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The History of Gangs and Gang Research

Abstract and Keywords

Radical culture change instigated by conflict among diverse cultural groups has had adverse social and psychological effects witnessed by the rise of youth gangs. A close look at the processes of gang formation in Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York City illustrates that rapid changes in core cultural systems had a chilling effect on ethnic groups’ core cultural practices, such as adolescents’ rites of passage to adulthood. In the absence of culturally prescribed, ritual activities, adolescents have not been prepared to assume their culture’s prescribed adult roles. That radical loss in a core cultural tradition has adversely affected adolescents’ behavior. Research in the early decades of the 20th century in Chicago reported that adolescent gang members experienced depression, anxiety, personality disorders, and addictions as consequents of violence clashes between Chicago’s native white population and European immigrants and black migrants. Over the decades of gang research in America and Europe, sociologists and anthropologists have come to agree on cultural elements in theories of gang formation: American and European youth gangs are derivative of cultural clashes, which engender racism and fundamental antagonistic changes in cultural systems’ economic production and social control. Effects of hostile culture change include social discord, unemployment, gang, and violence.

Social network research on adolescent gangs has shown that gangs are not closed social groups limiting gang members’ interpersonal contact to co-group members. Gang and non-group adolescents differ in attributes (sex, age, education), but structural measures of adolescent gang groups and non-groups are similar. Network research has carefully examined gang and non-gang adolescents’ personal networks. A personal network of male and female gang members includes people they know who know them. A personal network’s composition can include a few friends, close friends, and best friends, and numerous others inside a gang group as well as members of other gangs and non-gang members. Personal network relations connect gang adolescents to their families, friends, and neighborhoods, despite gang membership. Gang ethnography describing youth gang members and their families has shown that gang youth have been victims of domestic and intimate partner violence, experience periods of episodic homelessness away their natal and extended kin, as well as fictive families, and suffer adverse mental health consequences.

Keywords: Culture conflict, personal networks, acculturation, blocked assimilation, immigration, marginalization, racism, language loss, rites of passage

Gangs appear in cross-cultural settings across the globe. Western civilization has experienced gangs over thousands of years. In ancient Rome, internal political turmoil engendered gangs of adolescents and adults who disturbed the peace, stole property, and committed violent acts. Armed gangs composed of slaves terrorized neighborhoods and violently seized land. Then, as now, politicians blamed gang crime on inattentive government agencies and a weak police force (Nippel, 1995). In the modern Western world and in places far away from American and European industrialized and modernized cities, gangs have altered community life. In Papua New Guinea, indigenous adolescents and adults commit crime in a lifestyle labeled “rascalism” (Goddard, 1995, p. 55). There, gangs were blamed on poverty and unemployment. These social problems emerged after a cash economy replaced Melanesian cultures’ indigenous socioeconomic system, which relied on hunting, horticulture, and ritualized gift exchange (Malinowski, 1922).

This article’s central theme argues that radical culture change, seen even in non-Western, non-literate cultures, instigated by culture conflict among racial and ethnic groups, has had social, cultural, and psychological consequences. Racial and ethnic marginalization gave rise to gangs a century ago. Black, Hispanic, and immigrant communities were then pushed to the edge of modern America. Minorities were blocked from assimilation and excluded in decision-making roles in major economic markets and in educational and government institutions.

Rise of Gangs

A thorough record of racial and ethnic marginalization and racial discord was recorded in Frederick Thrasher’s 1927 study of Chicago gangs, The Gang: A Study of 1313 Gangs in Chicago. Thrasher used the term gangs to label the effects cultures in conflict had on descending generations of migrant families whose adolescents drifted onto the streets. The rise of gangs has multiple conditions and causes. Kulis, Marsiglia, and Hurdle (2003) described the strident effect of intergenerational culture conflict. Adverse effects of cultural discontinuity accumulate over generations. Descendants of migrant groups stay locked into founding neighborhoods where, in an absence of intervening conditions, economic difficulties persistent over generations (Spiro, 1955). Blocked assimilation leads to psychological and psychiatric effects, including drug abuse (Ortega, Rosenheck, Alegria, & Desai, 2000). Complexities of acculturation, namely cultures in conflict and eventual marginality, are illustrated in Vigil’s framework of “multiple marginality” (2003, p. 231). He suggests that multi-generational difficulties in assimilation create chronic problems of gangs and drug abuse.

