The Older Paper: Nothing New under the Sun, Neighbourhood Effects and the Selection Problem Ed.


The concentration of delinquency in certain areas in large cities has been established, but not yet completely explained. It may be the result of conditions found in such areas or of selective forces, or of both. The study of selection has been neglected. Mr. Clifford Shaw's tests of the selection of nationalities for residence in such areas seem in- conclusive. A survey of crime in the city of Danville, Illinois, offered opportunity to test indirectly selective processes. It shows that over two-fifths of adult felons resident in Danville and committed during three years to prison or reformatory had a criminal record before coming to the city and that probably over half of them cannot be called "Danville products" or products of its delinquency areas. Racial and economic isolation in delinquency areas, the concentration of crime in rooming-house areas, the transient residence of delinquent as compared with non-delinquent families in delinquency areas, the existence of conflicting group patterns of behavior within the areas, and data from case histories seem partially to confirm this finding. The conclusion, though confined to this one study, is that areas of delinquency not only produce delinquency but act as selective forces attracting delinquents and predelinquents. Therefore criminological surveys should study this factor of selection and enlist the services of psychologists and psychiatrists as well as sociologists.
Donald R. Taft, 1933: “Testing the Selective Influence of Areas of Delinquency,” American Journal of Sociology 38 (5): 699-712 (JSTOR link)

Looking at neighbourhood effects on crime was a bit of a fashion in U.S. sociology ca. 1990-2005. I've read pretty much all of those papers, and let me tell you, awareness of the selection problem isn't one of the virtues of that literature. Google Scholar knows of 14 citations of Taft's paper, none of them since 1980.

On a related note, I've recently looked at early editions of Sutherland's Principles of Criminology and I'm starting to get the distinct impression that sociologists studying crime haven't come up with much that's new in the last 80 years. If you think "collective efficacy" was invented by Sampson, you can't have read Shaw and McKay.

And here's an article arguing it's worth reading famous econ papers in the original.

Added: If you know an earlier source for the same argument, please leave a comment. I wouldn't be surprised to find that Aristotle had something to say on the matter. After all, he recognized the problem of collective goods that some think was discovered by Mancur Olson in 1968.

No comments: