Clifford Robe Shaw (1896–1957)

Clifford Robe Shaw (1896–1957)
Clifford Robe Shaw (1896–1957)

Clifford Robe Shaw (1896–1957)

Shaw was born in the farming town of Luray, Indiana. He received an A.B. from Albion College in 1919, although his stud- ies were interrupted by his service in the Navy during World War I. He went on to earn an M.A. in sociology in 1921 at the University of Chicago and completed most of the work for his Ph.D., although he never finished the degree. He immersed him- self in life within the immigrant neighborhoods of Chicago and worked as a parole officer and a probation officer with juvenile populations. In 1926, Shaw was appointed director of the new sociology department at the Institute for Juvenile Research and

held the position until his death in 1957. He taught as an adjunct professor at George Williams College in Chicago and the Central YMCA College from 1926 to 1941 and at the University of Chicago from 1941 to 1957.

In keeping with the traditions of the Chicago School, Shaw experimented with sociological theories of communities and self- governance. In the early 1930s, he founded the Chicago Area Project (CAP) as a way to study delinquency intervention strate- gies and oversaw its successful growth over the following two decades.

Chapter 4 • The Chicago School 43

The first zone was the central business district, with its businesses and factories but few residences. The zone next to it was referred to as the zone of transition because businesses and factories were encroaching on this area. This zone was not desirable as a location for residences and homes but owing to its deterioration was the cheapest place to live. Immigrants, then, usually settled into this second zone because it was inexpensive and near the factories where they could find work. As they could afford to move, they moved into the third zone, the zone of working- men’s homes, and were themselves replaced in the zone of transition by another wave of immi- grants. Other zones radiating out from there were increasingly more expensive to live in.

Subsequent research noted that social ills seemed to follow a pattern in which the most problems were found in the first zone and progressively fewer problems were found in each suc- ceeding zone. Clifford Shaw and Henry McKay (1931), for instance, documented that rates of delinquency, tuberculosis, and infant mortality followed the same decreasing pattern as one moved away from the central business district. The ethnographic and life history work of the Chicago School was then, in part, devoted to explaining the effect of these ecological areas on social life.

The observations made by researchers provided a picture of the city as a place where life is superficial, people are anonymous, relationships are transitory, and kinship and friendship bonds are weak. The Chicago School saw the weakening of primary social relationships as a process of social disorganization. In turn, social disorganization became the primary explanation for the emergence of crime. Shaw and McKay’s (1942) version of social disorganization is based on a conception of primary relationships similar to those found in a village. If relationships in the family and friendship groupings are good, neighborhoods are stable and cohesive, and people have a sense of loyalty to the area, then social organization is sound. In other words, intact homes and proper family values are part of a socially organized community. Without these characteris- tics, a community or neighborhood is socially disorganized. Normal social control, which pre- vents crime and delinquency, cannot do its job. Robert Sampson and Byron Groves (1989) list four elements that constitute social disorganization: (1) low economic status, (2) a mixture of different ethnic groups, (3) highly mobile residents moving in and out of the area, and (4) dis- rupted families and broken homes. Thus, social disorganization is an explanation of the distribu- tion of rates (or epidemiology) of crime and delinquency.

Shaw and McKay also noted that the zone of transition was more socially disorganized than other areas, primarily because of the high degree of mobility, the decaying neighborhoods, and the encroachment of the business and factory district. This was a particularly serious matter in the zone of transition because of the number of immigrants. Faced with the difficulty of main- taining primary relationships (and the difficulty of financially succeeding in a relatively class- bound society), immigrants retreated to the safety of their own native cultures. The relationship between immigrants and crime was finally seen not as a product of heredity but as a dual prob- lem of social disorganization and of conflict with existing American culture.

Another contribution made by Shaw and McKay1 was their explanation of the process by which social disorganization affects juveniles and leads to delinquency, commonly referred to as “cultural transmission theory.” According to this theory, juveniles who live in socially disorga- nized areas have greater opportunities for exposure to those who espouse delinquent and crimi- nal values. Indeed, one of the primary characteristics of those areas is that a delinquent tradition has developed. This delinquent tradition provides a way of transmitting delinquent values. Shaw and McKay (1942, p. 168) saw this in the historical series of maps they created as delinquency remained concentrated in the same areas time after time. They interpreted the evidence to mean that younger delinquents had contact not only with their contemporaries but the older offenders from earlier times who, in turn, had similar links to the earliest periods. From Shaw and McKay’s viewpoint, delinquency represented a tradition that was transmitted from generation to genera- tion, similar to the way in which language and social values were transmitted.

