What is broken window theory

The broken window theory is a well known criminology theory that explains how visible signs of crime, anti-social behavior, and civil disorder create an urban environment that encourages further crime and disorder, including serious crimes.

But the term can be also used in our everyday life to describe people behavior in general. For example, if one person throws some garbage bags to a certain place that is not designated for garbage disposal, it is very likely that it will encourage many others who wants to get rid of their garbage to throw their garbage bags at the same place and they will create a new dump very soon. This phenomenon is very common in Greece.

Nadur, Gozo, Malta

If you happen to follow my blog, you know that I live in the Netherlands. A few weeks ago a huge storm named Kiara passed by our country. The wind was so strong in the area that as a result of this, half of our backyard garden fence fell down. Even the metal bases that were holding the fence pillars broke in half. But, only half of our fence fell down. The other half was surprisingly still standing up.

Today two workers were cutting some high trees at our neighbor’s garden.What they did later on is clearly the best example of the broken window theory. They saw that half of our fence was down, so they did not respected the rest of the fence either. While they were cutting the huge branches of the neighbor tree, they were throwing them down right on the part of our fence that was still standing up.

Due their action the part of the fence that was standing soon became rocky, since the huge heavy branches was thrown from above on it. It seemed that while half of our fence was broken it encouraged them to throw the rest of the fence down as well. If our fence was not broken at all they wouldn’t do that, I am sure. In this case, they would show more respect and they would be more careful. Instead of throwing the huge branches directly on our fence that survived the storm and right into our garden, they would use some rope while cutting to have control over the branches.

When humans enter an environment they always look for signals on how they might act in that environment. If something is broken, it doesn’t give them the right to continue with destruction, but they do it anyway in most of the cases. Therefore I found this ”broken window” theory of human behavior very interesting.

According to wikipedia : James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling first introduced the broken windows theory in an article titled “Broken Windows”, in the March 1982 issue of The Atlantic Monthly.

The article received a great deal of attention and was very widely cited. A 1996 criminology and urban sociology book, Fixing Broken Windows: Restoring Order and Reducing Crime in Our Communities by George L. Kelling and Catharine Coles, is based on the article but develops the argument in greater detail. It discusses the theory in relation to crime and strategies to contain or eliminate crime from urban neighborhoods.

What do you think about it? Do you have any example of the broken window theory through your own every day life experience? If you do please share it in the comment section below.

One thought on “What is broken window theory

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  1. Re: open window .It’s a thought and it might apply. I’m thinking of the trash can in the kitchen. Instead of grabbing the bag and replacing with a new one then taking the full bag out. Someone sees that it’s full yet they add one more item , the next person does the same thing, tossing more trash in a full can. You would not believe how many items are balanced and stackable in a already full trash can.


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