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What We Know About Social Structure and Homicide: A Review of the Theoretical and Empirical Literature

NCJ Number
Violence and Victims Volume: 17 Issue: 2 Dated: April 2002 Pages: 127-156
Date Published
April 2002
30 pages

The article reviews the applicability of social control theories as an explanation for lethal violence rates in the United States.


Using social structure theories including culture (sub-culture of violence), strain (economic deprivation), and social disorganization theory, the author explores possible explanations for variation in the U.S. homicide rate. The author discusses the basic tenets and features of each theory and provides an overview of relevant empirical research concerning each theory. Sub-culture of violence theories posit that a subcultures’ values support violence and although individuals who make up subcultures within society are not inherently violent, violent behaviors are learned from other subculture members. Two different economic deprivation theories are considered, absolute deprivation and relative deprivation. Absolute deprivation theorists maintain that the strain of deprivation creates increased crime and violence rates. Relative deprivation theory asserts that increased violence can be attributed to anger due to the perception that others have increased economic advantages, the theory further asserts that the effect is aggravated if this perception is based upon a belief that this disadvantage is created or supported by racial discrimination. Social disorganization theory states that a decrease in social bonding also decreases informal community control mechanisms, in turn increasing the probability that group members will engage in criminal activity. The research reviewed by the author indicated that social disorganization theory was the best explanation of the variation in homicide rates. 20 notes, 111 references, appendix

Date Published: April 1, 2002