A Radical Grounding for Social Disorganization Theory: A Political Economic Investigation of the Causes of Poverty, Inequality and Crime in Urban Areas

Michael J. Lynch, Lyndsay N. Boggess


Social disorganization theory (SDT) explores the ways in which poverty and inequality lead to crime in urban areas.That orthodox criminological tradition has generated significant evidence that the structure of urban areas related to poverty and inequality produces crime.Those empirical results sit well with radical expectations related to the role poverty and inequality play in the production of street crime.At the same time, SDT takes poverty and inequality as characteristics of urban areas, and does not explore their structural origins.In the present analysis we explore how adding the insights from radical criminology deepen the analysis of poverty and inequality as causes of crime and the insights and theoretical assumptions of SDT by specifically explaining how urban poverty and inequality emerge from the political economy of capitalism in the geographic space of urban areas.


radical criminology; political economy; poverty; inequality; social disorganization theory

Full Text:



Autor, David H., Lawrence F. Katz, and Melissa S. Kearney. 2008. “Trends in US wage Inequality: Revising the Revisionists.” The Review of Economics and Statistics 90(2): 300-323.

Chambliss, William J. 1975. “Toward a Political Economy of Crime.” Theory and Society 2(1): 149-170.

Banfield, Edward. 1970. The Unheavenly City. NY: Little, Brown.

Barrett, Kimberly L. 2013. “Bethlehem Steel at Lackawanna: The State-Corporate Crime that Continue to Victimize the Residents and Environment of

Western New York.” Journal of Crime and Justice 36(2): 265-284.

Boggess, Lyndsay N., and John R. Hipp. 2010). “Violent Crime, Residential Instability and Mobility: Does the Relationship Differ in Minority

Neighborhoods?” Journal of Quantitative Criminology 26:351-70.

Browett, John. 1984. “On the Necessity and Inevitability of Uneven Spatial Development under Capitalism.” International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 8(2): 155-176.

Bruinsma, Gerben JN, Lieven JR Pauwels, Frank M. Weerman, and Wim Bernasco. 2013. “Social Disorganization, Social Capital, Collective Efficacy and

the Spatial Distribution of Crime and Offenders: An Empirical Test of Six Neighbourhood Models for a Dutch City.” British Journal of Criminology 50(3): 942-963.

Burchfield, Keri B., and Eric Silver. 2013. “Collective Efficacy and Crime in Los Angeles: Implications for the Latino Paradox.” Sociological Inquiry 83(1): 154-176.

Bursik Robert and Harold Grasmick. 1993. Neighborhoods and Crime: The Dimensions of Effective Community Control. New York: Lexington Books.

Blau, Peter, and Judith Blau. 1982. “The Cost of Inequality: Metropolitan Structure and Violent Crime.” American Sociological Review

: 114-129.

Burkett, Paul. 2005. Marxism and Ecological Economics: Toward a Red and Green Political Economy. Chicago: Haymarket Books.

Burns, Ronald G., Michael J. Lynch and Paul B. Stretesky. 2008. Environmental Law, Crime and Justice. NY: LFB Scholarly.

Carlson, Susan M., Elizabeth A. Bradshaw and Carrie L. Buist. 2013. “Bringing the Poor Back in: Regulation and Control of Surplus Populations in

Finland and the Netherlands.” Journal of Crime and Justice 36(2): 196-234.

Carlson, Susan M., and Raymond J. Michalowski. 1997. “Crime, Unemployment, and Social Structures of Accumulation: An Inquiry into Historical

Contingency.” Justice Quarterly 14(2): 209-241.

Castells, Manuel. 1977. The Urban Question: A Marxist Approach. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Castree, Noel. 1999. “Envisioning Capitalism: Geography and the Renewal of Marxian Political Economy.” Transactions of the Institute of British Geography 24(2): 137-154.

Engels, Frederick. 1973[1845]. The Conditions of the Working Class in England. Moscow: Progress Publishers.

Esping-Andersen, Gosta. 1990. The Three Worlds of Welfare Capitalism. Oxford: Polity Press.

Ferrell, Jeff, Keith Hayward and Jock Young. 2008). Cultural Criminology. Sage: London.

Fischer, Mary J. 2003. “The Relative Importance of Race and Income in Determining Residential Outcomes in US Urban Areas, 1970-1990.” Urban Affairs Review 38(5): 669-696.

Foster, John Bellamy. 2000. Marx's Ecology: Materialism and Nature. NY: New York University Press.

Foster, John Bellamy, Brett Clark, and Richard York. 2010. The Ecological Rift: Capitalism's War on the Earth. NY: New York University Press.

Foucault, Michel. 1979. Discipline and Punish. NY: Vintage.

