Compare and Contrast Two Theories essay

Compareand Contrast Two Theories

Compareand Contrast Two Theories

Criminalacts are committed every day throughout the world varying from minordelinquencies to high-level offenses. It is possible that at somepoint most people are involved in a crime whether as an assailant ora victim (Vito &amp Maahs, 2012). Hence, the society looks for waysto reduce crime. However, this can only be accomplished if peopleunderstand why crime and delinquency occur in the first place, whichraises a question as to why people engage in criminal activities.Consequently, numerous studies have attempted to explain the reasonsbehind crime, which has resulted in various social concepts such associal disorganization and labeling theories. Nonetheless, despitethe similarities in their attempts to explain how social environmentcontribute to criminal behavior, social disorganization and labelingtheories contrast in their explanation of the most important aspectscontributing to crime, social environment that causes crime, andsuggestions on the most effective strategies to help reducedelinquent and criminal behaviors.

Thesocial disorganization theory

Thesocial disorganization theory originated from research in Chicago byMcKay and Shaw in 1942. The rapid process of urbanization during the1900s inspired scholars at Chicago University to consider therelationship between local practices of social integration andstructural socioeconomic conditions (Bursik, 1988). Shaw and McKayconducted research on the urban areas experiencing rapid changes intheir economic and social structure particularly the regions with lowsocio-economic status. During the research, they discovered that therate of crime was not evenly distributed across space and time in thecity. Instead, crimes occurred in specific places in the city whereit remained stable in those places despite the frequent changes inthe populations living in those regions. However, socialdisorganization is flawed because it assumes that people living in aparticular community are restricted to form social networks only withother people in the community (Bursik, 1988).

Thelabeling theory

Onthe other hand, the labeling theory explains how an individual’sbehavior and self-identity may be influenced or determined by theterms used to classify or describe them. The labeling theory wasfamous during the 1960s, but some modified adaptations of the theoryare still accepted even to date. Labeling theory has been a vibrantarea of study and theoretical development since the mid-1960s duringgreat cultural and political conflict in the United States (Vito &ampMaahs, 2012). The philosophers supporting labeling theory broughtattention to the role of government agencies and social processes inaffecting the deviance and crime rates. The labeling theorysymbolized both methodological and theoretical break from the past.Thus, it was one of the main theoretical viewpoints explainingdeviance and crime from the mid-1960s to early 1980s. The labelingtheory explains that people are given labels based on how otherpeople view their behaviors or tendencies. However, the concept isnot interested in the normal responsibilities that define people’slives, but rather the special tasks that the society provides forcriminal behavior, which results in social stigma (Vito &amp Maahs,2012).

Similaritiesbetween the labeling theory and social disorganization theory

Theseleading sociological theories focus on the social environment andexplain why some people are more likely to engage in deviantbehaviors than others are. The labeling and social disorganizationtheories present different ideas that explain why people engage incriminal behavior depending on how and where they live (Vito &ampMaahs, 2012). The concept assumes that classifying someone a deviantor a criminal makes a person more likely to continue with thecriminal behavior. The labeling gives a person a negative self-image,minimizes the potential for employment, and makes it hard to havefriendships with law-abiding people. Thus, the theory views thecareers of criminals as resulting from the disapproving societalrelations humiliating social encounters and the prejudiced nature ofthe law (Vito &amp Maahs, 2012). Consequently, those labeling aperson make the laws bias against the deviant natures of certainbehaviors. Hence, actions that are considered to be a crime are onlysuch since people label those behaviors as a crime. Therefore,everyone knows how other people judge him or her because he or shehas taken on many diverse functions and roles in social interactionsand can determine the reactions of those present. Furthermore, when aperson is labeled a criminal, the society takes away his or heropportunities which eventually causes more criminal behavior (Vito &ampMaahs, 2012).

Equally,the social disorganization theory also explains how the socialenvironment can contribute to criminal behavior although using adifferent perspective from the one presented by the labeling theory(Sampson &amp Groves, 1989). The deprived social situation leavesthe people underprivileged, which socially isolates of these groupsof people from essential resources supporting collective socialcontrol. The theory also explains that economically deprived areashave high population turnover rates since they were undesirable wherepeople moved away as soon as they got an opportunity to do so(Sampson &amp Groves, 1989). As such, they were new immigrantsmoving into those regions continuously, which resulted in racial andethnic diversity in these areas. Therefore, in neighborhoodscharacterized by high crime rates, the statistics showed that therates remained unchanged irrespective of the ethnic or racial groupresiding in the area at any particular time (Sampson &amp Groves,1989).

