Jón Gunnar Bernburg
Originating in the tradition of classical sociology (Durkheim, Merton), anomie theory posits how broad social conditions influence deviant behavior and crime. The French sociologist Émile Durkheim was the first to discuss the concept of anomie as an analytical tool in his 1890s seminal works of sociological theory and method. In these works, anomie, which refers to a widespread lack of commitment to shared values, standards, and rules needed to regulate the behaviors and aspirations of individuals, is an intermediate condition by which social (dis)organization impacts individual distress and deviant behavior. An observant of the massive social changes of 19th-century Europe, Durkheim argued that anomie resulted from rapid social change and the weakening of traditional institutions, in particular the reduced authority of such institutions in the economic sphere, as well as changes in the principles underlying social inequality. A few decades later, the American sociologist Robert Merton re-formulated anomie theory, arguing how a particular malintegration of the culture-structure constitution of modern society produces high rates of crime. Echoing selected themes in Durkheim’s work, and discussing the United States as a prime example, Merton argued how a shared overemphasis on monetary success goals undermines individual commitment to social rules, and generates a particularly acute strain on individuals in disadvantaged social positions. Thus having implications for research on crime rate differences between societies as well as between individuals and groups within the society, anomie theory has inspired a broad range of both macro- and micro-level applications and extensions. On the one hand, the theory has shaped studies of crime rates across large social units, such as countries and metropolitan areas. Such research, while often limited in terms of the types of crime that can reliably be compared across large social units, has linked crime with economic inequality, materialistic values, the institutional dominance of market-driven processes and values, and rapid social change. An important development in this tradition is the advent of multilevel research that links societal factors with individual normlessness, strain, and criminal behavior. On the other hand, micro-level implications of anomie theory, often referred to as classic strain theory, have shaped studies of individual and group differences in criminal behavior within societies. This type of work often studies youths, at times bringing in notions of gangs, subculture, and differential opportunities, focusing on the criminogenic effects of strain stemming from opportunity blockage and relative deprivation. Yet the work rarely examines individual normlessness as an intermediate process linking social structure and delinquency. Finally, anomie theory has been extended and applied to research on business/corporate and white-collar crime. While more research is needed in this area, the extant work suggests how anomie theory provides a particularly powerful explanation of national-level differences in business/corporate crime (e.g., bribery). The article concludes by noting that an increased emphasis on multilevel research may lead to an integration of the macro-level and micro-level extensions and applications of anomie theory in the future.
Jessica Wells and Anthony Walsh
While the roots of criminology largely lie in sociological explanations for crime and delinquency, a resurgence has begun wherein human behavior is explained as a product of both environmental and biological factors: biosocial criminology. Biosocial criminology encompasses many perspectives that seek to explain the relationships between human behavior and genes, evolution, neurobiology, and more. While biosocial criminology does not have a long history in the broader field of criminology, modern advances in technology have made access to data to explore biosocial criminological questions far more readily available. Advanced technology, coupled with studies suggesting that a large proportion of the variance in antisocial behavior is attributable to genetic factors has spurred many criminologists to explore how both nature and nurture influence behavior.
A wide variety of perspectives is apparent within biosocial criminology. These perspectives can be seen as tools to uncover different elements of the equation seeking to understand human behavior. Behavior genetic studies seek to explain what proportion of the variation in a trait or behavior is due to genetic factors. Molecular genetic studies seek to uncover which genes are related to that trait or behavior and how strongly they are associated. Evolutionary psychology seeks to explain why a trait or behavior emerged and remained through the process of natural selection. Neurobiological studies explain how the complex structure and function is related to traits and behavior. While these perspectives vary widely in their approach, one fact remains: neither environmental nor biological explanation for human behavior is sufficient on its own; rather, the complex interplay between environments and biology is critical to advance knowledge about the causes and correlates of criminal and delinquent behavior.
