In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Ruth Rosner Kornhauser

  • Introduction
  • Body of Scholarship
  • Social Sources of Delinquency
  • Critique of Strain/Anomie
  • Critique of Differential Association/Learning Theory
  • Costello versus Matsueda on “Cultural Deviance”
  • Appraising Social Disorganization
  • Responses to Kornhauser’s Critique
  • The Reemergence of Social Disorganization and the Chicago School
  • Cultural Models

Criminology Ruth Rosner Kornhauser
Brendan D. Dooley, Sean Goodison
  • LAST REVIEWED: 22 February 2018
  • LAST MODIFIED: 22 February 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396607-0158


Ruth Rosner Kornhauser (b. 1926–d. 1995) trained as a sociologist at the University of Chicago and impacted the field of criminology largely through her classic work, Social Sources of Delinquency: An Appraisal of Analytic Models (Kornhauser 1978, cited under Social Sources of Delinquency). The book, an update of the edited version of her 1975 doctoral dissertation, offers a rigid critique of both the anomie and differential association/learning theory traditions. She found the most support in the extant research for another theory, social disorganization. This is not to say that she was uncritical of this body of work, simply that she regarded it as less imperfect than the other perspectives. Her reading of the accumulated evidence led to her to the conclusion that a community’s inability to control behavior through informal social control is what allows delinquency to occur. This is also a fundamental assumption of social disorganization theory. The field has developed in a number of ways in reaction to her arguments in the decades since her book was first published in 1978. The Chicago school of criminology/social disorganization approach has been revitalized in a number of ways by focusing on the task of establishing intervening variables that connect the individual with society. The two theoretical traditions Kornhauser found the most fault with (i.e., anomie/strain and differential association/social learning) have also advanced in a number of ways.

Body of Scholarship

Kornhauser made a sizable contribution to criminological thought, even though the quantity of her research was limited by a medical crisis preceding the completion of her opus, Social Sources of Delinquency (Kornhauser 1978, cited under Social Sources of Delinquency). Despite her career being limited by the effects of a stroke, she held an academic position at Mills College, a small all-female institution in Oakland, California, for several years. While convalescing in a hospital bed in 1975, she edited her University of Chicago doctoral dissertation into what would become one of the landmark works within criminology. The work has few peers in terms of the interest and debate it managed to pique. Kornhauser did produce a measure of scholarship outside of this single contribution. Prior to publishing Social Sources of Delinquency, she held positions at the Institute of Industrial Relations and was an Assistant Research Sociologist at the Center for the Study of Law and Society at the University of California, Berkeley, where her then-husband William Kornhauser held a faculty position in the sociology department. While at UC Berkeley in 1963, she drafted a mimeographed manuscript that had a severely limited circulation, only a fragment of which has survived (Kornhauser 1963). Although she distanced herself from the study, failing to site it in her subsequent work, the beginnings of analysis working toward an explication of a priori principles of the various theoretical traditions within criminology were evident. The same relentless logic seen in the manuscript was to be a hallmark that defined her later work. Included here is an exhaustive list of the publications she authored, (with the exception of Kornhauser 1978, cited under Social Sources of Delinquency): Kornhauser 1957, Kornhauser 1953, Kornhauser 1961, and Kornhauser and Hirschi 1986.

  • Kornhauser, Ruth Rosner. 1953. The Warner approach to social stratification. In Class, status and power. Edited by Reinhard Bendix and Seymour Martin Lipset, 224–255. New York: Free Press.

    Reports that the defining characteristic of sociology is its attention to the matter of how society is organized into various groups according to a number of personal characteristics (i.e., social stratification). This chapter is a comprehensive review of the literature produced by W. Lloyd Warner and coauthors in a number of studies.

  • Kornhauser, Ruth Rosner. 1957. Parents and the school: A study of clients’ expectations and demands. Master’s thesis, University of Chicago.

    The study examines parental attitudes toward schools and education, with a focus on how parental occupational status affects the matter. Kornhauser’s thesis analyzes survey data administered to both teachers and parents across a number of Chicago neighborhoods.

  • Kornhauser, Ruth. 1961. Some social determinants and consequences of union membership. Labor History 2:30–61.

    DOI: 10.1080/00236566108583862

    Analysis of two public-opinion surveys aimed at determining what demographics were more receptive to joining a union, as well as how attitudes of current members have changed since joining. The survey found that occupation, sex, region and size of community were more important determinants of membership than other factors, like race, class, and political affiliation.

  • Kornhauser, Ruth. 1963. Theoretical issues in the sociological study of juvenile delinquency. Mimeograph, Center for the Study of Law and Society, Berkeley, CA.

    In the forty-five pages of the surviving manuscript, criminological theory is divided along the lines of structure and culture. A discussion of the underlying assumptions of the Chicago school of sociology as the discussion relates to these two dominant themes is the focus of the work.

  • Kornhauser, Ruth Rosner. 1975. Social sources of delinquency: An appraisal of analytic models. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press.

    With some editing and the addition of an acknowledgements section, this work would become Kornhauser 1978 (cited under Social Sources of Delinquency).

  • Kornhauser, Ruth, and Travis Hirschi. 1986. Review of Anne Campbell’s Girls in the gang: A report from New York City. American Journal of Sociology 92:514–516.

    DOI: 10.1086/228538

    Campbell’s book offers ethnographic accounts of lower-class females who have limited options in terms of a typology of roles available for them to fulfill. Kornhauser and Hirschi offer a severe critique of the work because of the absence of a guiding framework. “The message of the book is, at best, mixed, and, at worst, contradictory and confused” (p. 514).

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