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Jeff Ferrell and Jonathan Ilan

This chapter focuses on the cultural significance of crime. It examines the way in which crime and culture intertwine within the lived experiences of everyday life, and argues that a host of urban crimes are perpetrated by actors for whom transgression serves a number of purposes. The chapter charts a world of underground graffiti artists, gang members, street muggers, and other ‘outsider’ criminals, whose subcultures are increasingly the subject of media, corporate, and political interest.


This chapter focuses on the University of Chicago’s sociology department and the work done by its sociologists on crime and deviance during the 1920s and 1930s. The chapter first provides a background on the University of Chicago, its sociology department, and the city. It then considers the Chicago sociologists’ use of ecology in their research, the apparent contradictions in their explanation of criminality and deviance, and their emphasis on moral diversity rather than discord, pathology, or disorganization. It examines the approach used by Chicago sociologists to launch an intellectual assault on the study of the city, focusing on social problems and offering explanations of crime and delinquency based on the peculiar conditions of the so-called zone in transition. What the University of Chicago sociology department accomplished was a decisive break with the haphazard, solitary, and ill-maintained studies associated with proto-criminology. The result was a model of an urban criminology.