In at the University of Chicago, sought to

                In this essay, my aim is to inform the
reader of the explanations the Chicago School’s theory can provide in
understanding the 2011 London riots. I will begin the essay by introducing the
Chicago School’s theories of social disorganisation and urban competition and
the key scholars from the Chicago School. I will then analyse their theories
against the 2011 London Riots and explain why the theoretical standpoint can
give us an understanding into the motives behind the riots. From this, I will
introduce other relevant theories and compare these to the Chicago School’s
explanation to further investigate the causes behind the riots. Finally, I will
give my conclusive report addressing the overall strengths and weaknesses of
the Chicago Schools and other relevant theories in understanding the events
that occurred.

understandings of crime had seen individualistic theories as substantial (Gould, 1981). Cesare Lombroso’s
biological theory assuming that some people are ‘born criminals’ was widely
accepted at the time (Lindesmith, 1937). However, individualistic theories were
criticised for being too short-sighted. Lombroso’s focus on ‘discerning whether
criminals had larger foreheads or more tattoos than non-criminals’ (Cullen,
2011, p. 90),
overlooked the societal changes that were happening around them. In the 1930’s
a new approach emerged towards studying crime due to the increasing instability
in the city of Chicago.

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 The Chicago School, made up of a group of
scholars studying at the University of Chicago, sought to explain the
disorganisation and delinquency that emerged from this rapid growth. Despite
the specificity of its name to Chicago, the school of criminology represents
‘one of the most valid and generalisable theories’ (Sample, 2006, p. 382) with the application
of many of their propositions applied directly to cities all around the world. They
were known for using theoretical developments paired with scientific testing to
attempt to improve societal conditions. From this, we begin to understand why
academics at the University of Chicago analysed crime in the macro forms of the
City as a collective as opposed to micro forms of individualistic studies (Cullen, 2011).

The Chicago
School created several new perspectives of human behaviour, the first model
proposed by Robert E. Park suggested that urban human behaviour and the way in
which cities grow follows ecology’s basic principles (Park, 1936).
Ecology studies the processes through which plants and animals interact with
the environment. Taken from ideas of Darwinian theory, Parks proposed that the
city’s growth follows a ‘natural pattern and evolution’ (Cullen, 2011, p. 90). He applied
ecological theories of symbiosis to the city of Chicago to explain the interconnected
relations that occur within a city and the dependence of the citizens upon each
other (Park, The Growth of the City, 1925). Park also stated
that for these processes to occur there must be some form of competition. He
suggests that the competition that occurs in our communities is done so to
‘bring about and restore the communal equilibrium’ (Park, Human Ecology, 1936). However, for
further development to occur, the equilibrium must be disturbed. In the same
way as ecology in nature, this must either occur naturally or through the
advent of an intrusive factor (Park, Human Ecology, 1936). In the case of the
London riots, which I will refer to in full later in the essay, was the murder
of Mark Duggan.

Park also uses
this theory to explain the relationship between dominant and subordinate forces
in society. He explains that what would usually be termed the ‘natural or
functional areas of a metropolitan community’ (Park, Human Ecology, 1936, p. 8) all owe their
existence to the influence of dominating forces, and indirectly to competition.
From this we can also see how the location of these areas, and subsequently the
population, are distributed in the urban community by similar forces (Park, Human Ecology, 1936). Ernest Burgess,
another prestigious member of the Chicago School, further developed the idea of
population distribution with the introduction of his concentric zone diagram. Burgess
illustrated the movement of the city with a series of concentric circles (Marzluff, 2008). The primary zone in
understanding crime and delinquency is the second zone, the zone of transition.
Burgess highlighted that this zone was most significantly subjected to Park’s
ecological principles: ‘Invasion, domination, recession and succession’ (Sample,
2006, p. 386).