The phenomenon of illegal markets is pervasive. The circulation of illegal goods and services reaches all social segments, crosses national boundaries, and produces enormous revenues. Scholarship has typically addressed issues of illegal exchanges by focusing on criminal organizations, their members’ activities, internal structures, and businesses while leaving the very notion of illegal markets conceptually underdeveloped. Different from organized crime, the notion of “illegal market” compels us to consider the demand side and to investigate the varied ways it relates to the supply side. Following the path opened up by economic sociology scholarship, this article brings illegal markets to the center of the scene in order to develop them conceptually, observe them in a differentiated way, and investigate their relationships with legal structures. From this perspective, the social organization of markets comes to the fore, highlighting such aspects as the formal and informal institutions sustaining illegal markets; the modes of internal coordination that deal with problems such as value, competition, or trust; moral attitudes toward the production, exchange, or consumption of certain products or services; the cultural elements or cognitive dispositions that promote illegal exchanges; the role of state power in defining what is and is not illegal, and thus how it controls certain exchanges; and the role of the enforcement of the law in the emergence, expansion, or extinction of these markets.
Contemporary societies are culturally diverse. This diversity can be the result of different historical and social processes and might affect the uniformity and efficiency of criminal justice systems. Colonization of indigenous populations that started in the 15th century later European colonization of Africa and migration flows following the Second World War have contributed to this diversity in different ways. The growing importance acquired by culture in the criminal law domain went hand in hand with the attention received by it both in the human rights field (especially linked to minority rights) and in the field of sociological and criminological theories.
Nowadays, crimes such as female genital mutilation, forced marriages, and other behaviors grounded in “culture or tradition” form the object of several international human rights instruments and media reports. The way in which criminal justice systems deal with such cases, and more in general with cultural factors, varies greatly. Different instruments have been proposed to allow the consideration of cultural elements within criminal proceedings among which (in common law countries) is the formalization of an autonomous “cultural defense.” However, international human rights instruments, especially those protecting the rights of vulnerable subjects such as women and children, have repeatedly discouraged states to take into account “culture, religion, and tradition” as grounds for justification (see, e.g., the Istanbul Convention).
Criminal proceedings are not the only setting to deal with culture and crime. More recently, the development of alternative dispute resolution mechanisms and restorative justice both within formal and informal (community) settings have given an additional option to take culture into account in the resolution of disputes (in terms of procedures used and normativities in play). Concerns exist with regard to the substantive and procedural rights of participants to these programs. However, these alternatives could represent a way to allow a certain degree of legal pluralism and facilitate access to justice for minority groups.
Robert J. Durán
The study of gangs has emerged alongside the use of a research methodology known as ethnography. Ethnography is based on participant observation and interviews to provide a detailed description of a wide variety of social groups and settings. The researcher is trained to immerse himself or herself into the setting and group of interest and to learn the way participants think and feel. The origins of ethnography date back to W. E. B. Du Bois and the Atlanta School along with the University of Chicago, known as the Chicago School. Gang research began in the 1920s in the city of Chicago with additional studies emerging in Boston, New York City, and Los Angeles. Ethnographic researchers learned to rely on key participants to provide access to social settings and social groups, often very different from those of the researcher. The social work orientation of reaching out to gang members through the use of gang workers allowed researchers the opportunity to obtain additional forms of access. Nevertheless, the principal investigator remained the source for interpretation of the data and results. In the 1970s and 1980s greater awareness developed regarding the role of insiders and outsiders to particular groups and settings. In response, researchers moved ethnography into one of three strands of discovery: (1) cultivating an outsider role to present a non-threatening presence; (2) working in collaboration with gang members; and (3) attempting to nurture an insider status through enhanced membership roles. Contemporary gang ethnographies have moved toward utilizing mixed methodological designs as highlighted by the Eurogang program and more critically approached strategies emerging in the United States. In addition, research in Latin America has provided a greater form of reflexivity as primarily white researchers have outlined their initial standing in the community and how they have worked to develop rapport. Ethnography continues to be of importance for the study of gangs but has increasingly become more conscious as toward how personal biographies and backgrounds shape the data collection process. In so doing, ethnography has become more focused on reducing bias and increasing ethical forms of justice.
