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A social condition in which norms are uncertain or lacking.

Broken window thesis

A perspective on crime causation that holds that physical deterioration in an area leads to increased concerns for personal safety among area residents and to higher crime rates in that area.

Chicago Area Project

A program originating at the University of Chicago during the 1930s that focused on urban ecology and that attempted to reduce delinquency, crime, and social disorganization in transitional neighborhoods.

Chicago School of criminology

An ecological approach to explaining crime that examines how social disorganization contributes to social pathology.

Conduct norm

Shared expectations of a social group relative to personal conduct.

Criminology of place

A perspective that emphasizes the importance of geographic location and architectural features as they are associated with the prevalence of criminal victimization; also called environmental criminology.

Cultural transmission

A concept that compares society to a physical organism and that sees criminality as an illness.

Culture conflict theory

A sociological perspective on crime that suggests that the root cause of criminality can be found in a clash of values between variously socialized groups over what is acceptable or proper behavior; also called cultural deviance theory.

Defensible space

The range of mechanisms that combine to bring an environment under the control of its residents.

Distributive justice

The rightful, equitable, and just distribution of rewards within a society.

Ecological theory

A type of sociological approach that emphasizes demographics (the characteristics of population groups) and geographics (the mapped location of such groups relative to one another) and that sees the social disorganization that characterizes delinquency areas as a major cause of criminality and victimization.

Environmental criminology

A perspective that emphasizes the importance of geographic location and architectural features as they are associated with the prevalence of criminal victimization; also called criminology of place.

Focal concern

The key values of any culture, especially a delinquent subculture.

General strain theory (GTS)

A perspective that suggests that law-breaking behavior is a coping mechanism that enables those who engage in it to deal with the socioemotional problems generated by negative social relations.

Human ecology

The interrelationship between human beings and the physical and cultural environments in which they live.

Illegitimate opportunity structure

A subcultural pathway to success that the wider society disapproves of.

Negative affective state

An adverse emotion such as anger, fear, depression, or disappointment that derives from the experience of strain.

Reaction formation

The process by which a person openly rejects that which he or she wants or aspires to but cannot obtain or achieve.

Relative deprivation

A sense of social or economic inequality experienced by those who are unable, for whatever reason, to achieve legitimate success within the surrounding society.

Social disorganization

A condition said to exist when a group is faced with social change, uneven development of culture, maladaptiveness, disharmony, conflict, and lack of consensus.

Social disorganization theory

A perspective on crime and deviance that sees society as a kind of organism and crime and deviance as a kind of disease, or social pathology. This type of theory is often associated with the perspective of social ecology and with the Chicago School of criminology, which developed during the 1920s and 1930s.

Social ecology

An approach to criminological theorizing that attempts to link the structure and organization of a human community to interactions with its localized environment.

Social life

The ongoing (typically) structured interaction—including socialization and social behavior in general—that occurs between persons in a society

Social pathology

A concept that compares society to a physical organism and that sees criminality as an illness.

Social process

The interaction between and among social institutions, groups, and individuals.

Social structure

The pattern of social organization and the interrelationships among institutions characteristic of a society.

Sociological theory

A perspective that focuses on the nature of the power relationships that exist between social groups and on the influences that various social phenomena bring to bear on the types of behaviors that tend to characterize groups of people.

Social structure theory

A theory that explains crime by reference to the economic and social arrangements in society. This type of theory emphasizes relationships among social institutions and describes the types of behavior that tend to characterize groups of people rather than individuals.

Strain theory

A sociological approach that posits a disjuncture between socially and subcultural sanctioned means and goals as the cause of criminal behavior.

Subculture theory

A sociological perspective that emphasizes the contribution made by variously socialized cultural groups to the phenomenon of crime.


A collection of values and preferences that is communicated to subcultural participants through a process of socialization.

Technique of neutralization

Culturally available justifications that can provide criminal offenders with the means to disavow responsibility for their behavior.

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