In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Social Ecology of Crime

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Segregation
  • Neighborhood Effects: Structural Factors
  • Neighborhood Effects: Social Organization and Control
  • Effects of Neighborhood Changes
  • Neighborhood Selection and Aggregation Bias
  • Neighborhood Effects on Individual-Level Outcomes
  • Beyond Neighborhood Effects
  • Environmental Criminology: Crime and Place
  • Integrating Individuals and Environments

Criminology Social Ecology of Crime
Per-Olof H. Wikström
  • LAST REVIEWED: 27 October 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 14 December 2009
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396607-0027


Social (or human) ecology may be broadly defined as the study of the social and behavioral consequences of the interaction between human beings and their environment. It specifically explores the causes and consequences of processes of segregation—the emergence through selection of environmental differentiation along key dimensions such as population composition and land use. It investigates how exposure to different environments (area- and place-based differential social organization and activities) influences human development and action. The social ecology of crime is the study of one particular behavioral outcome of these processes, the violation of rules of conduct defined in law. It focuses on the role of the environment in the development of people’s differential propensity to engage in crime and their differential exposure to settings conducive to engagement in acts of crime. Although the label “social ecology of crime” is often used in reference to studies of cross-national, regional, intercity and urban-rural differences in crime, its prime concentration has been on researching and explaining variation in crime within the urban environment. It is therefore not surprising to find that the most important theoretical and empirical contributions of this perspective emanate from the study of urban areas. An ecological perspective (defined as a pure environmental approach) is often contrasted with, and sometimes regarded as being in opposition to, an individual (psychological, biological, genetic) approach to the study of crime causation. However, the advancement of a fully developed ecological perspective on crime (a full understanding of the role of the human-environment interaction in crime causation) requires a better integration of environmental and individual approaches in the study of crime causation.

General Overviews

There are very few modern, comprehensive, general texts introducing the social ecology of crime. A good recent overview of key topics and issues in the social ecology of crime is the Bottoms 2007. Bursik and Grasmick 1993 gives a good introduction to key topics and the key theoretical traditions (social disorganization and routine activity theory) that guide most contemporary research in this area. Brantingham and Brantingham 1984, although a bit outdated, presents broad, useful overviews of ecological research at different levels of aggregation, from cross-national differences to microspatial variation.

  • Bottoms, A. E. 2007. Place, space, crime, and disorder. In The Oxford handbook of criminology. 4th ed. Edited by Mike Maguire, Rod Morgan, and Robert Reiner. Oxford York: Oxford Univ. Press.

    Excellent short introduction to key topics and issues in the social ecology of crime.

  • Brantingham, Paul, and Patricia Brantingham. 1984. Patterns in crime. New York: Collier Macmillan.

    A bit outdated but still very useful introduction to key findings of ecological relationships to crime at various levels of aggregation. Also covers temporal patterns.

  • Bursik, Robert J, Jr., and Harold G. Grasmick. 1993. Neighborhoods and crime: The dimensions of effective community control. New York: Lexington Books; Toronto: Maxwell Macmillan Canada; New York: Maxwell Macmillan International.

    Good in-depth introduction to key topics and key theoretical approaches in the study of the social ecology of crime.

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