Example of Differential Association Theory in “Mystic River”

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Updated: Aug 24, 2023
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The Setting and Social Fabric of “JimTown”

In the movie Mystic River, it characterizes its own set of social norms. It paints the picture, social disorganization theory, and perspective on crime and deviance, breaking down this community’s economy, education, and religion. (Akers, 1996) The homes are stocked in three tiers; there are clotheslines with clothes hung on them. There is very little traffic in the area. People are close to each other and communicate often. The “JimTown” of Boston. The geographical location is isolated and dark.

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A Community with a history of its own, its own set of codes, and its hardships.

On that day, eleven-year-old boys were out playing street hockey when they lost their ball down the sewer drain. Like many before, he became bored momentarily when Jimmy began talking about taking a car around the block. Then, decided that they would write their names in the cement instead. “It will be there forever,” they said. When approached by two men appearing to be officers, Jimmy was defiant in answering the man’s question with a “no sir.” Dave was the only boy who did not live right where someone was to see.

So, it was easier for the kidnapper to coax him into the car by telling him he was taking him home. With Dave in the back window, as they drive off, you feel helpless and scared for each of them. With his cross ring and creepy smile, the priest in the car finds out that he is a child molester. It makes you believe that things going on in today’s society were happening then, too. Dave escaped four days after the abduction. One of the abductors died, and the other was in jail one year later. So, the names in that cement hold the memory of the day they will never forget. (Eastwood, 2004)

Differential Association Theory and Dave’s Transformation

Years later, Dave walks with his son down that same street as he shows him the names on the cement. His son is so excited, but Dave is taken back to that day in his mind and shuts down. At a bar, he sees Jimmy’s daughter out with her friends. When asked if he knew her, Dave said, “I have known her since she was a kid.” Again, he is reminded of that awful day. (Eastwood, 2004)

Dave returns home from the bar around three a.m. to tell his wife that he had been mugged and was cut by a knife. He begins to tell her the story and gets his story a little mixed up. For example, at first, he said that he threw the first punch, but then he said that he did not throw the first punch. He was scared and feared for his life, as he had on that day many years ago. He told his wife he believed that he might have killed the guy. The face-to-face principle part of learning in intimate personal groups, I would think that he learned from his traumatic experience and his friend Jimmy. Leading him to the rational decision that caused him to commit a murder. (Eastwood, 2004)

The differential association theory is the basis and effectiveness of cultural deviance in which culture is viewed as the single cause of crime. It speculates that socialization is flourishing and cultural insecurity is unlimited, unable to explain individual differences. (Akers, 1996) This is speculation that societies that are more of a lower income housing area have more crime. The film focuses on a smaller community but includes the crimes of different individuals within that community.

Dave is believed to be the killer of Jimmy’s daughter (Katie); all of the clues seem to point toward him. Two murders happened on the same night; Dave’s details make you think that maybe he did kill Katie because there were no other bodies to say otherwise. The two incidents are so close together that no one believes Dave. In the end, Jimmy fully believes that Dave killed his daughter and kills Dave. (Eastwood, 2004)

Urban Sociology: From Social Disorganization to Zone Modeling

The social disorganization spawns from the Concentric zone model. Which includes the Central Business District, Transitional Zone, Working class zone, Residential zone, and Commuter zone. The transitional zone comprises abandoned buildings, factories, and housing units at a crumble. Next, the working class zone is made up of single-family tenants. Then, the residential zones are more of the neighborhoods with actual yards and garages of single-family homes. (Wong, 2002) This film focuses on the transitional zone.


  1. Akers, R. L. (1996). Is differential association/social learning cultural deviance theory? Criminology, 34(2), 229. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1745-9125.1996.tb01204.x
  2. Wong, C. (2002). Clifford R. Shaw and Henry D. McKay, The Social Disorganization Theory. CSISS Classics. UC Santa Barbara: Center for Spatially Integrated Social Science. Retrieved from https://escholarship.org/uc/item/47j411pr
  3. Eastwood, C., Helgeland, B., Lorenz, R., Hoyt, J., Berman, B., Stern, T., Penn, S., Warner Home Video (Firm). (2004). Mystic River. Burbank, CA: Warner Home Video.  
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Example of Differential Association Theory in "Mystic River". (2023, Aug 24). Retrieved from https://papersowl.com/examples/example-of-differential-association-theory-in-mystic-river/