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Chicago School of Human Ecology Essay

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Chicago School of Human Ecology Essay

The `Chicago School of Human Ecology' was founded in the nineteenth century by sociologist Robert E. Park with the aid of fellow sociologist Ernest C. Burgess. They worked very closely with the Department of Sociology in the University of Chicago where they first created the theories known as `Concentric Zone Theory,' where a city is divided into sectors from the closer to the centre outward, and `Social Disorganisation,' where it is not just the area where they live but the people and different cultures that relate to the rate of crime. They also used the theoretical works and research of other sociologists, some of who are Clifford R. Shaw, Henry D. McKay, Wirth and Thrasher. Robert E. Park and Ernest C. Burgess have been credited for their work of sociology and establishing sociology as a science. The first place that their theory was published was in a journal in 1925 known as “The City.” Since this theory started it has had many additions made to it from various other sociologists. From the findings within the original theory to all the additions we can establish that when applying it to different cities, such as Cardiff, the same conclusion will be reached most of the time.

The `Chicago School of Human Ecology' can also be identified for its “urban sociology and for the development of the symbolic interactionist approach.” The `Chicago School of Human Ecology' and the `Concentric Zone Theory' represents a reincarnation of the idea that the environment, rather than the individual, may have a part in an individual's criminal record. Park and Burgess proposed that if the `Theory of Evolution,' regarding animals adapting their behaviour in different environments, was accepted then why can it not be applied to humans in the way that they live and the areas and conditions in which they live.

Frederic E. Clements work also played an extremely influential role within the `Chicago School of Human Ecology' and the `Concentric Zone Theory.' In short, he proposed that “an individual is born, grows, matures and dies,” however, the community in which that individual lived continues to “grow and exhibit properties which are greater than the sum of the properties of the parts.” Robert E. Park and Ernest W. Burgess created the `Concentric Zone Theory' when discovering that, as a city grows and expands individuals tends to reside in a particular area; this became known as the process of `concentration'. Over time, this main area becomes increasingly popular which leads to the `dispersion' of people away from the city centre, this `dispersion' created what is known as the suburbs. This was heavily criticised as being simplistic as it was thought that it neglected the political and economic impact of the industrialisation, also the issues of race, gender and class.

The first study for this theory was of Chicago and created the `Chicago Loop' or `Concentric Rings.' The first of the rings Burgess called the “central commercial district…then moved outward in wider rings delineated by land use and residential type.” There were then other zones or rings added outside the first one. Burgess named each one and they are as follows; `zone in transition', `zone of workingmen's homes' and the `commuters' and `satellite cities'. Within the `central commercial district' were located businesses such as banks, insurance companies and offices. The `zone in transition' contained many factories and homes of the poorer residents such as drug addicts and prostitutes. Ethnic minorities and immigrants tended to reside here when initially migrating to the country. The third zone is that of the `zone of the workingmen's homes.' The people who reside in here is self-explanatory within the name, it is home to the workingmen and women of the city. Finally the `commuters' and `satellite cities' are home to the upper class people of society, more commonly known as the suburbs.

In Shaw and McKay's book, `Juvenile Delinquency in Urban Areas,' they used Edwin Sutherland's `Theory of Systematic Criminal Behaviour' and related it to their studies of the `Concentric Zone Theory.' Shaw and McKay argued that the main cause of juvenile delinquency was a reaction to an individual's irregular social condition. When doing their research, Shaw and McKay consulted the `Concentric Zone Theory' and demonstrated that the more wealthy individuals moved from the different zones in order to escape the social disorganisation that existed. They did this using a diachronic analysis which showed that delinquency was already strewn in the more urbanised areas. Clifford Shaw and Henry McKay's research and methods have had an extremely strong impact on future analyse of crime and delinquency.

