Skip to main content
Open Access Publications from the University of California

UC Irvine

UC Irvine Electronic Theses and Dissertations bannerUC Irvine

The Political Economy of Place and Crime

No data is associated with this publication.

Although the ecological perspective of the Chicago School has been challenged by theories of structural causation in the fields of urban sociology, human geography, and urban studies, community criminologists still anchor their understanding of urban dynamics in this perspective, given the centrality of social disorganization theory to the field. In this dissertation, I outline the implications and limitations of this approach, and propose a political economy perspective of place and crime as a response. The political economy perspective is distinct from an ecological one in its assertion that neighborhoods are not produced through a natural and benign process of individual selection and competition for space, but by extraneighborhood institutions and actors who see the built environment as a source of political and economic gain, where capital can be directed or withdrawn to the “highest and best use” in a process of uneven development. This perspective reframes neighborhood structure as a set of power relations, theorizes processes of neighborhood change and their connection to crime, draws attention to conflict rather than consensus, and highlights the origins of neighborhood symbolic meaning and its consequences for crime. Two empirical chapters revisit well-researched problems in community criminology through this new lens. First, I examine the structural determinants of neighborhood stability and its relationship to crime across neighborhood poverty strata in Los Angeles County. By decomposing levels of stability according to housing dynamics (displacement, development, changing rents, sales, low-income unit placement), I highlight the role of outside actors in shaping neighborhood stability through the manipulation of housing markets. I find that, over a seven-year period, poorer neighborhoods are more vulnerable to these exchange-value pressures, stability is more consequential to crime in high-poverty neighborhoods, and certain housing dynamics are associated with increasing crime through their detrimental effect on renter stability. The second empirical application assesses the importance of the spatial scale of White-Black segregation in shaping city- and neighborhood-level violent crime. While the issue of scale may be thought of as a methodological concern, I draw on urban theory across disciplines to elaborate its substantive meaning. My approach categorizes neighborhoods as macro-segregated, micro-segregated, and “city analogous,” and quantifies their prevalence at the city-level. I assess the degree to which Black homeownership mediates the effect of segregation on crime, finding instead a lack of interaction and a positive main effect, theorized to be the result of predatory real estate practices that target Black homebuyers. At the neighborhood level, I hypothesize that the relationship between local segregation and crime will be mediated by housing exploitation - the co-location of evictions, rent burden, and landlord milking practices. Housing exploitation captures the primacy of exchange- over use-values and explains a great deal of the relationship between segregation and crime – where its presence constitutes a risk factor in Black neighborhoods and its absence constitutes a protective factor in White neighborhoods.

Main Content

This item is under embargo until August 13, 2028.