The theories do not explain the reason why there are crimes in places where the rich only live. The main flaws in the theories are the fact that they tend to suggest that crimes are evident in poor zones only.

There are individuals who will indulge in criminal acts for other reasons that are not necessarily based on satisfaction of needs. The social structure theory is not in itself a conclusive way of determining the crime rate in an area. Gangs are mainly based on the willingness of members to indulge in crimes, but that is not the case in every society (Akers & Jensen, 2009).


The reasons for the need for a crime control mechanism have led to the need to ascertain the causes of crimes. Although the risk benefit analysis of a crime has served for some time, it is clear that many find the social structure theories very persuading. The theories have suggested that populations with low income are prone to crime.

The wider the gap between the rich and the poor the higher the rate of crime experienced. The lower classes are mainly organized in gangs that are mainly used in crime related behavior. It has been observed that the main ways in which crime can be controlled is by ensuring that the causes are dealt with.

However, it would be possible to understand crime if the structural theories are to be considered with regard to the flaws in them. The idea that crime is only caused by socioeconomic aspects of life is wrong. This is based on the fact that the rate of crime is also high even in the rich neighborhoods. The theories fail to explain the reason why such areas have high rates of crime.


Akers, R. L., & Jensen, G. F. (2009). Social learning theory and the explanation of crime: A guide for the new century. New Brunswick: Transaction Publishers.

Barlow, H. D., & Kauzlarich, D. (2010). Explaining crime: A primer in criminological theory. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.

Schmalleger, F. (2012). Criminology today: An integrative introduction, (6th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Siegel, L. J. (2013). Criminology: Theories, patterns, and typologies. Belmont, CA: Thomson/Wadsworth.

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