"Broken Window theory" boosted in Science magazine findings

Disorder brings disorder, says the “Broken Windows” theory. Developed in the 1970’s by James Wilson and George Kelling, the theory maintains that once visible forms of social disorder have invaded a community, more disorder is sure to follow. And with more disorder, communities fall into disrepair, disinvesment, and decline.

An example of the theory, you may remember, is the anti-litter ad campaign the TTC ran a few years ago, urging people not to be the first to throw their trash on the ground as surely then “everyone” would follow. That campaign was premised on the idea of the “Broken Windows theory.” .

The theory had many weaknesses on broad social and political levels. Broken Windows doesn’t account for the larger social structures which create disorder, poverty and inequity. Nor does it account, as Sampson, Raudenbush & Earls do with their idea of collective efficacy, for the micro-level neighbourhood interactions which can mitigate against community disorder.

However, the Broken Windows theory gained political force because it offers a simplicity of solution. It also offers a cachet which appeals to middle-class electorate’s sensibilities. Promulgated by many big-city American mayors through the 1980s and 90s, Malcolm Gladwell re-popularized the theory in his book, The Tipping Point. It became a topic of debate between Gladwell and the authors of Freakonomics. See Gladwell’s blog for a sample.

So, into this environment, a recent study in Science shows that the theory does have some demonstrated effect. One of the best summaries of the article (pictures included) is posted as follows:

Not Exactly Rocket Science : The spread of disorder – can graffiti promote littering and theft?

Posted using ShareThis

It seems, after all, there is something to the old chestnut, “Monkey see, Monkey do, Monkey get in trouble, too.”

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