Groves, W. Byron, and Charles Corrado. 1983. “Culture as a Metaphysic: An Appraisal of Cultural Models.” Crime and Social Justice 20:


Habermas, Jurgen. 1975. Legitimation Crisis. Boston: Beacon Press.

Harris, Chauncy. 1997. “The ‘Nature of Cities’ and Urban Geography in the Last Half Century.” Urban Geography 18(1):


Hipp, John R. 2007. “Income inequality, race, and place: Does the distribution of race and class within neighborhoods affect crime rates?” Criminology 45: 665-697.

Jameson, F. 1998. The Cultural Turn: Selected Writings on the Postmodern 1983-1998. London: Verso.

Jones, David W. 2013. “Putting the Psyche into ‘Cultural Criminology’: A psychosocial understanding of looting, masculinity, shame and

violence.” Journal of Psycho-Social Studies Volume 7(1): E-journal ISSN: 1478-6737

Rodman, Hyman. 1977. “Culture of Poverty: The Rise and Fall of a Concept.” The Sociological Review 25(4): 867-876.

Katz, Michael B. 1989. The Undeserving Poor: From the War on Welfare to the War on Poverty. NY: Pantheon.

Kovandzic, Tomislav V., Lynne M. Vieraitis and Mark R. Yeisley. 1998. “The structural covariates of urban homicide: Reassessing the impact of income

inequality and poverty in the post‐Reagan era.” Criminology 36(3): 569‐599.

Kramer, Ronald. 2013. “Carbon in the Atmosphere and Power in America: Climate Change as State-Corporate Crime.” Journal of Crime & Justice 36(2): 155-172.

Krisberg, Barry. 1975. Crime and Privilege: Toward a New Criminology. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Krivo, Lauren J., and Ruth D. Peterson. 1996. “Extremely disadvantaged neighborhoods and urban crime.” Social Forces 75, 619-648.

Kornhauser, Ruth. 1978. Social sources of delinquency. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Lewis, Oscar. 1968. “The Culture of Poverty.” In D. Moynihan (ed), On Understanding Poverty: Perspectives from the Social Sciences.

NY: Basic Books.

Lewis, Oscar. 1963. “The Culture of Poverty.” Transaction 1, 1: 17-19.

Logan, John R., and Harvey Luskin. 2007. Urban Fortunes: The Political Economy of Place. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Lynch, Michael J. 2013a. “Reexamining Political Economic and Crime and the Crime Drop.” Journal of Crime and Justice 36(2): 250-264.

Lynch, Michael J. 2013b. “The Political Economy of Crime and Justice: An Introduction.” Journal of Crime and Justice 36(2): 138-140.

Lynch, Michael J. 2010. “Radical Explanations of Penal Trends: The Rate of Surplus Value and the Incarceration Rate In the United States, 1977-2005 .” Journal of Crime and Justice. 33(2): 63-94.

Lynch, Michael J. 1996. “Race, Class, Gender and Criminology: Structured Choices and the Life Course.” In M. Schwartz and D. Milovanovic (eds), Gender, Race and Class in Criminology. Hamden, CT: Garland.

Lynch, Michael J. 1988. “The Extraction of Surplus Value, Crime and Punishment: A Preliminary Empirical Analysis for the U.S.” Contemporary Crises. 12:329-344.

Lynch, Michael J. 1987. “Quantitative Analysis and Marxist Criminology: Old Answers to a Dilemma in Marxist Criminology .” Crime and Social Justice 29:110-127.

Lynch, Michael J. and W. Byron Groves. 1995. “In Defense of Comparative Criminology: A Critique of General Theory and the Rational Man.” Advances in Criminological Theory. Volume 6. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction.

Lynch, Michael J., and W. Byron Groves. 1986. Primer in Radical Criminology (1st Edition). NY: Harrow & Heston.

Lynch, Michael J., W. Byron Groves and Alan Lizotte. 1994. “The Rate of Surplus Value and Crime: Theoretical and Empirical Examination of Marxian

Economic Theory and Criminology.” Crime, Law and Social Change 21(1): 15-48.

Lynch, Michael J., Herman Schwendinger and Julia Schwendinger. 2006. “The Status of Empirical Research in Radical Criminology.” In F. T.

Cullen, J. P.Wright, and K. R. Blevins (eds), Taking Stock: The Status of Criminological Theory. Advances in Criminological Theory, Volume 15. New

Brunswick, NJ: Transaction.

Lynch, Michael J. and Raymond J. Michalowski. 2006. Primer in Radical Criminology, 4th Edition. Boulder, CO: Lynne


Marx, Karl. 1974[1867]. Capital, Volume I. NY: International Publishers.