Lauren Magee and Chris Melde
Street gangs have been the focus of attention for over a century, largely due to their reputation for involvement in illegal activities, especially violence. Indeed, gangs use this reputation for violence as a means of survival, as they seek to intimidate others in order to protect their members from attacks from rival gangs, and to limit the willingness of community members to cooperate with law enforcement officials. Research on the nature of these groups suggests they thrive in marginalized communities, where there are high rates of poverty, family instability, and limited institutional support. Much of the information on street gangs stems from data collected in the United States, but these groups have been documented across the globe in not insignificant numbers. While gangs certainly differ in their structure and organizational capacity, these groups are routinely associated with a disproportionate involvement in delinquent and criminal acts at the local level. Perhaps most concerning, gangs and gang members are known to be associated with substantially higher rates of interpersonal violence, including homicide, than non-gang-involved persons. From a developmental perspective, even brief periods of gang membership have been found to have negative consequences across the early portion of the life course, including reduced educational attainment, lower income, family instability, and a higher likelihood of arrest and incarceration. Overall, the negative effects gangs have on communities appears to outweigh any of the short-term benefits these groups provide their members.
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.
David C. Pyrooz and Richard K. Moule, Jr.
It was once presumed that costs of Internet adoption were too great for gang members to absorb. They lacked the financial resources to access the Internet or the technological know-how to use it. That is no longer the case, which leads to two questions: What are gang members doing online? What are the responses to gangs online? The growing research on this topic indicates that gang members are online and using the Internet at a rate comparable to their peers. This occurs in the United States and abroad. Gangs do not exploit the Internet to its criminal potential, even though the law enforcement community suggests otherwise. This is most likely due to the low technological capacities of gang members. However, gang members do engage in higher rates of crime and deviance online than their non-gang peers. Gang members also use the Internet to posture, provoke, and project group power, particularly on leading social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, which in turn allows activities occurring online to have ramifications for crime and violence offline. It is debatable whether online space is as important to gangs as physical space, but the Internet is undoubtedly a valuable medium to gangs. The potential for conflict and the posting of gang images has attracted the attention of law enforcement as well as researchers to document this activity. Platforms are being developed to anticipate the spilling of online gang conflicts offline. Since the Internet is a value-neutral medium that engages youth and young adults, it is anticipated that social media and the Internet will continue to appeal to gangs and gang members for the foreseeable future.
Haley Bullard and Shannon Reid
Much of the ongoing concern about the presence of gangs and gang members in the community has to do with the association between street gangs and violence. Decades of research on street gangs demonstrates the complexity of the violent perpetration and victimization of gang members. Although the violence attributed to gang members reached its peak in the late 1980s and early 1990s, gang members continue to be disproportionately involved in violence, both as perpetrators and victims. Understanding gang violence requires careful consideration of the overlapping and intersecting relationships between violence and gang identity, victimization, perpetration, gender, and space. Violence plays an important role in the creation and maintenance of gang identity. Research on violence participation by gang members has demonstrated that gang violence can have both symbolic and instrumental purposes, and that this violence helps the gang build a collective identity and makes violence more normative. Despite some continued misconceptions about the role of female gang members and their presence in gangs, women make up a substantial portion of gang members, and any discussion of the relationship between gangs and violence must also consider the impact of gender on violence participation and victimization. Both male and female gang members are impacted by violence, but levels of participation and types of risk can vary by gender. The complex and gendered aspects of gang violence can make the prevention, intervention, and suppression of gang violence difficult tasks for law enforcement and policymakers. There are a range of perspectives on how best to reduce gang violence. Some researchers advocate early prevention programs to keep youth from joining gangs; others focus on ways to pull youth out of gangs at critical moments, such as when they enter emergency services. Other programs and policies are aimed at reducing gang violence that is ongoing in the community. These programs, such as Operation Ceasefire and Project Safe Neighborhoods, have utilized a focused deterrence framework to curb gang violence. All of these programs are aimed at reducing the amount of violence gang members participate in an attempt to minimize the risk of future violent victimization. Research on gang violence continues to grow and includes new avenues of research. The utilization of innovative methodologies, such as social network analysis, and new areas of research, such as examining the impact of social media on gang violence, continue to advance our knowledge of gang violence and its causes, correlates, and impact.
