In the discipline of criminology, the examination of the reasons why human beings commit a crime is very crucial especially in regards to the currently on-going debate about how to handle and prevent crime. Throughout the years, many theories that seek to explain why people engage in criminal activities have been forwarded. These theories are still being explored today, individually and sometimes in combination as people like criminologists engage in the search for the best solutions and strategies for reducing the number and types of crimes in the society.
One of the theories that has been very prevalent among criminologist and that has been used to explain criminal behavior in human beings is the social structure theory. The proponents of this theory believe that the society is generally made up of groups and institutions that alter move and shift their mutual influence (Akers, 1998). In simple terms, the social structure theory proponents suggest that the position or place of people within the socio-economic structure significantly influences the chances of them engaging in criminal activities or becoming criminals. These theorists believe that the principal elements to criminal behaviors are essentially the dominance of economic and social influences that are majorly prominent in dilapidate and rundown neighborhoods. These are neighborhoods where a majority of the population is comprised of low class citizens. Essentially, the poor are the most likely to engage in criminal activities, as they are unable of achieving social or monetary success in alternative ways.
The social structure theories are divided into three major sub-categories namely, the social strain theory, the social disorganization theory and finally the cultural deviance theory (Akers, 1998).
The social strain theory maintains a view of crime as a result of the anger that people experience due to their inability and incapacity to achieve legitimate economic and social success (Ritzer, 2005). Proponents of the social strain theory believe that most individuals share common aspirations beliefs, and values. However, the ability to achieve these aspirations, beliefs and values is differentiated across the social structure. Consequently, when people are unable to meet society’s expectations via the approved means and ways such as hard work, they may attempt to acquire success through unscrupulous and unconventional ways such as crime (Ritzer, 2005).
The social disorganization theory mainly concentrates on inner city circumstances that affect crime. These include things such as neighborhood deterioration, absence of social control, presence of gangs and other law violators and finally the opposing social values that exist in these neighborhoods. The youth who are raised in the lower class and dilapidated neighborhoods often choose to engage in criminal and violent activities and join the neighborhood gangs (Ritzer, 2005). The suggestion forwarded by this theory is that an individual’s social and physical environment plays a huge role in influencing the life choices made by him. Consequently, a neighborhood characterized by distressing social structures has a high likelihood of having high rates of crime. A neighborhood such as this may have vandalized and vacant buildings, poor schools, high unemployment rates, amongst other negative elements that in one way or another influence deviance in people and prompt them to engage in criminal activities (Simpson, 2000). People living in such neighborhoods have zero pride in their places of living and do not have feelings of needing to be involved in activities meant to preserve the neighborhood’s wellbeing. As a way of compensating this, they therefore engage in criminal activities.
The final classification of the social structure theory is the cultural deviance theory. Cultural deviance theory to some point combines elements of social strain and social disorganization theories. This theory holds or maintains a view that essentially, a unique value system develops in the lower class regions or areas in the society (Simpson, 2000). The values of the lower class often approve behaviors such as not showing fear, being tough and defying authority. The people in the lower class hold have perception that they limited success opportunities. Criminal behavior results from the strain felt by people as well as the social isolations that they are put under by the urban environments. These two aspects stimulate the forming of sub-cultures among members of the lower class that are significantly different from those of other members of the population (Simpson, 2000). A proponent of the cultural deviance theory would argue that the combination of being raised up in a dilapidated neighborhood and the strain of viewing no other possible way out is the primary reason why people result to crime and criminal gangs. Cultural deviance theorists believe that it the combination of both factors that make an individual feel that they must engage in crime (Akers, 1998).
In conclusion, the social structure theory as observed is one of the major theories used by criminologists to show shy people engage in crime. The theory is divided into three distinct categories but the uniting factor in all the categories is the suggestion that the position or place of people within the socio-economic structure significantly influences the chances of them engaging in crime.
Akers, R. L. (1998). Social learning and social structure: A general theory of crime and deviance. Boston: Northeastern University Press.
Ritzer, G., & Sage Publications. (2005). Encyclopedia of social theory. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
Simpson, J. H. (2000). Social Learning and Social Structure: A General Theory of Crime and Deviance. By Ronald L. Akers. Northeastern University Press, 1998. 420 pp. Social Forces, 78(3), 1171-1173.