The theory of ‘social disorganisation’ is built largely upon the work of Park and Burgess, ‘The City’ published in 1925. Not only does the term ‘social disorganisation’ attempt to explain and understand deviance, it also attempts to explain why the manner in which a society is structured can exacerbate such behaviour - akin to Marxist theories, but without the political overtones. Following World War I and the Great Depression of the 1930s there was greater geographic mobility into the cities and away from rural areas as more people became economic refugees. Chicago’s population exploded from 4,100 inhabitants in 1833 to over 2 million by 1910 making it a live laboratory for study. For the first time, researchers were encouraged by Professors such as Robert Park to ‘go get the seat of your pants dirty in real research.’ Throughout the 1920s and 1930s environmental criminology researchers took themselves where ‘criminals’ hung out – such as non-middle class bars and restaurants – crucially developing the tools now known as qualitative research methods. ‘These sociologists and criminologists went into bars, inside gangs, and into the inner sanctums of deviant populations to find out what constituted their realities.’
Cities such as Chicago became rapidly over-crowded. Researchers of the time noticed that crime rates also increased. What was remarkable was that even when convicted criminals moved away from cities, the crime rate did not fall significantly. A question of interest at the time was, could it be possible that certain areas of a city were 'criminogenic' Could certain areas of a City be pathological, leading to a 'flight or fight' response Could crime be an instinctive and natural defensive response to an unnatural and potentially harmful environment
Park and Burgess introduced the notion of modern cities having clearly identifiable zones, each with its own moral norm. Burgess argued that all cities radiated out in concentric circles from the city's business centre (referred to as 'downtown'), through the 'zone of transition' - mainly populated by low income groups with little vested interest in maintaining their low-rent neighbourhood - through to the zone of worker homes, the 'bungalow' section populated by the chattering classes, and finally stopping at the 'commuter zone'. In short, the closer one lived to 'downtown' the more likely one would be a perpetrator or victim of crime.
Researchers began to study individuals and groups within their 'natural' environments, attempting to explain everyday activities within a criminological framework. Hence they looked at poverty, birth and mortality rates, crime statistics, welfare records, indeed anything which might be relevant in determining the motivation for certain anti-social behaviours, including life-histories using observation and in-depth interviews. Whilst the initial impetus was primarily academic, the pragmatic, hands-on nature of the research had a