Thrasher’s sociology of gangs was a way of talking about emerging social problems among blacks and immigrant Europeans. Kelsey (1926) wrote that in 1910 three of five New York City boroughs had twice as many foreign-born residents, who committed twice as many offenses as native-born offenders. Thrasher’s gangs were more than adolescents who caused crime in interstitial areas, where racial and ethnic gangs clashed with the dominant white population. Gangs were a visible reminder and evidence of an admixture of multi-cultural immigrants. In areas where Thrasher and his contemporaries saw gangs, others might have seen adolescents struggling through the intercultural boundary of resistance and battling hostility accompanying racial social change.

Thrasher didn’t cite violence as a distinctive characteristic of adolescent gangs. Instead, he queried the effects of intercultural violence on social cohesion in ethnic groups: Has migration and immigration influenced ethnic family life? Has resettlement fueling interracial pressure altered families’ traditional cultural processes guiding adolescents toward adulthood? Are gang groups of adolescents an outcome of culture clashes? Do culture clashes influence intracultural social processes enabling the emergence of ethnic gangs? Have appalling residential living conditions exacerbated adolescents’ violence?

Several decades after Thrasher’s research, social researchers postulated theories of antagonistic acculturation, namely, the conflict between cultures caused by cultural groups’ resistance to adopt other cultures beliefs, values, rituals, and customs (Devereux & Loeb, 1943; see Fleisher, 1984, for a non-Western example). If culture A admires culture B’s customs, culture A will voluntary adopt culture B’s customs. Culture A would then become subordinate to culture B. If culture A resists, and if culture B forcefully imposes its beliefs on culture A, conflict occurs. A prominent black sociologist, E. Franklin Frazier (1932, 1939), advanced the sociological concept of lower-class culture. He wrote that poor black communities would be better off if they gave up their cultural identity and adopted white cultural practices. Black culture resisted. Interracial conflict occurred.

Thrasher described how antagonistic acculturation damaged both cultures and had adverse sociocultural and socio-psychological effects on neighborhood sociocultural traditions. Family integration was damaged; adolescents were pushed toward youth gangs; the outcome was residual socio-psychological damage (Graves, 1967). Ongoing violent cultural clashes interrupted ethnic communities’ culturally prescribed enculturation practices aimed at guiding male and female adolescents toward adulthood. Interruptions of cultural traditions invoked personal distress and interfered with cultural processes of self-identification, which can lead to depressed mood and emotional dysfunction (Bell & Jenkins, 1993). Thrasher argued that males and females in adolescent gangs would abandon their “adventures of gang life” (1927, p. 80). They would marry, settle down, and assimilate into their racial and ethnic community. However, second and later generations of adolescents born to first-generation migrants would be stripped of their parents’ native culture and language (Portes & Schauffler, 1994). Stripped away were rites of passage, which ritually and symbolically transferred boys and girls to adulthood. Rites of passage are universal, formal, and informal culturally prescribed traditions preparing youngsters for the burdens of adult life (Delaney, 1995). Rites of passage ensure that adolescents become culturally competent carriers of cultural knowledge. A loss of rites of passage among black children has been blamed for risky and violent behavior among black youth. Their high rates of violence and mental health problems infer an erosion of a sense of personal safety and security and a weak vision of the future. These are effects of black youths’ alienation from Afro-centric cultural traditions. Black adolescents are caught between African culture, African American culture, and European American culture (Hammond & Yung, 1993; Harvey & Rauch, 1997).

