In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Public Social Control and Neighborhood Crime

  • Introduction
  • Reference Works
  • Social and Economic Structure and Public Social Control

Criminology Public Social Control and Neighborhood Crime
David Ramey
  • LAST REVIEWED: 30 March 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 March 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396607-0215


Research on public social control and neighborhood crime is concerned with a neighborhood’s ability to secure external economic, political, and social resources necessary to effectively engage in social control and combat crime and disorder. This work draws heavily from earlier sociological and criminological studies of social control and neighborhood crime. Whereas most theories of neighborhood crime (e.g., social disorganization) consider how local structural factors influence informal social control mechanisms, including social cohesion and collective efficacy, a growing body of research examines how decisions regarding the distribution of certain goods and services made by organizations and government and by nongovernment actors outside of the neighborhood are consequential for neighborhood crime.

Reference Works

Hunter 1985 describes three separate and distinct levels of social order, each with their own social bond, institutional locus, and spatial domain. Private social control operates through close friends and family, and is responsible for controlling behavior within close personal social networks. At the level of the neighborhood or local community is the parochial order, which is responsible for exerting informal social control through the development of local ties through community and organizational participation. According to Hunter 1985, public social control is exerted through social bonds that develop between neighborhood residents and external government and nongovernment institutions. Bursik and Grasmick 1993 integrates public social control into a systemic model of social disorganization (e.g., Sampson and Groves 1989 and Shaw and McKay 1942). Its authors argue that neighborhood crime is dependent on a community’s ability to acquire and deploy the resources necessary to control crime and combat local levels of disorder. Triplett, et al. 2003 develops a theoretical model of institutional social control that sheds lights on the characteristics necessary for public social control institutions to be effective at controlling neighborhood crime. Central to both arguments is how both law enforcement and other public and private services represent dimensions of public social control, each with their own resources to provide.

  • Bursik, Robert J., Jr., and Harold G. Grasmick. 1993. Neighborhoods and crime. New York: Lexington Books.

    Bursik and Grasmick integrate public social control into their three-level systemic model of social disorganization, discussing how municipal decision making and policing affect crime directly and in conjunction with private and parochial controls.

  • Hunter, Albert. 1985. Private, parochial, and public social orders: The problem of crime and incivility in urban communities. In The Challenge of Social Control: Institution Building and Systemic Constraint. Edited by Gerald D. Suttles and Mayer N. Zald, 230–242. Norwood, NJ: ABLEX.

    Hunter proposes three separate levels of social order, each with their own institutional locus and responsibilities when it comes to social control. The third of these, the public social order, includes government agencies such as the police and municipal services that contribute to crime control.

  • Sampson, Robert J., and W. Byron Groves. 1989. Community structure and crime: Testing social disorganization theory. American Journal of Sociology 94.4: 774–802.

    DOI: 10.1086/229068

    One of the earliest empirical tests of Shaw and McKay’s arguments, Sampson and Groves test the effects of community organization and local friendship networks on neighborhood crime. Findings reveal that local friendship networks and organizational participation are associated with lower neighborhood crime rates.

  • Shaw, Clifford D., and Henry D. McKay. 1942. Juvenile delinquency and urban areas. Rev. ed. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press.

    One of the earliest ecological examinations of neighborhood delinquency, Shaw and McKay argued that high crime rates where the result of weakened controls and cultural orientations of neighborhoods with high levels of poverty, population turnover, and ethnic heterogeneity.

  • Triplett, Ruth A., Randy R. Gainey, and Ivan Y. Sun. 2003. Institutional strength, social control, and neighborhood crime rates. Theoretical Criminology 7.4: 439–467.

    DOI: 10.1177/13624806030074003

    The authors propose a theoretical model of “neighborhood-based institutional control” arguing that effective public social control institutions demonstrate strength through stability, provision of resources, having a clear role in the community, and involvement and connections with members of the community.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.