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What We Know About Social Structure and Homicide: A Review of the Theoretical and Empirical Literature

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This article reviews what we have learned about social structure and homicide during the last 30 years, paying close attention to empirical tests of subculture, strain (both absolute and relative deprivation), and social disorganization theories. First, this review reveals that researchers have difficulty operationalizing culture in terms of values and instead often rely on regional location or group membership as a proxy for subculture. Though the findings relating subculture to homicide are inconsistent, however, culture should not be ignored. Second, the positive relationship between poverty and the spatial distribution of homicide rates is the most consistent finding in this literature, while empirical evidence of the effects of inequality on homicide is neither as strong nor as consistent. Finally, social disorganization is more consistent in explaining the variation of homicide rates than the subcultural and relative deprivation models, with elements of disorganization such as city size, family disruption, and heterogeneity all showing relatively consistent effects.
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Keywords: CRIMINAL JUSTICE; HOMICIDE; SOCIAL STRUCTURE

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: April 1, 2002

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