Social anthropologist S. F. Nadel (1957) argued that a great deal of one’s enculturation into sociological prescribed and achieved roles and socio-psychological adjustment is lost when rites of passage to traditional cultural roles have been detached from normative cultural traditions. Outside their culture milieu, adolescents are forced into social roles outside cultural traditions of mutual social support. In what would have been a cultural transition designed to embed adolescents into their community, social networks (gangs) appear as adaptations necessary for self-regulation and coping with basic survival needs.

Youthful members of marginalized racial and ethnic communities lose their culturally prescribed roles as male and female adolescents on their way to adulthood (Nadel, 1957). Anomie puts these youth betwixt and between a traditional and a rapidly changing traditional culture. Adolescents find themselves outside their traditional culture, removed from what would have been culturally prescribed roles in social organization. The pathway to adulthood includes learning culturally ascribed statuses and roles, such as the obligations and benefits of kinship, and achieved roles, such as business owners. When cultural customs are lost, so are informal social structural control mechanisms that protect adolescents from deviance (Slotkin, 1950).

Gangs and Delinquency: Social Theory

In these early years of gang research, the concept of a gang had not yet been clearly defined. Researchers described gang criminal and non-criminal behavior, but driving forces of interracial and interethnic conflict weren’t specifically delineated. Sociologists labeled some adolescent groups gangs, but they also used race- and ethnicity-neutral synonyms, including bunches, unsocial groups, and certain clichés. When adolescents in unsocial groups violated the law, these violations were considered incidental to the internal social dynamics of the adolescents’ clichés.

Researchers today have not settled on a single definition of a gang. This makes sense, since researchers’ disciplines influence what they see and how they interpret it. Definitions serve a variety of functions. Criminologists have studied gangs and learned the difference between a gang social group and a non-social group: A gang is three or more people who commit a crime. That definition stipulates that a gang commits crime and has an essential characteristic—three or more people. That definition has been used in legal cases, but courts have considered it too ambiguous, too vague. Courts use one type of definition, social researchers another type.

Contemporary sociologists, anthropologists, and psychologists have theories of delinquency, youth violence, and gangs. Theories derive from their disciplines’ philosophy. A paradigm of theories has been used eclectically to explain the rise of gangs. Thrasher (1927) documented cultural diversity and cultural conflict. Cloward and Ohlin (1960) emphasized economic inequality. Miller (1958) argued that gangs are an expression of lower-class culture. Hirschi (1960) emphasized a breakdown in informal social control of adolescents. These theories touch on culture conflict and a breakdown in cultural traditions and social organization.

Numerous definitions of street gangs have been posited by law enforcement and gang researchers. No single definition has been able to capture the complexities of adolescent social groups labeled gangs (Curry, 2015). Thrasher’s gang definition combines organizational, proprietary, and social structural characteristics. He wrote that a gang had to meet outside the home (location), have group-defined rights to occupy a territory (proprietary), and have group-defined statuses and social roles (group-internal structure and organization). Malcolm Klein (1971), a sociologist, posited that a gang must recognize itself as a group distinct from other adolescent groups (group self-awareness); possess a name (identity); and garner negative responses from law enforcement (bad reputation). James Short (1990), a sociologist, stipulated that a gang had to meet regularly over time (duration); possess group-defined rules of membership (entry requirements); and demonstrate internal organization (social structure). Mark Fleisher (1995), a cultural anthropologist, adds further complications: gangs must be intergenerational (kinship; membership passes father to sons; mothers to daughters); possess specialized vocabulary (jargon); possess tales of the gang’s origin (folklore); and display an expressive culture characterized by fatalistic ritualism (mythology of death).