Furthermore,the theories seek to explain that unusual and criminal behavior isnot an inherent character, but rather a result of the interaction ofan individual with the society although they use different socialaspects in their explanations (Barlow &amp Kauzlarich, 2010). Thelabeling theory explains that deviance is not an intrinsic tendencyof a person, but rather it focuses on the trend where the societylabels people negatively, especially the minorities or those who areviewed as deviant according to some social norms. Consequently, thelabeling theory describes that labels are enforced in part by thestatus of those labeling and those people being labeled. Hence, thesedeviant labels cause problems that the one being labeled must changeand deal with the given labels, which lead to greater involvement indeviance and crime (Barlow &amp Kauzlarich, 2010).

Similarly,the social disorganization theory does not view crime as a naturaltrait in an individual but rather as a character developed out of theinteraction a person has with the social environment. The socialdisorganization theory explains environmental differences in levelsof crime based on the cultural and structural factors determining thenature of social order across communities (Barlow &amp Kauzlarich,2010). The general hypothesis is that social disorganizationcharacterized by ethnic diversity, low economic status, andresidential mobility affects the informal control mechanisms in a waythat increases delinquency and crime rates. For example, thecommunities with high levels of poverty and rapid population turnoverhave considerably higher crime rates those areas with more affluentand mobile populations or poor regions with stable populations.Therefore, the theories explain crime regarding social surroundingsincluding school, peer groups, family, community, and workplace(Barlow &amp Kauzlarich, 2010).

Labelingand social disorganization theories are similar in their argumentsthat economic deprivation and social ineffectiveness such as lack ofskills and resources can lead to social inadequacy, which eventuallycauses crime and delinquent behavior. On one hand, the socialdisorganization theory explains that disorganized neighborhoodsprovide a favorable environment for delinquency and crime mainlythrough their lack of behavioral control system and the culturaltransmission of criminal values (Barlow &amp Kauzlarich, 2010).Thus, these neighborhoods have criminal traditions that were passedto consecutive generations of young people, which maintain the highrate of crime.

Likewise,the labeling theory explains how the majority or people in governancemainly define and decide what makes constitutes criminal behavior andserves as the basis for defining what makes a criminal. Besides,those people in power define criminality through the laws they enactand the explanations of those laws by the courts, law enforcementpersonnel, and correctional facilities. Therefore, the minority orsocially disadvantaged people may end up being labeled as criminalbased on the definitions and attitudes of the privileged few (Barlow&amp Kauzlarich, 2010).

Differencesbetween the labeling theory and social disorganization theory

However,the theories differ as they have different features of the socialenvironment. Thus, they offer diverse explanations of why and how thesocial environment causes crime. For example, the labeling theoryfocuses on explaining individual differences in crime caused bylabels assigned by the society (Barlow &amp Kauzlarich, 2010). Thetheory suggests that the label that the society gives to individualsinfluences their behavior. For example, when the society gives aperson a stigmatizing or negative label, it will most likely promotedeviant behavior. Consequently, these labels become like a predictionwhere an individual will conform to the essential meaning of thatlabeling, which they view as some form of society’s judgment(Barlow &amp Kauzlarich, 2010).

Onthe contrary, the social disorganization theory attempts to explainwhy some regions have a higher crime rate as compared to othercommunities. Therefore, it explains that the communitycharacteristics such as ethnic diversity and poverty lead to higherdelinquency rates since they hinder community members’ ability towork together (Bursik, 1988). The theory also expects that regionswith greater ethnic diversity were more likely to have high levels ofdelinquency and crime. According to McKay and Shaw, ethnic diversityinterferes with effective communication, which may cause mistrust andfear. Thus, the theory views crime to originate from relationsbetween ethnic groups and not necessarily from some groups being moreprone to criminal behaviors than others are. However, the processthat connects poverty with population turnover is more specific tourban locations as compared to the rural settings with poorpopulations since they are more ethically consistent and stable(Bursik, 1988).