Shaw and McKay
(1942), two sociologists who followed the Chicago Schools work, developed this
theory even further to help us understand why ‘certain neighbourhoods have more
social problems, such as delinquency, than others’ (Sample, 2006, p. 387). Shaw and McKay’s
framework suggests that the neighbourhoods with the highest crime rates have at
least four common problems: Heterogeneity, poverty, physical dilapidation, and
unemployment (Cullen, 2011). They stated that regardless of the
social problem that is being measured, the highest rates are mainly found in
the zone of transition (McKay, 1942).

These ideas of
delinquency in the urban environment link directly to the Chicago School’s
theory of social disorganisation. William Thomas’ (1920) extensive study on the
transformations in Polish societies when emigrating to the United States shows
us the drift away from traditional modes of social organisation and behaviour (Sinatti, 2008). The American
neighbourhoods, now characterised by ‘social disorganisation’ provided a
platform for criminal delinquency through a ‘lack of behavioural control
mechanisms and through the cultural transmission of delinquent values’ (Curling,
2015, p. 54).

Chicago School’s theories of social disorganisation, human ecology, and delinquency
highlighted above can give us an understanding into the explanations behind the
2011 London riots. The outbreak of the riots in August 2011 was an unexpected
event for Britain. Over the four-day period of rioting, $50 million worth of
damage was caused through looting, destruction, and property damage. The
initial riots in Tottenham, London were instigated by the death of Mark Duggan
who was shot dead by a specialised armed police officer due to suspicion of
carrying an illegal firearm (Briggs, 2013). The lack of communication between the
police and the family and the release of false media information (Briggs, 2013) led to a
demonstration outside the Tottenham police station to gain information on
Duggan’s death. The absence of a police response and false rumours of police
brutality against a young black woman at the time flared the protestors into
rioting against the police. The riots began to spread to other areas of the UK
including Manchester and Birmingham eventually leading to more than 3,000
people arrested in the capital (Briggs, 2013).

Oxford University department of Sociology’s report on the riots consider five
distinct explanations: ‘deprivation, relative deprivation, ethnic competition,
social disorganisation, and political grievances’ (Briggs, 2013, p. 6). The breakdown of
social disorganisation, as characterised by the Chicago School is vital in
understanding the relationship between their theory and the riots. They stated
it was due to antecedent factors such as poverty, heterogenization and physical
dilapidation (Park, Human Ecology, 1936). These in turn led
to ‘a state of social disorganisation, which resulted in crime and delinquency’
(Sample, 2006, p. 387). The Chicago
School’s theory would give an overarching understanding that the crime and delinquency
that occurred coincides directly with the five explanations provided by the
Oxford University department.

evidence for the relationship can be seen by analysing primarily the economic
status, but also other relevant criteria of those involved in the attacks. Shaw
and McKay’s understanding of delinquency would suggest that the ethnicity,
location, and economic status of those involved in the riots directly links to
understanding why they participated in delinquent crime (Cullen, 2011). These factors combined, as suggested
by the Chicago School, create the social instability that would have played a
major role in the onset and continuation of the riots. Analysis from more than
1,000 court records suggests 59% of the England rioters come from the most
deprived 20% of areas in the UK (Newburn, 2011). This supports Shaw and McKay’s theory
when highlighting the frequent relationship between poverty and higher
delinquency rates (McKay, 1942).
83% of rioters interviewed even stated that poverty was an ‘important’ cause of
the riots (Newburn, 2011). From a theoretical standpoint, we can
see that there is a large link between the Chicago Schools theory and the
causes behind the London riots in regard to economic status.