Most gang members are relatively harmless, engaging in a short-term flight of risk-taking behavior typical of youngsters (Wingwood et al., 2002). There are, however, a small percentage of adolescents and young adults whose early lives were a nightmarish blend of physical, sexual, and emotional victimization. Neighborhood social interaction leads many of them to street corners where they adopt the outward appearance of ruthless rogues. Some are dangerous not only to others but also to themselves (Singer, Anglin, Song, & Lunghofer, 1995) by way of substance abuse, uncontrollable violence, or suicide (Spaights & Simpson, 1986). Gang membership and hanging around street gangs does not necessarily increase victimization; however, the likelihood of witnessing degrees of violence increases, from slaps to kicks to punches to stabbing to shooting. Witnessing violence has traumatic effects on children and adolescents.

Gangs and Sociolinguistics

Language is the hallmark of cultural identity. Language diversity isolates social groups. Millions of immigrants entered the United States over the past century and brought with them a language different from Standard American English. Children of first-generation migrants slowly lose their parents’ sociocultural and linguistic patterns, beliefs, attitudes, and worldview and are pressured to assimilate into surrounding communities. Shared language ability among parents and children and more generally among members of a community provide stable communication and shared cultural beliefs, norms, and values. Language loss means that parents and children cannot readily and clearly share thoughts and feelings. This loss creates cognitive and social distance between parents and children and increases the likelihood of crime (Sommers, Fagan, & Baskin, 1994). Time spent outside of parental households further deteriorates children’s ability to speak native languages. As children lose the ability to speak their parents’ native language, they increase their speaking ability in a mainstream language.

A prerequisite of assimilation requires speaking ability in the language of the mainstream community (Smith, 1973). Economic equality depends on fluent communication skills in a society’s dominant language, an ability requiring comprehensive public school education in non–English-speaking communities.

An anthropological sociolinguistic interpretation of gangs focuses on language, cultural identity, and worldview as modes of social cohesion. As cultures break down, language changes. Children’s native language–speaking ability withers away over time. When English-speaking children cannot easily communicate with native language–speaking parents, social control deteriorates, opening the door to gang membership. That problem worsens when non–English-speaking parents who want to get help for their children cannot easily request social, psychological, and medical services. Non–English-speakers cannot understand the complexities of monolingual U.S. systems of public education and criminal justice (Sentell, Shumway, & Snowden, 2007; Valdivieso & Davis, 1988).

Language, Gangs, Jails, and Prisons

There are nearly 400 mutually unintelligible languages spoken in the United States (Ryan, 2013). Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, and Laredo and San Antonio, Texas, have the highest percentage of non–English-speaking households and are cited as cities chronically plagued by gangs. States with the largest prison populations—California, Texas, and Florida—have the highest percentage of non–English-speaking households (Carson, 2018). Non-literacy is a potent indicator of sociocultural inequality and socioeconomic marginality. Breaking the economic and social barrier requires fluency in Standard American English. Illiterate and poorly literate children and adolescents in minority and mainstream communities are a strong indicator that public schools are ill-prepared to teach English- and non–English-speaking students. Approximately 85% of juveniles involved in the court system are functionally illiterate (Tewksbury & Vito, 1994). Gang research has ample opportunity to study literacy as a gang affiliation risk factor.

Social Networks

Social network research has shown that people (actors) connected by relational ties form a social network. Relational ties are an inherent property of the linkage between people, such as friendship and kinship. Social network theory argues that social relations have functions, such as friends offering one another social and economic support. Recurring social interaction creates social structure. Social network theorists argue that the structure of social groups affects individual behavior. Actors in networks are defined by their attributes (sex, age, race), but attributes alone cannot adequately explain group behavior. An analysis of social networks among adolescents and young adult women who claim a gang affiliation living in a neighborhood of concentrated poverty showed that 74 gang women had more than 500 ties to adults and adolescents, including gang and non-gang members (Fleisher, 1998; Papachristos & Kirk, 2015). Relational ties enable mutual social, emotional, and instrumental support (Fleisher, 2009, 2015; Vennstra, Dijkstra, Sleglich, & Van Zalk, 2013).

