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THE PLACE OF CONTEXT: A THEORY AND STRATEGY FOR CRIMINOLOGY'S HARD PROBLEMS

Authors


  • Direct correspondence to Robert J. Sampson, Department of Sociology, William James Hall, Harvard University, 33 Kirkland Street, Cambridge, MA 02138 (e-mail: rsampson@wjh.harvard.edu).

Abstract

I present a theoretical framework and analytic strategy for the study of place as a fundamental context in criminology, with a focus on neighborhood effects. My approach builds on the past 15 years of research from the Project on Human Development in Chicago Neighborhoods and from a recent book unifying the results. I argue that “ecometrics” can be applied at multiple scales, and I elaborate core principles and guiding hypotheses for five problems: 1) legacies of inequality and developmental neighborhood effects; 2) race, crime, and the new diversity; 3) cognition and context, above all the social meaning of disorder; 4) the measurement and sources of collective efficacy in a cosmopolitan world; and 5) higher order structures beyond the neighborhood that arise in complex urban systems. Although conceptually distinct, these hard problems are interdependent and ultimately linked to a frontier in criminology: contextual causality.

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