Sex and gender are often conflated, but there are important distinctions between the two. This is true also with terms related to gender identity, including masculinities and femininities or the performance of gender. In addition, the terms gang and gang member are contested, so it is important to establish a basis for understanding these terms in order to discuss the relationships between gender and gang involvement. Historically, gang-involved young women and men were described in terms of gender extremes, with scholarship and journalistic accounts focusing on the perceived aggressive masculinity of lower class males—and the deviant sexuality of females, who were rarely seen as legitimate full-fledged members of those groups. By the 1980s and 1990s, young women were recognized in scholarship as “real” gang members, and qualitative researchers sought to provide voice to them and examine issues of gender and gender dynamics in gangs, while quantitative researchers sought to explore similarities and differences between girls and boys in gangs, often through large scale studies using self-report surveys of adolescents. Feminist criminology and burgeoning queer criminology have pushed and blurred the boundaries of gender and gang involvement, asserting the importance of taking into account multiple, intersecting identities that differentially structure the experiences of young people, and of the troubling heteronormative, heterosexist, and cisgendered assumptions that have permeated criminology. Moving away from these assumptions means accounting, for example, not only for gender but also for the multiplicative effects of race, ethnicity, class, sexuality, ability, etc.; it means considering what the presence of young women in stereotypically hypermasculine environments signifies for gender performance, moving away from assumptions of opposite sex attraction that cast females in supportive and dependent roles with males, and accounting for the experiences of gang members who identify outside gender and sexual orientation binaries. These issues provide fruitful avenues for sensitive and productive future scholarship on gender and gang involvement.
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.
Mark S. Fleisher
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.
In the context of crime, victimization, and immigration in the United States, research shows that people are afraid of immigrants because they think immigrants are a threat to their safety and engage in many violent and property crimes. However, quantitative research has consistently shown that being foreign born is negatively associated with crime overall and is not significantly associated with committing either violent or property crime. If an undocumented immigrant is arrested for a criminal offense, it tends to be for a misdemeanor. Researchers suggest that undocumented immigrants may be less likely to engage in serious criminal offending behavior because they seek to earn money and not to draw attention to themselves. Additionally, immigrants who have access to social services are less likely to engage in crime than those who live in communities where such access is not available. In regard to victimization, immigrants are more likely to be victims of crime. Foreign-born victims of crime may not report their victimization because of fears that they will experience negative consequences if they contact the police. Recently, concern about immigration and victimization has turned to refugees who are at risk of harm from traffickers, who warehouse them, threaten them, and physically abuse them with impunity. More research is needed on the relationship among immigration, offending, and victimization. The United States and other nations that focus on border security may be misplacing their efforts during global crises that result in forced migrations. Poverty and war, among other social conditions that would “encourage” a person to leave their homeland in search of a better life, should be addressed by governments when enforcing immigration laws and policy.
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.
James M. Binnall and Maryanne Alderson
Reentry is the process of ending a period of incarceration, leaving jail or prison, and returning to society. Not to be confused with reintegration or recidivism, reentry is not a measure of success or failure. Instead, reentry is a journey, and no two reentries are analogous. The reentry process is individualized and highly dependent on a number of factors including a reentering individual’s sentence structure, incarceration experience, and postrelease resources. Depending on these factors, a reentering individual may find his or her return to the free world a relatively smooth transition or a task riddled with seemingly insurmountable obstacles. To navigate such obstacles, most reentering individuals need assistance. Traditionally, reentry assistance was provided by the state, through correctional programming in prison or by parole authorities tasked with monitoring a reentering individual postrelease. In recent years, nonprofit and faith-based organizations have increasingly been a part of innovative reentry initiatives. There has also been a recent expansion of Internet-based reentry resources, such as reentry.net and exoffenders.net, which allow those experiencing reentry to obtain reentry resources online.
Reentry initiatives typically take two forms: deficit-based and strengths-based. Deficit-based reentry models use actuarial assessments to identify a reentering individual’s criminogenic risks and needs. In theory, deficit-based models then address those risks and needs through measured, tailored responses. Critics of deficit-based models argue that by focusing only on risks and needs, such approaches overlook reentering individuals’ talents and skills. Acknowledging these criticisms, many reentry initiatives have shifted away from the traditional deficits-centered model of reentry and toward a strengths-based approach. Rather than focusing on the risks and needs of a reentering individual, strengths-based approaches highlight the attributes of reentering individuals and draw on the experiences of former offenders who have successfully navigated their own reentry and best understand the pitfalls of the process. Recent, albeit limited empirical and experiential evidence supports the strength-based approach to reentry, suggesting that the concerns and insights of those who have been directly impacted by the criminal justice system make the transition from incarceration to freedom a smoother one.