Shaw and McKay created spot maps to indicate the location of many social problems, with emphasis in juvenile delinquency. Their findings demonstrated that the highest rate of crime was located within the areas of “lowest income status…highest concentration of European immigrants and Black Americans.” Their reasoning for this was because they were located within the `zone of transition' and the occupiers were becoming competitive and less cooperative with each other. This zone has been less desirable as time has gone by and it has developed as more industrial and commercial. It has also become increasingly popular by the people who are under privileged for examples immigrants when they first come into the country. The `zone of transition' when Shaw and McKay conducted this account showed extremely appalling conditions such as overcrowding and culture clashes. A study by Shaw and McKay showed that 26% of 55,000 offenders were criminal within this zone. Over 25 years more studies have been carried out and it was found that Shaw and McKay's results were still the general result. Therefore we can see that from this study they showed that it is not just the physical and biological ideas or stereotypes that can cause crime. The area for which the individual grows up also plays a factor. As shown, it is mainly the areas of industry and commercial that have the highest crime rate whereas the further `out' of the `Concentric Circle' or `Chicago Loop' that you go the less crime. The further away from the `zone of transition' you go the more residential areas will be found, such as the `satellite zone.'

Another person who adapted on this theory was Edwin Sutherland who was an American sociologist who was known for his work within the area of differential association, which he defined as “a general theory of crime and delinquency that explains how deviants come to learn the motivations and the technical knowledge for deviant or criminal activity.” Edwin Sutherland tried to explain that crime rates were influenced by the changes within societies of peasant and preliterate, where “influences surrounding a person were steady, uniform, harmonious and consistent,” compared to a Western civilisation were it was the opposite; there was inconsistency and social disorganisation. Sutherland believed that the mixture of different cultures within each `zone' caused culture clashes and conflicts which let to social disorganisation. The majority if this happens in the areas closer to the centre, for example the `zone of transition,' as the immigrants who move to the country will be from many different backgrounds. Therefore different cultures would meet and cause anti-social activity.

Edwin Sutherland designed a structural element within his theory to support his argument that social disorganisation and conflict of society are the underlying causes of crime. He was sure that a person social status was a factor within the causes of crime and because of this he spoke and wrote about the phrase `white-collar criminal.' In 1949 he defined a `white-collar crime' as “a crime committed by a person of respectability and high social status in the course of his occupation.” From this definition we can obtain that Sutherland thought the better occupation and social status an individual has the less likely that that individual is going to commit a crime.

Using the `concentric zone theory' and the `social disorganisation' theory the first delinquency program was created which came to be known as the Chicago Area Project. The Chicago Area Project, or CAP, was established in the early 1930s by Clifford Shaw. It was designed to create community resources within neighbourhoods placed around the cities. The CAP was established to place churches, schools and clubs within the communities in an attempt to minimise the crime rates. The Project helped to raise funds for different sponsorship programmes aimed at adults and young people, “with a view to responding to local problems and crucially, involving local people in this process.” The CAP has continued to grow over the years and has been followed by many other projects with the same idea.

After the Second World War Britain adopted an approach known as the `subcultural approach' which had been adopted into America and was one of the key features within the `Chicago School of Human Ecology' studies. This approach was recognised as a theory by Albert Cohen, who adapted this from Merton's theory. The work by these two sociologist introduced subculture and culture into delinquency studies. It became apparent that subcultures “emerge as means of solving problems created by the incompatible demands of structure and culture.” In studies done by the `Chicago School' subcultures were distinct from the main or dominant culture. In relation to strain theory the subcultures were deviant and were formed to address problems within the dominant culture.

There have been subcultural theories studied for both America and the United Kingdom; the American Subcultural theory and the British subcultural theory. The American subcultural theory looked at the communities and neighbourhoods and the way they develop from different social feelings which may contradict legal laws, in particular the conflict between “general normative systems” and “localised normative systems.”

Although there are many similarities between the American subcultural theory and the British subcultural theory, the latter of the two expands its investigation into the higher social classes and does not just conform to the middle or lower classes.