Unlikesocial disorganization theory, labeling theory does not consider whysome social groups commit crimes, but rather questions why someactions committed by some people tend to be defined as criminalswhile others are not (Walklate, 2007). The social disorganizationtheory assumes that the rate of delinquency in rural communities ismost likely to rise with an increasing rate of residentialinstability. Accordingly, it tries to explain community differencesin crime rate by identifying the features that make some communitiesmore likely to have criminal activities more than others. Theresidents of a community characterized by high crime rates often lackresources and skills to assist others effectively. Therefore, theyare less likely to have close relations with the neighbors or evencare about their region. Moreover, they usually do not own homes,which mean that they have little or no investments in the community(Walklate, 2007).

Incontrast, the labeling theory primarily focuses on the consequencesof reactions or responses to crime. The labeling theory is notinterested in the causes of delinquency, but rather people’sreaction to those criminal behaviors. The reactions to crime andformation of labels take place at individual, institutional, andstate or national level (Walklate, 2007). The theory also explainsthe reaction of the people being labeled. Labeling theory explainsthat most people commit crimes at some point, but not everyone isdefined as a criminal or deviant. Therefore, once someone has beenlabeled as a criminal, the label may become dominant, which peoplewill see more importantly than all the other aspects of the person.Besides, the society will be unwilling to incorporate that person insocial activity or even relate to him or her at any social level.Thus, the isolation will most certainly push that person intocriminal activity (Walklate, 2007).

Lastly,the theories suggest different strategies to help reduce thedelinquent and criminal behaviors. The social disorganization theoryproposes that private and public investment should be concentrated inthe most impoverished areas (Barlow &amp Kauzlarich, 2010).Accordingly, financial resources should be spent mainly on programslocated in the poor neighborhoods, which should be managed by peoplefrom those communities. These programs will provide services andemployment opportunities for the residents. Consequently, thebetter-funded local agencies and availability of job opportunitieswill become the centers of social actions, which will strengthenpositive residential ties and interconnections (Barlow &ampKauzlarich, 2010). Besides, funding the programs to uphold the familyties was also essential. As such, families will resist the harmfuleffects of social disorganization on children. Moreover, strongfamilies can also work together to reduce the social disorganizationin their communities. In contrast, labeling theorists believe that itis possible to prevent social deviance through less stigmatization orshaming reactions in labels and instead replace moral indignationwith open-mindedness (Barlow &amp Kauzlarich, 2010).


Bothlabeling and disorganization theories believe that the society playsa vital role in the development of criminal activities. The theoriesuse different aspects of the society explain the reasons behindcriminal behavior based on the social environment, they both in theirexplanations. The labeling theory explains that labeling is asignificant cause of criminal behavior since a person has to conformto the assigned reputation. Therefore, the injustices in the penalsystem make it impossible to enforce or develop pro-social customsand sometimes allow criminal behavior to go unpunished. On the otherhand, social disorganization views deprived deprivation as a majorcause of delinquency and crime since it hinders social interactionthat can promote cohesion and good behavior. Besides, labeling theoryis more interested in the criminal behavior of an individual whilesocial disorganization theory tries why some social groups are moreprone to criminal behaviors than others are. Each theory hasdeveloped a unique understanding of how delinquency develops in livesof individuals, families, and communities. Nonetheless, the theoriesemphasize that people live in social groups, which create certainstructures that are bound to influence behavior. Therefore, thesetheories assume that criminal behavior is solely determined by thesocial environment, which rejects the idea that a person can be aborn criminal. As such, despite the framework used to explain thecauses of crime, it is clear that the society has a significant rolein minimizing criminal and delinquent behavior.


Barlow,H. D., &amp Kauzlarich, D. (2010). Explainingcrime: A primer in criminological theory.Lanham, Md: Rowman &amp Littlefield.

Bursik,R.J. (1988). Social disorganization and theories of crime anddelinquency: Problems and prospects. Criminology,26, 519−551.

Sampson,R. J., &amp Groves, W. B. (1989). Community structure and crime:Testing social disorganization theory. AmericanJournal of Sociology,94, 774−802.

Vito,G. F., &amp Maahs, J. R. (2012). Criminology:Theory, research, and policy.Sudbury, Mass: Jones &amp Bartlett Learning.

Vito,G. F., &amp Maahs, J. R. (2012). Criminology:Theory, research, and policy.Sudbury, Mass: Jones &amp Bartlett Learning.