Essay Sample on Social Learning Theory and Social Disorganization Theory

Published: 2021-07-16
658 words
3 pages
6 min to read
Harvey Mudd College
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Both social learning and social disorganization crime theories are some of the researched theories that try explaining causes of crime. Social learning theory suggests that crime is learned through association and exposure from an intimate group such as family or peers. Social disorganization theory links the crime to a community's perceived or actual ability to exercise control over criminal behavior. From this definition See & Keiser, 2017 draws a contrast in both approaches to explain causes of crime. Whereas social learning theory focuses on immediate social environments especially primary groups like family and peers, social disorganization theory is focused on the society inability to control deviant behaviours. In this case, See & Keiser, 2017 concludes that social learning theory is a study explaining why individuals are more likely to engage in crime than others are, whereas social disorganization theory explains differences in crime rates among communities. In comparison, both explanations are based on the notion that criminal behaviour is caused reinforced when individuals or societies fail to prevail over such deviant behaviour.

According to Sutherland's differential association theory from which social learning theory is drawn, suggest that criminality is because of engaging in inappropriate behaviours exhibited by individuals who interact together. The theory identifies three mechanisms in which criminal behaviour is bred. By differential association, individuals may teach others how to engage in crime through punishment and reinforcement of such behaviours. Crime is more likely to occur when criminal behaviour is infrequently punished and is more reinforced than alternative behaviours. The second mechanisms explore how individuals internalize what is bad or wrong. Some learn beliefs that are favourable to crime and are more likely to engage in crime as a result. Such people may approve such minor offenses such as drug abuse, burglary, fighting, violating curfews especially young male adolescence. Lastly, criminals can learn through imitation; the criminal behaviour is more likely to be modelled if such individuals command respect and are likely to receive reinforcement for such behaviour.

Social disorganization theory identifies characteristics of communities with high crime rate. Such communities are large and crowded with high residential mobility. In addition, such communities have high family disruption rates such as divorce and single parenthood. These factors reduce the willingness of residents to effect social control, for example, provide young people with a stake in conformity, develop self-control and condemn delinquency.

Maahs & Holmes (2007) sheds light on policy implementation and current criminal justice policies. Social disorganization policies and programs suggest an informal social control where communities and authorities foster cooperation to crime and justice problems. While this guardianship is important especially in combating violent crimes, it is difficult to implement where there is little faith in the police (Schmalleger, 2009). Police surveillance is also impractical for nuisance and other inappropriate behaviours, which although illegal they may lead to serious confrontation among neighbours and weaken the community. Additionally, it can prevent informal community responses and alienate segments of the population. Social learning control programs include cognitive restructuring programs and cognitive behaviour programs. Both programs provide venues for inmates to rationalize their beliefs, attitudes, expectations, and patterns of thinking (Blomberg & Lucken, 2000). However, no crime control program can prevent the commission of a crime. Prisons environment poses a challenge by reinforcing the criminal behaviour instead of changing it. Reintegration to the community is difficult to released inmates could find it difficult to maintain pro social behaviour.

Policies that are reflective to social disorganization and social learning theories should develop social organizations and structures to; help residents identify and establish community norms and values encourage respectful residents intervention, and build social ties and support.


Crime Causation: Sociological Theories - Dictionary definition of Crime Causation: Sociological Theories | (2017). Retrieved 31 July 2017, from

Cornway k & MacCord (2017). Retrieved 1 August 2017, from

Schmalleger, F. (2009). Criminology today: An integrative introduction, 5th edn. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall.

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