DOI: 10.1177/019027250406700401 ISSN:

Seeing Disorder: Neighborhood Stigma and the Social Construction of “Broken Windows”

Robert J. Sampson, Stephen W. Raudenbush
  • Social Psychology

This article reveals the grounds on which individuals form perceptions of disorder. Integrating ideas about implicit bias and statistical discrimination with a theoretical framework on neighborhood racial stigma, our empirical test brings together personal interviews, census data, police records, and systematic social observations situated within some 500 block groups in Chicago. Observed disorder predicts perceived disorder, but racial and economic context matter more. As the concentration of minority groups and poverty increases, residents of all races perceive heightened disorder even after we account for an extensive array of personal characteristics and independently observed neighborhood conditions. Seeing disorder appears to be imbued with social meanings that go well beyond what essentialist theories imply, generating self-reinforcing processes that may help account for the perpetuation of urban racial inequality.