In later chapters of this book, the similarity of social disorganization theory and cultural transmission theory to differential association theories and social control becomes evident. Thus, it can easily be argued that Shaw and McKay exerted a great deal of influence on the crimino- logical theories following them.

1 See Reiss (1976) for an overview of Henry McKay’s life and work. Also see Short’s (1972) introduction to Shaw & McKay’s classic book as an excellent source of the context of the theory and work.

44 Chapter 4 • The Chicago School

The social disorganization perspective was especially attractive to African American soci- ologists studying crime. Monroe Work (1866–1945), one of the first African American gradu- ates of the University of Chicago’s Sociology master’s program, explained that during the period following slavery, African Americans experienced disorientation with societal norms. He focused on changing social conditions during emancipation and reconstruction which resulted in disorganization. This was particularly true in southern states where lawlessness was reflected in higher crime rates, as well as lynchings (Work, 1939). However, as more people migrated to northern cities, arrests there increased. Work also noted that during prohibition, crime rates in the South declined.

One of the most noted of African American sociologists, E. Franklin Frazier (1894– 1962) suggested that black adolescent boys learn criminality from older peers or family mem- bers and begin patterns of delinquent behavior around 11 or 12 years of age. While he argued that a lack of collective environmental controls in urban lower-class neighborhoods was at the root of this delinquency, he also blamed absentee fathers, separated parents, and a lack of parental control for creating high-risk environments. Like others of this time, Frazier saw the city divided into zones with varied levels of disorganization which corresponded with rates of delinquency (Frazier, 1939). The interesting note here is that he was echoing the same kind of thoughts that were to come from Edwin Sutherland in the theory of differential association. In 1948, Frazier was elected President of the American Sociological Society (later American Sociological Association).

The third African American theorist, Earl R. Moses (1901–1968), obtained his master’s in sociology at the University of Chicago in 1932. Moses researched family and community factors that influenced what he called “indigenous” and “transplanted” criminal behaviors. Using case studies of young males, as well as statistical data, he noted that while the population of African Americans in Chicago grew, the rates of delinquency grew disproportionately faster. Delin- quency appeared to be related not to race but to mobility, which he characterized as the frequent movement of delinquency-prone families within dilapidated housing areas that were more dete- riorated and disorganized than those of surrounding zones (Moses, 1936). Moses later completed his Ph.D. in Sociology at the University of Pennsylvania. (For other theoretical commentary during this period see Gabbidon & Greene, 2001; Gabbidon, Greene, & Young, 2002.)

Symbolic Interactionism

The social-psychological theory of symbolic interactionism has been one of the more lasting of the Chicago School’s theoretical perspectives. Although the Chicago School theorists who devel- oped it never referred to it by this name (Blumer, 1969, p. 1), symbolic interactionism developed from a belief that human behavior is the product of purely social symbols communicated between individuals. A basic idea of symbolic interactionism is that the mind and the self are not innate but are products of the social environment. It is in the process of communicating, or symbolizing, that humans come to define both themselves and others. These symbols have meanings affecting the way we see the world. If, for example, we are introduced to a juvenile delinquent, we may not see the person but may view him or her as “the standard juvenile delinquent”; that is, we see someone who is all the things we expect a juvenile delinquent to be.

Further, we pick up our own self-concept from our perception of what others think about us. These others are not necessarily specific individuals but, often, generalized types of people (George Mead [1934] called this abstract person the “generalized other”). Thus, we create our own identities by reflection from others. W. I. Thomas’s addition of situations led to the under- standing that we can have many identities, or self-concepts, depending on the setting in which we find ourselves. In the school setting, one may be a student; at home, a parent; at work, an insurance salesperson; at play, the team captain; in our parents’ house, a child; and so forth. Each situation demands its own role, its own identity, and its own behaviors. Moreover, in social life, one may incorrectly define the situation and behave inappropriately. To paraphrase Thomas’s famous saying, a proper definition of the situation is necessary for one to respond with acceptable behavior.

This recognition of the complexity and relativity of social life, with its multiplicity of required roles, gave the Chicago School an understanding of deviance. Such an understanding required the ability to view human behavior, and guidelines for that behavior, as relative.

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