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Group Processes Within Gangs

Summary and Keywords

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.

Keywords: street gangs, group processes, violence, culture, identity, street socialization

Street gangs are a type of social group that is both remarkably common and significantly unique. Gang member interactions are patterned in ways that are consistent with other collectivities, ranging from unstructured small groups to more formal organizations and from cohesive groups to relatively disconnected networks. They are also subject to common interpersonal and group processes that influence collective and individual member behavior. Gang members hang out, converse, tell stories, gossip, party, and engage in an array of other age-appropriate activities typical to group life. The parallels between gangs and other types of social organization provide opportunities to borrow ideas from other disciplines to better understand how group processes in street gangs interrelate with behavior. Researchers have utilized ideas from the literatures on social movements, organizational theory, social networks, adolescent development, small group socialization, and other disciplines to better understand life in the gang (e.g., Bolden, 2012; Fleisher, 2005; Lauger, 2012, 2014; Vigil, 1988, 1991; Wood, 2014).

Despite sharing some similarities with other types of social groups, street gangs are also categorically different. Scholars have historically struggled to distinguish gangs from other groups through the establishment of a proper gang definition, a challenge that has led to numerous disagreements and public debates (e.g., Ball & Curry, 1995; Klein & Maxson, 2010). The inclusion of criminal behavior as a defining characteristic of gang life is a salient point of contention. Definitions lacking this element are often too broad while those relying on criminal activity risk tautology when used as a basis for research. A relatively recent collection of scholars attempted to resolve this dilemma by developing the widely accepted Eurogang definition, which states “a gang is any durable, street-oriented youth group whose involvement in illegal activity is part of its group identity (Klein & Maxson, 2010, p. 4).” One of the unique features about gangs, relative to other youth groups, is not participation in criminal activity, though they do engage in high levels of crime, but that such behavior becomes a noted feature of group life for members of the gang. They define themselves and advertise their capacity for engaging in criminal behavior and often create a name that highlights their participation in criminal activity. Other types of groups may participate in varying levels of criminal activities, but their collective identity is grounded in other things, like sports, political movements, or Greek life on campus, rather than crime. Although aspects of group life are similar for street gangs and other types of groups, gangs do have some unique features and processes that make them distinct.

Group processes include both structural characteristics, or the patterning of interactions between group members, and the content of those interactions. Although group processes vary between gangs, allowing scholars to examine how such variation leads to different behavior, cross-gang similarities remain substantial (Klein, 2014). Some elements of gang life appear consistent enough so that scholars can make strong statements about gang life in general. Given that criminologists are centrally concerned with explaining crime, most of the literature and most of this review focuses on the relationship between gangs, group processes, and criminal/violent behavior. Overstating the role of group processes on gang life and member behavior is difficult, as members routinely interact with each other and often spend significant parts of their lives together. Indeed, Klein, after fifty years of gang research, concluded that, “in the street gang world, group process trumps all” (2014, p. 703).

The Influence of Group Processes in Gangs

Gang scholars have historically assumed that group life and group processes produce an array of behaviors, especially crime. Thrasher’s (1927) seminal work established a foundation for understanding group processes and the features of group life that may influence individual and collective behavior. Gangs begin as neighborhood playgroups but evolve when conflicts intensify between rival groups, increasing solidarity between members and reinforcing their need to fight. The resulting social system of gangs, which includes leadership structures, size, social roles, division of labor, status, internal systems of control, and group-specific social codes, contribute to behavioral patterns of gang members. These elements of group life are potentially important for explaining both how gang life influences member behavior and why collective behavior may differ between gangs. Ensuing research, which was not extensive, attempted to better understand how some of these structural or process-oriented features of group life functioned. For example, some scholars examined how leadership emerged in gangs and how it might influence member behavior. Homans (1951), relying on the research of Whyte (1943), argued that individuals who closely reflect the idealized norms of the group will have a higher social rank than those who do not, and their sentiments are taken more seriously than individuals with lower status. Gang members are also more likely to interact with other members of equal rank, but higher-ranking individuals are able to initiate interactions with a larger number of gang members. Short and Strodtbeck (1965) argued that leadership is a key factor for gang violence, as threats to the status of a gang leader cause him (or her) to instigate conflicts with other groups. This early research modeled how to examine both the source and influence of group processes in gangs.

Yablonsky (1959, 1967) challenged the prevailing sentiment of his day by suggesting that gangs, along with their group processes, are caused by the psychological makeup of members. Some urban youth experience “defective socialization” during their formative years, which leads to psychopathic tendencies and behavior. They are disruptive in “normal” social settings, often because of criminal activity, and eventually become isolated from law-abiding peers. Street gangs are an alternative social system that attracts psychologically disturbed youth. Gangs are neither organized, cohesive groups nor chaotic mobs, but “near-groups” that lack cohesion, agreed-upon norms, clear expectations, consistent roles, membership, and leadership. Near-group structures provide psychopathic youth opportunities for social achievement without too many social constraints. The most disturbed youth become core members of the gang and gain their psychological worth from the gang. Marginal or peripheral members participate on an “as needed basis” and/or reengage the gang when opportunities to partake in violence arise. Leadership is an ever-shifting concept invoked by specific individuals when they need the psychological satisfaction that the somewhat arbitrary label provides at the time. Although most scholars argued that group processes influenced individual and collective behavior, thereby producing crime, Yablonsky argued that criminal/disruptive behavior caused gangs.