Social networks of adolescents who call themselves gang members form groups with social structural characteristics that do not differ from non-gang groups (Fleisher & Papachristos, 2010). Sierra-Arevalo and Papachristos (2015) advance a social network cum culture conceptualization of gangs. Gang continuity depends on social interaction. Gangs survive well beyond the participation of a specific set of actors. “Gangs are more than just a collection of individuals. Gangs are a group . . . [which acts] at the supra-individual or collective level” (Sierra-Arevalo & Papachristos, 2015, p. 64). The concept of a supra-individual or collect level of a group heralds back to Kroeber’s 1948 theory of the superorganic nature of culture as patterns of meaning transmitted through ritual symbolism, ceremonies, and rites of passage shared by all cultures: birth, adolescence, marriage, and death. In this application, supra-individual level refers to a network of individuals who share a mutual understanding of group rules (culture) and are linked by ascribed and achieved relational ties, such as kin, friends, or crime partners. Culture adds continuity to gang networks, inferring an intergenerational nature of gangs (Bankston, 1998; Fleisher, 1995) and embedding of gangs within local non-gang networks.

Inside Street Gangs

Two case studies illustrate a supra-individual nature of gangs. The Fremont Hustlers were notorious according to a police department’s gang unit. I saw them in a different light. I saw adolescents injured by parental violence and abandoned to the street, unprotected. The social structure and traditions of families, which ideally afford youth positive transition experiences in their teenage years—school, dances, athletic events, hanging out with friends, family events, birthday parties—were lost. Instead, these adolescents faced gangs, violence, insecurity, instability, and fear. The second case study looks at Hispanic gang members in a suburb of a major metropolitan urban center (Fleisher, 2007). These youth are like those Thrasher saw: immigrants who didn’t feel safe at home or at school and who found a sense of safety on the street among young men like themselves (McPherson, Smith-Lovin, & Cook, 2001). Some committed crimes. Their addictions and mental health problems tell a story like Thrasher’s gang youth a century ago, showing dysfunctional socio-psychological behavior, anathema in their indigenous culture but induced by culture loss.

Fremont Hustlers

The Fremont Hustlers, a Kansas City, Missouri, were a mixed-race and mixed-ethnicity, coed youth gang labeled a violent, drug street gang by the police and local media (Fleisher, 1998). The Fremont Hustlers weren’t a single social entity with a fixed composition of males and females who performed prescribed roles in drug selling. The standard analytic concepts of gang membership, gang member, gang joining, and a gang group did not match the social reality of the Fremont Hustlers (Fleisher, 1998). Week to week, the Fremont Hustlers included some two dozen males and females, but on warm summer weekends the block filled with many dozens of youth who enjoyed the unencumbered freedom of smoking marijuana and drinking alcohol.

The Fremont Hustlers’ dull daily lives seemed endless. Hanging out today mirrored hanging out yesterday. Daily life revolved around standing around street corners or sitting on the porch of a house where young women found safety from aggressive males and physical abuse inflicted by a white father who heard through the street’s grapevine that his white daughter was dating a black man (Fleisher, 2006).

Adolescent males and females sold loose marijuana, joints and blunts (marijuana rolled into cigarette paper), and wet cigarettes dipped into formaldehyde (Fagan, 1990). Drug use until the wee hours of the morning on the weekends and weekdays didn’t interfere with school or employment. No one attended school; no one had job. Drug selling provided sufficient funds to meet their modest needs.

Habitual smokers lit their joints and blunts by mid-afternoon, soon after they awakened from the previous night of hanging out and using drugs. The local neighborhood wasn’t dangerous, except for drunk or stoned Fremont Hustlers who shot high-powered rifles stolen in residential and commercial burglaries. There were occasions when a car full of young men, gangs from different neighborhoods, shot at the house where Fremont youth hung out until the wee hours, beefing over a recent argument over a girlfriend’s wandering attention or an imagined insult. No one was injured.

