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Comparing Social Conflict, Social Disorganization, and Rational Choice Theories

Updated on September 24, 2014

Social conflict theory portrays the concept that people who have affluence and influence are in control of whether or not an act is considered a crime. It also suggests that the poor and powerless have no say in the law, and that this discrepancy generates the social conflict in what should be criminal and not criminal. From one standpoint, the higher classes may deem drug-use and its influence on criminal activity as deviant behavior that, if controlled by law, would reduce crime in cases in which these social ills are eliminated. From the latter standpoint, the lower classes might see criminal behaviors as a means to generate income and provide for basic needs. This conflict can be further heightened by the fact that the poor might see the wealthy as being "old money" or having connections not available to the lower classes, and that this advantage is what is keeping them from achieving similar wealth.

Social disorganization theory is based on the research-backed concept that different views of what is moral, how trustworthy the police are to do their job, and how strongly other community members hold the same values decides the crime rate. For example, in a community that has high informal social control, neighbors associate with one another to some degree, residents show concern for safety in the community, and people are likely to report criminal activity. This is reflected in a lower crime rate in contrast to a community in which informal social control is lower, or even absent. In essence, this concept is based on the community approach to crime and social organization.

Rational choice theory narrows in on an individual's weighing of the pros and cons of an action that will bring them the desired end. In this theory, the individual analyzes a choice according to how much benefit or cost it may incur upon them. The motivation is usually selfish, and leads a person in the direction that best suits them and their goals. In relation to crime, a person would consider a crime, what risk it brings to them, what punishments may result if they are caught, and balances it against the material or social gain they can acquire. They make a choice and use rational judgment to decide upon that choice.

The rational choice theory is similar to the social disorganization theory in that it demonstrates how each individual within a community decides to act in order to benefit themselves, which results in an effect that reaches the level of social disorganization.

Rational choice may also factor into the wealthy versus the poor interplay in social conflict theory. For example, when a poverty-stricken person decides that needs must be met, and that crime is the only way to meet those needs, their perspective on social theory can play a big factor on who they victimize. They will use rational choice to decide on their next move. If they subscribe to the social conflict theory, they may tend to rob the mansion of a well-to-do local, versus another poverty stricken community member. Again, the rational choice theory may play a part, but with social conflict theory as a side factor; they will gain the satisfaction of evening the odds in their own mind. Their disdain for the wealthy may drive them towards a wealthier home. This will in turn have a reciprocal effect as the home owner will blame a poor individual when they discover the crime. In fact, if the perpetrator is arrested, it will strengthen the wealthy homeowner's notion that the poor and the wealthy are in conflict with each other.

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