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“Norms, Legitimacy and Law Enforcement” 79 Oregon Law Review 391 (2000)


In a series of articles I have explained the relevance of sociological theory to crime policy. Specifically I have sought to use a sociological explanation of why certain areas have high crime rates in order to make crime policy recommendations. The theory on which I have relied, social disorganization theory, postulates that the structural and cultural organization of neighborhoods can either facilitate or hinder crime occurrence. By paying attention to these phenomena, I have argued that the state, through its criminal policy, can usefully harness norms in order to help residents of high-crime communities help themselves resist and control crime.

Because social organization theory focuses on places and not people, missing from this theory is an explanation of why individuals decide to break the law in the first place. Social organization theory focuses on the infrastructure of relationships in a community (what I have referred to elsewhere as norm highways), and it specifies how ideas, norms, and values that are centered around compliance can be promoted and promulgated. But social organization theory's explanation of crime persistence in certain areas does not specify the content of the norms, values, and ideas pertaining to compliance that are facilitated by certain organizational structures. The content of the norms of compliance must be supplied elsewhere.

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