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Timothy R. Lauger

Street gangs are, by definition, social groups that contain patterns of interactions between gang members, associates, and other gangs in their social environment. The structure and content of these interaction patterns, or group processes, are essential for both understanding gang life and explaining collective and individual behavior. For example, variations in organizational sophistication, internal cohesion, and individual-level social integration influence the day-to-day experiences of gang members and can affect criminal behavior. Social ties between gang members are also mediums for street socialization and the development and/or transmission of gang culture. As prospective gang members age and become exposed to street life, they gravitate to peers and collectively learn about how to negotiate their social environment. They connect to other gang members and model the gang’s ideals to become accepted by the group. Routine interactions in the gang communicate the nuances of gang culture and explain the group’s expectations for violent behavior. These lessons are reinforced when conflicts with other groups arise and contentious interactions escalate into serious threats or actual violence. Cultural meanings developed in the gang can alter how a member perceives social situations, various social roles (e.g., gender roles), and his or her sense of self. Interactions within the gang develop the gang’s collective identity, which becomes an ideal standard for members to pursue. Gang members perform this idealized notion of “gang member” in public settings, often acting as if they are capable of extreme violence. For some members these performances may be fleeting and largely disconnected from the ideals to which they truly aspire, while others may fully embrace the ideals of the gang. Such variation is contingent on social processes within the gang and how socially integrated an individual is to other members. Researching social processes within gangs provides a wealth of information about how life in the gang influences gang member behavior.


Andrzej Zieleniec

Graffiti has a long history. There are many examples from the history of human cultures of signs and symbols left on walls as remnants of human presence. However, the origins of modern graffiti reside in the explosion of creative activity associated with the development of urban cultural expression among marginalized individuals, groups, and communities in the United States in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Graffiti has expanded in form and content as well as geography to become an almost universal urban phenomenon. It is a ubiquitous feature of cities and an adornment of the modern urban landscape. It has developed beyond its original expression and identification with lettering and spray paint to now encompass a range of media and practices that are associated with street art. Graffiti in particular, but also street art, has engendered contrasting opinions and reactions about its effect, meaning, and value. It elicits a variety of responses both positive and negative. Is it art or is it crime? Is it a creative expression or resistance to dominant urban design discourses and management? Is it vandalism? Is it the result of deviant youthful and antisocial behavior? It has been linked to urban decay and community decline as well as regeneration and gentrification. Graffiti writers and street artists have been criminalized, while others have been lauded and promoted within the commodified world of the art market. The popularity and spread of graffiti as a global phenomenon have led to an increasing academic, artistic, and practitioner literature on graffiti that covers a range of issues, perspectives, and approaches (identity, youth, subculture, gender, antisocial behavior, vandalism, gangs, territoriality, policing and crime, urban art, aesthetics, commodification, etc.). The worlds of graffiti and street art are therefore complex and have provoked debate, conflict and response from those who view them as forms of urban blight as well as from those who perceive them as an expression of (sub)cultural creativity and representative of urban vibrancy and dynamism. The study of who does graffiti and street art, as well as why, where, and when they do graffiti and street art, can help develop our understanding of the competing and contrasting experiences and uses of the city, of urban space, of culture, of design, and of governance. Graffiti is therefore also the focus for social policy initiatives aimed at youth and urban/community regeneration as well as the development and exercise of criminal justice strategies.


Alistair Fraser and Elke Van Hellemont

It has been a century since Frederic Thrasher researched his pioneering text on youth gangs in Chicago. In it he depicts gangs as a street-based phenomenon that emerged from the combined forces of urbanization, migration, and industrialization—with new migrant groups seeking to find a toehold on the American Dream. Gangs were discrete and highly localized, drawing on names from popular culture and the neighborhood, seeking ways to survive and thrive amid the disorganization of the emerging city. In the 21st century, street gangs have been identified in urban contexts all over the world and have become increasingly viewed as a transnational phenomenon that is qualitatively different from Thrasher’s neighborhood groups. Processes of globalization have created a degree of flow and connectedness to urban life that is unlike any other stage in human history. Yet a close reading of Thrasher shows that some of the key themes in the study of gangs in a global context—urban exclusion, grey economies, human mobility, and cultural flow—were presaged in Thrasher’s work. In a global era, however, these processes have intensified, amplified, and extended in ways that could not have been predicted. We elaborate the spatial, economic, social, cultural, and technological implications of globalization for gangs across five principle areas: (1) Gangs in the Global City; (2) Gangs, Illicit Markets, and the Global Criminal Economy; (3) Mobility, Crimmigration, and the “Transnational Gang”; (4) Gangs and Glocalization; and (5) The Gang Mediascape. Taken together, these themes seek to offer both a conceptual vocabulary and empirical foundation for new and innovative studies of gangs and globalization. Empirical evidences from Europe, the United States, and beyond, emphasize the uneven impacts of globalization and the ways in which national and cultural dynamics are implicated in the study of gangs in the 21st century.