However, a
reoccurring theme in interview narratives suggests there is not one singular
cause behind the delinquency shown throughout the riots. A case study of a 22
year old unemployed man who was present at the Manchester riots examples the
ulterior motives shown for rioting: ‘I became involved in the riots because it
was a chance to tell the police, tell the government that we get hacked off
around here and we won’t stand for it’ (Newburn, 2011, p. 20). Sampson and Wilson
(1995), support this, arguing against the Chicago School. Although they agree
with the basic thesis of social disorganisation, they question the ‘natural’
part of the process as suggested by Park’s theory of human ecology. Instead,
the various forms of social disorganisation found throughout the riots are
linked directly to various forms of inequality (Blau, 1982).
85% of those interviewed by the London School of Economics listed policing as
an ‘important’ cause behind the rioting (Newburn, 2011). What this suggests is that in the
build up towards the riots, there was an increasing conflictual relationship between
working-class citizens and the Police. This is where we begin to see weaknesses
in the Chicago Schools theory as its deterministic theoretical explanation for
why crime occurs does not account for political or alternative conflictual

However, the
Chicago’s Schools theory still explains why a disturbance in the equilibrium in
the urban environment can lead to an uprising or a heated response. Park
suggests that the competition that occurs in our communities is done so to
‘bring about and restore the communal equilibrium’ (Park, Human Ecology, 1936). However, for
further development to occur, the equilibrium must be disturbed. In the same
way as ecology in nature, this must either occur naturally or through the
advent of an intrusive factor (Park, Human Ecology, 1936). In the case of the
London riots, this was the murder of Mark Duggan. Park would clearly state how
the response to the murder of Mark Duggan was anger against the dominating
force that was the Police. The invasion and domination that is seen in ecology
can be applied to urban environments (Sample, 2006). In this case particularly it was the
dominating capitalist forces, taking the form of government and police, leading
to an uprising due to a lack of response and explanation from the dominating
forces (Briggs, 2013).

An alternative
explanation for the rioting that would further insight us into the causes
behind the nationwide riots can be seen through the work of Manuel Castells
(1986). His book ‘The City and the Grassroots provides an alternative
explanation. He developed the idea of Urban Social Movements (USMs) as an
explanation for societal struggle over collective consumption and political
self-determination. Castells defined these as ‘urban orientated mobilisations
that influence structural social change and transform the urban meanings (Castells, 1986). He stated that
community based organising has become subsumed with the ‘third sector’ (Mayer,
2006, p. 205).
The struggle for collective consumption and political self-determination can
clearly be seen when analysing the riots. A woman in her 30s who was involved
in north London riots said ‘I think some people were there for justice. The
cuts, the government, not doing the right thing. No job, no money’ (Newburn,
2011, p. 25).
Many stated that it was more broadly social due to the treatment they received
in comparison to others and that it wasn’t a riot, ‘it was a protest’ (Newburn,
2011, p. 24).
The general consensus seen here suggests the grievance felt by those involved
in the riots was partly due to government policy with 80% of those interviewed
stating that was the case (Newburn, 2011).

Manuel Castells
theory would suggest that the organisation behind the rioting directly links to
the criteria of an USM. During the riots, there was a widespread availability
of social media communication, mainly via Blackberry’s BBM messaging service.
‘Everyone in Edmonton Enfield wood green everywhere in north link up at Enfield
town station at 4 o clock sharp!!’ (Newburn, 2011, p. 30). He highlighted that
‘community-based organising’ (Mayer, 2006, p. 206) was a key aspect of
the preparation and execution of USMs.

The communication
and motives behind the rioting as seen here would suggest that Castells theory
of USMs are indicative in understanding the causes behind the 2011 London
Riots. What differs here from the Chicago School’s theory is understanding the
causes was the analysis of more than just the economic background of those

In conclusion,
the Chicago School’s theories of social disorganisation and urban competition
can be used to analyse and understand the events that occurred across the
nation in 2011. This is because we can clearly see the application of their
theory to the economic factors that characterised the London riots. However,
the lack of political explanation from the Chicago School’s theory and the
deterministic nature behind their explanation of human ecology leads us in
pursuit of alternative explanations to further our understanding. The work of
Manuel Castells gives us this through an ulterior understanding of the events and
explanation for the criminal delinquency that occurred. However, from analysing
the Chicago School’s theory and further literature on the causes of the riots,
I can see that the complex nature of the events that occurred mean no singular
explanation can fully encompass all that went on.