Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Forrest A. Deseran


One key explanation of aggregate rates of homicide in localities across the U.S. is social disorganization theory. This theory posits that disadvantaged neighborhoods lack the social and economic resources to exert social control on community residents. One shortcoming of this approach is that it cannot adequately explain urban-rural differences in African American homicide victimization. While African Americans in rural areas experience similar or even more extreme levels of disadvantage than their urban counterparts, the risk of homicide for rural African Americans is significantly lower. To address this shortcoming, I develop a conceptually different, although complimentary, explanation of violence grounded in civic community theory. The civic community perspective identifies two institutions, small business and religious, that provide community-level social control. This study evaluates the validity of both theories and examines the manner in which these explanations of crime operate independently and in concert with one another in rural and urban counties in the U.S. I test these models with race disaggregated data from the Uniform Crime Reports Supplementary Homicide Report Victim File and U.S. Census, as well as supplementary data from County Business Patterns, and Census of Churches. I examine the cross-sectional and longitudinal nature of the relationship between socioeconomic disadvantage, civic community, and homicide for African Americans and whites from 1980 to 1990. The findings indicate that civic community indicators have both direct impacts on homicide victimization and mediate the relationship between measures of socioeconomic disadvantage and homicide for African Americans and whites in 1990. These relationships, however, vary for urban and rural counties. Initial 1980 levels of civic community are associated with declines in homicide during the 1980's for African Americans and whites. For African Americans, growth in the number of churches per 1000 members is associated with declines in homicide victimization during the 1980's. I discuss implications for theories of aggregate levels of crime, research, and public policy in the concluding section.