In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section The Chicago School of Criminology

  • Introduction

Criminology The Chicago School of Criminology
Robert J. Bursik
  • LAST REVIEWED: 24 July 2012
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 July 2012
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396607-0077


As used in this presentation, the traditional Chicago School of Criminology refers to work conducted by faculty and students at the University of Chicago that utilized a macro-sociological theory called “social disorganization” to understand why crime and delinquency rates are higher in some neighborhoods than others. Hundreds of books and articles have focused upon the history of the Department of Sociology at the University of Chicago and the major role it played during the late 19th and early 20th centuries in shaping the general theoretical and analytic foundation of a then-fledgling discipline. In addition, the department’s influence still can be detected easily in much contemporary criminological research. This work actually subsumed a wide variety of conceptual and methodological orientations, and references to a single “Chicago School” of thought overly simplify the rich intellectual diversity of the department at that time. However, the insights generated in the area of urban sociology played an especially critical role in the development of American criminology.

The Traditional Chicago School of Criminology

The Chicago School of Criminology is identified with neighborhood studies of crime and delinquency that focus particularly on the spatial patterns of such behavior, especially as reflected in maps of their spatial distributions. However, such a characterization is at best a caricature of the rich insights that were fostered by the intellectual context of the University of Chicago that shaped the orientation of these early criminologists.

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