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Symbols of Incivility - Social Disorder and Fear of Crime in Urban Neighborhoods

NCJ Number
A Hunter
Date Published
12 pages
The sociological theory presented maintains that signs of social disorder ('incivility') in urban neighborhoods are more powerful stimulants of fear of crime than actual rates of victimization in neighborhoods.
Neighborhoods have patterns of public interaction between residents and physical signs of the behavior patterns of residents which precipitate either a sense of social order or disorder in residents. When public interactions among residents are characterized by conflict, aggression, and insensitivity, fear of crime and a sense of insecurity is fostered. Relationships characterized by courtesy, helpfulness, and harmony nurture a sense of social order and safety. Further, physical signs in the neighborhood, such as abandoned and burned-out buildings, unkept property, vandalism, and juveniles hanging out on the street corner, can give residents a sense of social disorder that helps to produce a fear of crime. Daily encounters with signs of incivility and social disorder heighten the fear of crime, even though actual victimization may not have occurred. Within areas of a city, incivility and crime may be empirically correlated. Incivility would then be a symbolic cue to the heightened possibility for more serious criminal victimization. Signs of social disorder in a neighborhood also tend to produce skepticism about the effectiveness of government and public agencies in maintaining social order.