Fremont Hustlers had no leaders or shot callers, but there were male bullies who abused their girlfriends. Teenaged girls were slapped, punched, kicked, and beaten while other girls looked on. Female onlookers then blamed the victim for instigating her own victimization. No one, male or female, ever rushed to protect a girl who was being pummeled by her boyfriend. But Fremont females said they were safer on the street than at home. Most had escaped from their mother’s house where, if they had stayed, their drunk or drugged father or stepfather or mother’s latest boyfriend would have preyed on them.

An adult male in his early twenties, older than the teenaged Fremont Hustlers, bought illegal drugs from a source outside the city. He sold those drugs to Fremont males and females who sold the drugs on their own (Morselli, Paquet-Clouston, & Provost, 2017). Male drug sellers made their rounds to neighborhoods nearby and served customers who wanted drugs delivered to their door, which was safer than driving around looking for a street corner drug seller or stopping at a drug house known to local folks and police. Drug sellers didn’t share the proceeds of sales, a pattern reported for gangs in other cities (Spergel, 1995). Teenaged girls sold drugs at night on the street near the house where they slept. That temporary home afforded teenaged girls access to a bathtub, a place to store clothing, and respite from the day-to-day havoc in their personal lives.

Law enforcement defined the Fremont Hustlers as a violent drug gang. Looked at another way, they were children and adolescents who were victims of their parents neglect and abuse. They were school dropouts or had been expelled. Some had escaped from juvenile facilities. Many were episodically or literally homeless, sleeping where they found an open door and a bed, eating when someone fed them. Most weren’t hardened criminals. A few had been convicted of murder. Research shows that most adolescent gang members don’t commit crime, and if they do, these are minor offenses (Zatz, 1987). Selling marijuana was their only source of personal income. Teenaged girls who didn’t sell marijuana had boyfriends who did. Sex was the medium of exchange. Sex engendered a boyfriend’s protection against violence by aggressive males and females, but eventually the protector became the aggressor.

Fremont Hustlers talked often about death, dying young before their 18th birthday. Fatalism in gang folklore focused on death likely had its origin when they were children and young teenagers, physically or emotionally abused, abandoned to the street by their parents, where they found themselves lost in a social world inhabited only by youth like themselves whom they relied on for social and emotional support. Thrasher’s contention that gangs can provide adolescents a sense of belonging and safety bears witness. The price for social safety can be life threatening.

Hispanic Gangs

In a metropolitan county in northern Virginia, face-to-face, structured interviews were completed with 50 self-admitted gang members (Fleisher, 2007). These young men were children of immigrant families who had settled in the county in communities among other immigrants. Interviews did not ask for information about their parents’ pathways to the United States or their immigration status. Their families had emigrated from Central America, Cuba, Mexico, and South America. These gang members were born in America and were reared in bilingual households; most didn’t speak Spanish. Interviews were conducted in English in parole and probation offices. One interview was conducted in Spanish with a mid-twenties MS13 gang member awaiting deportation. Among all these young men, the MS13 male was a violent gangster in the eyes of law enforcement.

Northern Virginian self-proclaimed gang members belonged to local gangs: 9 Deuce Crips; 18th Street; Black Descendant Mafia; Ghost Face Crips; La Familia Loca (Latin Homies); Little Locos, MS13, Rukas Locas, South Side Locos; and Straight Crazies. Several who claimed affiliation with the Crips didn’t know that Crips were a notorious black gang that originated in southern California decades earlier. They adopted the coolest gang name.