Mazerolle, Lorraine, Rebecca Wickes and James McBroom. 2010. “Community Variations in Violence: The Role of Social Ties and Collective Efficacy in

Comparative Context.” Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency 47(1): 3‐30.

Michalowski, Raymond J. 2013. “Ethnic Cleansing, American Style: SB 1070, Nativism and the Contradictions of Neo-Liberal Globalism.” Journal of Crime and Justice 36(2): 173-195.

Mills, C. Wright. 1959. The Sociological Imagination. NY: Oxford University Press.

Musterd, S., & Ostendorf, W. (Eds.). 2013. Urban segregation and the welfare state: Inequality and exclusion in western cities. NY: Routledge.

Park, Robert E. 1915. “The City: Suggestions for the Investigation of Behavior in the City Environment.” American Journal of Sociology

: 579-83.

Park, Robert E., Ernest Burgess and Roderick McKenzie. 1925. The City. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Peet, Richard. 1975. “Inequality and Poverty: A Marxist-Geographic Theory.” Annals of the Association of American Geographers 65(4):


Quinney, Richard. 1980. Class, State and Crime. NY: Longman.

Rainwater, Lee. 1970. “The Problem of Lower Class Culture.” Journal of Social Issues 26(2): 133-148.

Rodman, Hyman. 1977. “Culture of Poverty: The Rise and Fall of a Concept.” The Sociological Review 25(4): 867-876.

Rukus, Joseph and Mildred E. Warner. 2013. “Crime Rates and Collective Efficacy: The Role of Family Friendly Planning.” Cities 31:


Sahlins, Marshall. 1972. Stone Age Economics. NY: Aldine de Gruyter.

Sampson, Robert J. 2012. Great American City: Chicago and the Enduring Neighborhood Effect. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Sampson, Robert J. and W. Bryon Groves. 1989. “Community Structure and Crime: Testing Social-Disorganization Theory.” American Journal of Sociology, 94, 774-802.

Sampson, Robert J., Stephen W. Raudenbush, and Felton Earls. 1997. “Neighborhoods and violent crime: A multilevel study of collective

efficacy.” Science 277, 5328: 918-924.

Sampson, Robert J. and William J. Wilson. 1995. “Race, crime, and urban inequality.” In J. Hagan and R. Peterson (Eds.), Crime and Inequality (pp. 27-54). Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press.

Sennett, Richard, and Jonathan Cobb. 1972. The Hidden Injuries of Class. NY: Vintage.

Shaw, Clifford and Henry McKay. 1942. Juvenile Delinquency in Urban Areas. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Stoczkowski, Wiktor. 2002. Explaining Human Origins: Myth, Imagination and Conjecture. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Stretesky, Paul B., Michael A. Long and Michael J. Lynch. 2013. “Does Environmental Enforcement Slow the Treadmill of Production? The Relationship

Between Large Monetary Penalties, Ecological Disorganization, and Toxic Releases within Offending Corporations.” Journal of Crime and Justice 36(2): 235-249.

Storper, Michael, and Richard Walker. 1983. “The theory of Labour and the Theory of Location.” International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 7(1): 1-43.

Taylor, Ian, Paul Walton and Jock Young. 1973. The New Criminology: For a Social Theory of Deviance. NY: Harper and Row.

Thomas, W. I., and F. W. Znaniecki. 1920. The Polish Peasant in Europe and America. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Thompson, Michael J. 2012. The politics of inequality: A Political History of the idea of Economic Inequality in America. NY: Columbia University


Thrasher, Frederick. 1927. The Gang: A Study of 1,313 Gangs in Chicago. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Waquant, Loic. 2012. The Punitive Regulation of Poverty in the Neoliberal Age. Criminal Justice Maters 89(1): 38-40.

Wacquant, Loic. 2011. “The Wedding of Workfare and Prisonfare Revisited.” Social Justice 38(1-2): 123-124.

Wacquant, Loic. 2009. Punishing the Poor: Neoliberal Government and Social Insecurity. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Wilson, William Julius. 1987. The Truly Disadvantaged: The Inner city, the Underclass, and Public Policy. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Wirth, Louis. 1928. The Ghetto. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Wolff, Edward N. 2002. Top Heavy: The Increasing Inequality of Wealth in America and what can be done about it. NY: The New Press.

Zurn, Michael and Stephan Leibfried. 2005. “Reconfiguring the National Constellation.” European Review 13, s1: 1-36.


  • There are currently no refbacks.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Attribution to include the author or artist's name, date of first publication,
and the name of our journal: Radical Criminology.
ISSN 1929-7904
(Print) | ISSN 1929-7912 (Online)