Many subcultural theorists have identified that there is a “collective nature of much delinquency” which takes us away from individual deviancy and pushes us towards gangs. They also stress that deviance is not a “product of biology or psychology” but that it is connected to social aspects and political aspects.

Many of the expansions of the concentric zone theory and research in to other countries have primarily created the same results, although in some countries it has shown different results, in the fact that the majority of the wealthy individuals live in the city centres and the poorer individuals live further away. An example of this would be London, England, more specifically Chelsea. Chelsea is located just outside the main city centre of London. In contradiction to the `concentric zone theory' Chelsea is one of the wealthier places, and as stated above is located just outside the main centre. The further away from Chelsea and the main city the poorer the areas are, from this we can establish that even though it would be the opposite way, the `concentric zone theory' would still be applicable.

A British sociologist known as Alice Coleman studied the public housing sector and its ecological aspects. Her argument was that “the design of the area can induce bad behaviour which might well include criminality,” her arguments supported those of Shaw and McKay. However she had a greater argument for that criminality is determined by the environment in which and individual is based. Coleman had the theory that lack of surveillance in the housing estates was a factor in the rate of crimes there. Due to research done by her and her team, from King's College London, many London Boroughs and the Metropolitan Police in “designing new housing areas and redesigning blocks of flats so as to reduce their effects on criminality.” Most of Coleman's plans and projects were designed to create a `defensible space' which was aimed at creating a stronger community to live. However this idea has never fully been discussed and some argue that the lowing of the crime rate would more than likely still have taken place.

If we fully apply the `concentric zone theory' to a city within the United Kingdom, Cardiff would be a perfect example. The main city centre is mainly industrial and commercial, with shops, banks, and many businesses. Just outside that you would come across the `zone in transition' which is where we come across the first of the residential areas. This, as stated above in the essay, is where the poorer individuals live, for example immigrants. Roath is situated just outside the centre is a prefect example of this. It has unappealing living conditions, which include lack of living space due to overcrowding. This is the area where the most criminal activity is happening, which is argued to be down to the different culture clashes within the community. The different cultures are not the only factor in the cause of the rate of crime, the competitiveness for jobs in also a factor. Due to an increased number of immigrants coming in to the United Kingdom and Wales there has been an increase in the applicants for jobs which will obviously then increase competitiveness.

After a period of time the individuals will adapt to the `ways' of the country of which they live and will also increase their status within the social classes. Once this is achieved it is more than likely that they will move from the `zone of transition' outward towards the more suburban areas. According to the theory of Burgess and Park the further away from the city centre an individual lives, the further away from the crime area they will be. This is clearly demonstrated when applied to the city of Cardiff, Wales.

To summarise the theories made from the `Chicago School of Human Ecology' are in fact applicable to the different societies around the world. As clearly illustrated in the example above when you apply it to the United Kingdom. The impact of the different theories has been significant in the analysis of crime rates. The effect of these theories has resulted in action being taken by different communities and police departments to isolate the areas of concern and putting a plan in to action to reduce the crime rate.

Many of the theorists have been credited for there research and thesis on the subject of ecology, especially Robert E. Park who was credited as having brought sociology and ecology into the area of science along with Ernest C. Burgess who was also credited for this.

The `Chicago School of Human Ecology' has helped to established different areas such as the culture and subcultural elements of a crime. The subcultural and cultural elements relate to the different social classes and the effects these have on crime rates within our society today. These effects the crime rates as sociologist have argued that the lower the social class in a particular area the higher rate of crime.

After carefully reviewing all the elements of the aforementioned theories that were established by the `Chicago School of Human Ecology' and applying it to the Untied Kingdom, it is established that the theories are applicable. Chelsea and Cardiff being two examples from the United Kingdom that show exactly how the different theories work even if the `zones' are in reverse from the first theory established by Robert E. Park.

After reviewing all the above information and the different theories that were made from the `Chicago School of Human Ecology' we can establish that it is not just a biological and psychological effect when it comes to criminality but also the location and culture that an individual lives in has an affect on their criminal behaviour.

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