These young men started hanging out when they were younger than age 13. By age 17, they all had self-reported committing crime (Bursick & Curry, 2000). Hanging out was their primary activity. They passed time by standing around and talking, walking, sitting on stoops, watching television, smoking marijuana, and drinking liquor. Attending school was an afterthought. They, like the Fremont Hustlers, were hanging out until the wee hours, smoking and drinking. Waking up early to catch a bus or a ride to school didn’t fit their lifestyle, but nearly all said they attended school, on and off, at least for a while. They admitted that gang life had no productive future, and they knew the streets offered no productive way out.

The pattern of social interaction among these gang members confirms other gang research: each gang member had friends who were fellow gang members and had non-gang friends. A friend was merely someone they knew on the street. Sharing gang affiliation or committing crime with fellow gang members did not confer a friendship bond. Most of their social life (i.e., non-criminal activity) occurred with non-gang friends. They clearly understood the nature of friendship. A friend was a casual acquaintance. A close friend was someone they trusted. A best friend was someone with whom they shared personal information. Each gang member reported having many more friends than close or best friends. A few had one best friend; a few had two best friends; most had no best friends.

They knew their school performance had been adversely affected by alcohol and drug use. The circumstances of their offense, they didn’t want to discuss. They talked freely about drug and alcohol use. In the 90 days prior to the day of their interview, nearly half said they had used alcohol on more than 40 occasions; over half reported smoking marijuana more than 40 times. A few reported using crack cocaine, heroin, or ecstasy. More than half said they had received treatment for drug and alcohol abuse or drug abuse and mental health issues. But since most were or had been on probation and a few had been or were on parole, treatment was likely court-ordered drug and mental health treatment.

Few succeeded in school; most had been expelled or suspended or dropped out. They self-reported their disruptive and violent behavior at school. Some sold illegal drugs at school. Some reported getting into fights in school with other students. Some attacked teachers. A few reported carrying weapons in school, for self-defense, they said.

Their gangs were loosely organized, unsocial groups. Most had mothers and fathers who had been to jail or prison. These adolescents were reared in deviant or disorganized, low-income immigrant families. Immigrant communities’ social isolation in the broader region was reinforced by cultural and language boundaries. Most said they didn’t read or write well. They had no ideas about employment. “Gotta be crazy to hire me,” said a young man. These young men were a bunch of adolescents huddled together with others like themselves. Their gangs were a social safety net, analogous to the adolescent gangs Thrasher and his contemporaries witnessed a century earlier: These ethnic and racial adolescents were trapped outside mainstream society and pushed to the edge of their native culture (McGloin, 2005).

Key Points

Sociologists, anthropologists, social psychologists, and psychologists offer complementary theories of the rise of gangs as an effect of industrialization, modernization, and cultural clashes between a dominant and subordinate culture. Social researchers since the early 1900s describe the clash of cultures’ adverse influences on normative cultural patterns guiding adolescents into cultural-competent adults. Adolescent gangs attract teenagers and young adults affected by cultural anomie, a loss of socio-psychological security among adolescents trapped between childhood and adulthood. A sign of cultural anomie is deviant behavior. Social psychologists describe formation of groups composed of injured adolescents who exhibit dysfunctional behavior. These adolescents are gang members. While a gang affords these youth social support, gangs expose these youth to street violence. Paradoxically, gangs function as an adaptation claiming youth whose cultures have been eroded by culture conflict and whose families are inoperative.

Further Reading

Curry, G. D., Decker, S. H., & Pyrooz, D. (2003). Confronting gangs: Crime and community. Los Angeles: Roxbury.Find this resource:

    Decker, S. H., & Van Winkle, B. (1996). Life in the gang: Family, friends, and violence. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.Find this resource:

      Decker, S. H., & Weerman, F. M. (Eds.). (2005). European street gangs and troublesome youth groups. Walnut Creek, CA: AltaMira Press.Find this resource:

        Esbensen, F. A., & Huizinga, D. (1993). Gangs, drugs, and delinquency in a survey of urban youth. Criminology, 31(4), 565–589.Find this resource:

          Fleisher, M. S. (1998). Dead end kids: Gang girls and the boys they know. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.Find this resource:

            Fleisher, M. S. (2002). Doing field research on diverse gangs: Interpreting youth gangs as social networks. In C. Ronald Huff (Ed.), Gangs in America III (pp. 199–217). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.Find this resource:

              Fleisher, M. S. (2015). Living black: Social life in an African American neighborhood. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.Find this resource:

                Fleisher, M. S., & Decker, S. H. (2001). An overview of the challenge of prison gangs. Corrections Management Quarterly, 5, 1–9.Find this resource:

                  Fleisher, M. S., & Krienert, J. L. (2004). Life‐course events, social networks, and the emergence of violence among female gang members. Journal of Community Psychology, 32(5), 607–622.Find this resource:

                    Hagan, J., & McCarthy, B. (1998). Mean streets: Youth crime and homelessness. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.Find this resource:

                      Howell, J. C. (1998). Youth gangs: An overview. Washington, DC: US Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.Find this resource:

                        Howell, J. C. (2015). The history of street gangs in the United States: Their origins and transformations. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books.Find this resource:

                          Huff, C. R. (Ed.). (2001). Gangs in America III. Walnut Creek, CA: SAGE.Find this resource:

                            Huff, C. R., & McBride, W. D. (Eds.). (1993). Gangs and the police. In The gang intervention handbook (pp. 401–416). Champaign, IL: U.S. Research Press.Find this resource:

                              Kirk, D. S., & Papachristos, A. V. (2011). Cultural mechanisms and the persistence of neighborhood violence. American Journal of Sociology, 116(4), 1190–1233.Find this resource:

                                Miller, J., & Decker, S. H. (2001). Young women and gang violence: Gender, street offending, and violent victimization in gangs. Justice Quarterly, 18(1), 115–140.Find this resource:

                                  Papachristos, A. V., Hureau, D. M., & Braga, A. A. (2013). The corner and the crew: The influence of geography and social networks on gang violence. American Sociological Review, 78(3), 417–447.Find this resource:

                                    Spergel, I. A. (1995). The youth gang problem: A community approach. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Find this resource:


                                      Bankston, C. L., III. (1998). Youth gangs and the new second generation: A review essay. Aggression and Violent Behavior, 3(1), 35–45.Find this resource:

                                        Bell, C. C., & Jenkins, E. J. (1993). Community violence and children on Chicago’s southside. Psychiatry, 56(1), 46–54.Find this resource:

                                          Bursick, R. J., & Curry, D. (2000) Self-reported gang involvement and officially recorded delinquency. Criminology, 38(4), 1253–1274.Find this resource:

                                            Carson, E. A. (2018). Prisoners in 2016. Washington, DC: Bureau of Justice Statistics.Find this resource:

                                              Cloward, R. A., & Ohlin, L. E. (1960). Delinquency and opportunity: A study of delinquent gangs. New York: Free Press.Find this resource:

                                                Curry, D. (2015). The logic of defining gangs revisited. In S. H. Decker & D. C. Pyrooz (Eds.), The handbook of gangs (pp. 7–27). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.Find this resource:

                                                  Decker, S. H., & Weerman, F. M. (Eds.). (2005). European street gangs and troublesome youth groups. Walnut Creek: AltaMira Press.Find this resource:

                                                    Delaney, C. H. (1995). Rites of passage in adolescence. Adolescence, 30(12), 891–897.Find this resource:

                                                      Devereux, G., & Loeb, E. M. (1943). Antagonistic acculturation. American Sociological Review, 8(2), 133–147.Find this resource:

                                                        DiClemente, R. J., Wingood, G. M., Crosby, R. A., Sionean, C., Cobb, B. K., Harrington, K., . . . Oh, M. K. (2002). Sexual risk behaviors associated with having older sex partners: A study of black adolescent females. Sexually Transmitted Diseases, 29(1), 20–24.Find this resource:

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