Social structure theories are indispensable to criminology studies as an approach to understand the socioeconomic elements that influence crime in the society. Various schools of social structure theory emphasize that the lack of education, subcultural values, and poverty are causes of crime. For instance, poor people are more likely to commit crimes because of their lack of education, which limits their access to employment opportunities, hence poverty. To survive, these individuals are forced to turn to crime for survival. Instead of focusing on individuals and their criminal behavior, the theories seek to understand the larger issues at play and their dominant roles in shaping crime.
Social structure theory has three subtypes: social disorganization theory, strain theory, and cultural conflict/deviance theory. Social disorganization theory, developed from a Chicago research by Shaw and McKay, found that people living in slums are likely to break laws because of broken social control. Their conclusion was that crime was a direct outcome of divergent neighborhood dynamics that people living in poor areas inevitably accept. Strain theory proposes that constant pressure from the society forces members to achieve socially accepted goals (ex. The American Dream). However, since lower class individuals cannot achieve these goals legitimately, they resort to crime to satisfy their needs. Lastly, cultural deviance theory holds that crime is a natural product of varied social structures, with people in lower classes forced to approve divergent values for survival.
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