James A. Densley
This article examines the who, what, where, when, why, and how of gang joining. The question of what youth join when they join gangs speaks to the contested nature of gang definitions and types and the consequences of gang membership, specifically heightened levels of offending and victimization. The type of gang and the obligations of membership influence the joining process. Where youth join gangs, namely, the neighborhood and social context, also impacts individual opportunities and preferences for joining. When youth join gangs is considered in a developmental sense, to include both adolescent and adult onset, in order to account for continuity and change in individual levels of immersion or “embeddedness” in gangs across the life course. Who joins gangs provides a profile of gang membership grounded in the well-documented risk factors for gang membership, but limited by problems of prediction. Why youth join gangs speaks to the push and pull factors for membership, the appeal of gangs, and the selective incentives they offer. Still, motivations for gang membership cannot fully explain selection into gangs, nor can general theories of crime that do not necessarily fit with general knowledge of gangs. How youth join gangs, for example, is more complicated than initiation rites. The mechanisms underlying the selection process can be understood through the lens of signaling theory, with implications for practice.
Christian L. Bolden
Gang organization has been an aspect of research that is often explored and debated. The concept of organization is intertwined with questions of whether gangs have leaders, whether gangs can be considered organized crime, which groups are actually street gangs, and other related questions. Though there are some crossover categories, street gangs are viewed as distinctly different than organized crime groups, prison gangs, outlaw motorcycle clubs, skinheads, stoners, and taggers.
Gang structures are widely varied, with a few being highly organized and most being loose networks of associates. The organization of a gang may change over time. There is an array of membership types that range from core members who might maintain affiliation well into adulthood to temporary members who only spend a short time in the gang. Gangs may have sub-group clique structures based on age-graded cohorts, neighborhoods, or criminal activity. Leadership roles in gangs rarely take the form of a recognizable figurehead.
These variations have led to a plethora of gang categories that include evolutionary typologies that place gangs by their stage in criminal sophistication, behavioral typologies that identify gangs by the type of criminal behavior the members engage in, and structural typologies that differentiate gangs by the characteristics of their composition. It is important to note that most of the following gang typologies are focused on gangs in the United States and may not be as relevant in other countries.
Major gang affiliations are also explored. Like other aspects of organizations, affiliations are not stable, as gang alliances are volatile. Despite the ability of affiliations to fluctuate, this categorization strategy is commonly used outside of academic research.
Breanna Boppre, Emily J. Salisbury, and Jaclyn Parker
Scholarship in criminology has focused on individuals’ pathways to crime—how life experiences, often beginning during childhood, lead to criminality in adolescence or adulthood. General frameworks for this research include life-course, developmental, and biosocial criminology. However, because the vast majority of the general pathways research literature was developed using samples of boys and men, scholars with a feminist theoretical background argue that such research is not truly representative of girls and women’s pathways to crime. While general theories of crime have been applied broadly, gender-specific pathways to crime account for important distinctions between male and female experiences.
Thus, gender (and sex), through biological differences, social norms, and expectations, shapes individual life experiences that result in distinct pathways to crime for men and women. Consequently, understanding criminality requires a full consideration of gendered experiences. Even though similar life events may occur with both men and women, individual responses and effects can vary greatly and lead to different pathways to criminal behavior. Accordingly, this article discusses pathways to crime though a gendered lens. First, men’s pathways to crime are presented, which have been traditionally represented through general criminological research. Next, women’s specific pathways to crime are discussed, developed primarily through the gendered pathways literature. Finally, future directions in pathways research are outlined.