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Advancing Science and Research in Criminal Justice/Criminology: Complex Systems Theory and Non-Linear Analyses

NCJ Number
Justice Quarterly Volume: 24 Issue: 4 Dated: December 2007 Pages: 555-581
Jeffrey T. Walker
Date Published
December 2007
27 pages
This discussion calls into question the value of continuing to use traditional methods and analyses to examine complex human behavior and to present a new theoretical and methodological paradigm (or model) that, when combined with neighborhood-level analyses, provides a better method for examining neighborhood change and crime, resulting in a new criminological theory based on different methods and analyses, Ecodynamics Theory.
Ecodynamics Theory is the combining of a complex systems paradigm with the variables that have become relatively standard in research on neighborhoods and crime representing a new way of examining human behavior criminologically. Possibly the greatest benefit of adopting an Ecodynamics Theory approach to examine neighborhoods and crime is because of how it allows crime to change roles at different times or within the same system. Crime in Ecodynamics Theory may be a dependent variable and the subject of study; but it may also serve as a cause of additional levels of disorder through feedback. The reason Ecodynamics Theory can deal effectively with crime in different natures is because it proposes that the same factors producing non-criminal behavior at one point in the system can produce criminal behavior at other points. For over a century, criminological research has been able to explain a consistently small amount of the variation in crime. It is possible that the problem with criminological theory is not the theory but in the analysis. Complex systems science (CSS) attempts to examine data in a different way, often making the most of error data discarded by linear analysis. This paper addresses the viability of using CSS in criminological research. An example is drawn from social disorganization theory to demonstrate the ability of CSS to explain crime at the neighborhood level. The result is a new theory, Ecodynamics Theory, developed by combining the elements of neighborhood research with complex systems analyses. Figures and references


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