The term theory can be defined as a set of ideas, which are formulated in order to explain an idea or suggestion (Agnew 2009). In order to determine the validity of a theory, certain axioms are employed that test the theory in accordance to pre-existing truths. It is then that the theory is adopted or discarded. To determine the validity of the strain theory, it is required certain procedures to be applied. This paper will candidly test strain theory using "neighborhood-effects”, a subset of ecological factors.
Background on Strain Theory and Ecological Data
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In criminology, the term strain theory indicates that social structures found within the society can pressure citizens to engage in crime. Strain is when someone puts excessive effort to achieve a goal or attain an object. Further, the theory insinuates that this excessive effort that becomes needed to achieve most things in the society may ultimately pressure citizens to commit a crime. The theory states that when society puts too much pressure on its individuals, it can lead to rule breaking behavior. Agnew (2009) argues that the strain can either be structural or individual. Structural refers to all processes at the level of the level of society that filters down, thus affecting how individuals perceive their needs. For example, if a given social structure has poor regulation, this can significantly change the perception of individuals to opportunities. Individual strain refers to pains and frictions experienced by a person as they seek on methods to satisfy their needs. For instance, if the aims of a community are more crucial than those of an individual, achieving them becomes significant as compared to the adopted means.
On the other hand, ecological data are the facts, numbers or texts that become gathered about the way living things interact with their environment. It is information about the relationships, which living things have in relation to each other and their environment. Such information can be used to test the validity of the strain theory. When researchers and other stakeholders have facts and information about the numbers of people in society, the resources available in the environment, relations between people of different classes in the environment and much more, we are able to test whether the strain theory is applicable or not. We can be able to establish better if it is certainly pressure within the society that causes people to engage in crime or not. The ecological data can also refer to the interpretation of data particularly on the levels of personality that apply in the number of the given population.
This is used to depict all the factors surrounding a person that may influence the way a person behaves including social, cultural, and political influences. Neighbourhood effects are a subset of ecological effects. The effects of neighbourhood are best marked when carrying out studies involving children and adolescents. Some of the crucial study parameters to study include social restraints, family bonds and stability, social institutions, poverty and population density. It may also involve such other diverse parameters such as political and religious affiliations as well as age sets and media.
Testing the Strain Theory
The strain theory attaches importance to the presence of social structure stressors as the reasons people get involved in crime. To test this theory using ecological factors or neighbourhood effects, a sufficient number of study areas are identified. Such areas may be family structures, congestion, poverty, schools and religious centres as well as presence and nature of roll models. Once these factors are identified, analysis is first made to ensure that there is uniformity in ease of accessing study data regarding the parameters in different unlinked regions. This is done to ensure a balanced statistical observation and avoid bias. Next, common trends involving crime are quantized and studied in all regions covered in the study for neighbourhood effects. Some of the behaviours studied may involve aggression, risk taking behavior such as unsafe sex practices, petty theft, and explorative behaviour, drug dealing or abuse, armed robbery and such other tendencies. Once data is collected, exhaustive analysis is done to investigate the presence of any correlation between the presence of the social stressors listed and corresponding trends of crime in the society. In this paper, several documented studies carried out in various places regarding the strain theory will be cited.
A)According to a study carried out for Rochester Youth Development, involving 176 girls between the age of 14-17, several social trends were analyzed and correlation studies with crime tendencies revealed the following details. Childhood disorganization correlated positively with early sexual activity. Risky time with friends correlated with status offences, a common trait leading to social crimes. Being a gang member correlated with early sex as well as drug use. These factors are easily attributed to poor family structures where children lack family guidance in decision making and lack family security (Sampson, Morenoff, and Gannon-Rowley 2002).
B)A study conducted on relationship between population density and crime suggests that there is a positive correlation between overpopulation and rise in crime. This can be attributed to the weakening social structure where people lack space and privacy. This also implies that, at times, there may be unhealthy competition for basic facilities leading to selfishness and conflict. Vengeance may result in cases where disputes are not sufficiently and properly addressed, sometimes resulting in criminal activities.
C)There is also a correlation between corrected data regarding poverty and crime. It has been observed that areas with high levels of poverty also record high levels of crime. A possible explanation is that when resources are not equally distributed, the disadvantaged generally tend to hate the ones ‘perceived’ as well off. Again, the frustration that results from the inequality moves the poor towards criminal activities. Sometimes this happens in order to achieve the missing basic needs and sometimes due to hatred for the rich.
D)Social institutions like schools and religious centres are also good sources of data. This is because they are many, therefore, easily accessible. In addition, most schools may already have data regarding their students which can easily be used for analysis. These types of institutions help in shaping the students towards the expected social norms. Failure of these institutions leads to degradation of social values and rise in crime. In order to analyze the relation between social units and crime, data regarding number of children attending school of religious centres as a percentage of the entire population is noted. The number of criminal activities in the same area involving school going children is determined and different sets of these parameters are obtained from different regions. The researcher can then determine whether there is any correlation between the data sets (Sampson, Morenoff, and Gannon-Rowley 2002).
Ecological data analysis is a valid way of testing the strain theory. This is because the parameters that are studied in ecological studies can, if properly analysed, be perfect indicators of a society’s integration. If crime studies in the same community are carried out and the two sets compared, reliable conclusions can be made regarding whether there is any relationship between social structure and crime in that society. However, careful considerations should be applied to enable researchers to ascertain the real course of crime as different motivations can result in a similar observation.