Some early research examined the connection between gangs and delinquency (Miller, 1966), but most gang scholarship through the 1980s was theoretical, leading Hagedorn to point out there was “too much theory [and] too few facts” (1998, p. 26). The ensuing decades witnessed a substantial growth in the empirical literature on gangs, which generally confirmed a correlation between gangs and delinquency. Self-identified gang members are more likely than their peers to engage in violence, carry weapons, and become victims of violence (Bjerregaard & Lizotte, 1995; Esbensen, Huizinga, & Weiher, 1993; Esbensen & Weerman, 2005; Melde, Taylor, & Esbensen, 2009; Pyrooz, Turanovic, Decker, & Wu, 2016; Taylor, 2008; Taylor, Peterson, Esbensen, & Freng, 2007), but the relationship between gangs and drug dealing is less clear (e.g., Bjearegaard, 2010), and accounts about how gang members deal drugs substantially differ (Decker & Van Winkle, 1994; Levitt & Venkatesh, 2000). Scholars have also found no evidence that gang members are prone to psychopathology, which undermines the claims of Yablonsky’s original theory (Valdez, Caplan, & Codina, 2000). Yet, without clear evidence that group processes contributed to criminal behavior, such a connection only remains a reasonable assumption.

Researchers found such evidence by studying the relationship between gang membership and delinquency over time. Thornberry and colleagues (1993, 2003) presented three models that depicted the possible temporal order between gang membership and higher rates of offending (see Figures 1, 2, and 3). The selection model predicts that relative to peers, as Yablonsky (1959) suggested, gang members demonstrate high rates of offending before, during, and after gang membership. Becoming a gang member does not then causally influence criminal behavior, which would minimize the importance of group processes on crime. By contrast, the facilitation model predicts that gang members offend at rates similar to their peers until they join the gang, after which their offending substantially increases for as long as they stay in a gang. Support for this model implies that life in the gang, including the role of group processes, is a primary reason for gang member delinquency. The enhancement model is a combination of the first two: gang members have elevated levels of criminal activity before joining, which intensify after they join. In this case a selection effect may exist, but group processes also remain influential.

Group Processes Within Gangs

Figure 1. Selection model.

Group Processes Within Gangs

Figure 2. Facilitation model.

Group Processes Within Gangs

Figure 3. Enhancement model.

Research supports the facilitation and enhancement models rather than the selection model (Esbensen & Huizinga, 1993; Gatti, Tremblay, Vitaro, & McDuff, 2005; Gordon et al., 2004; Lacourse, Nagin, Tremblay, Vitaro, & Claes, 2003, Thornberry, Krohn, Lizotte, & Wiershem, 1993; Thornberry, Krohn, Lizotte, Smith, & Tobin, 2003). Gang members offend at rates similar to or higher than their peers before joining a gang, but criminal activity substantially increases after they join and continues after they leave the gang (Melde & Esbensen, 2014). This effect is especially pronounced for violent offending (Melde & Esbensen, 2013). Although there may be a selection effect for joining a gang, perhaps caused by the elevated participation in street life before gang membership (e.g., Densley, 2012), research suggests that life in the gang directly influences individual-level participation in criminal activity. Group processes should be a salient concern for scholars who desire to better understand the relationship between street gangs and criminal activity.

Gang Structure and Behavior

Important variations exist between gangs, and noting these differences can provide insight into how group processes influence behavior. Some attempts to explain such variation rely on behavioral typologies, offering intriguing descriptions of gang behavior, but they are typically not accompanied by an explanation about how gang processes lead to such behavior (see Cloward & Ohlin, 1960; Kobrin, Puntil, & Peluso, 1967; Fagan, 1989). Structural typologies, by contrast, identify different patterns of interaction within gangs and provide an opportunity to examine how structural characteristics relate to member behavior. Differences in gang structures may help explain variations in criminal behavior.

Again building on work of Thrasher (1927), scholars have distinguished between two gang typologies, both of which represent extreme ends of a continuum, differentiated by their degree of organizational sophistication (Decker, Bynum, & Weisel, 1998; Decker, Katz, & Webb, 2008). First, some researchers have identified instrumental–rational gangs, or highly organized collectivities, that operate in pursuit of specific goals (e.g., Densley, 2014; Padilla, 1992; Sanchez-Jankowski, 1991; Venkatesh, 2000). Individual members are instruments that operate within the constraints of the gang’s formally established hierarchy. These gangs are heavily involved in underground economies and integrate corporate structures and strategies to increase the gang’s economic profit (e.g., Densley, 2014; Levitt & Venkatesh, 2000; Venkatesh, 2000). A rough description of an instrumental–rational gang would include top-down ordering of drug sales, violence, and other criminal activities. Lower-level members pay weekly dues and some may have weekly drug sale quotas. Although the lower-level members may make roughly minimum wage for their services, the upper-level members make good money relative to what the job market has to offer (Levitt & Venkatesh, 2000). These groups also have clear rules, roles, leadership structure, and a division of labor. Collective and individual behavior is purposefully organized around clearly established means-goals relationships.

The second typology depicts street gangs as informal networks of youth whose members generally act on behalf of themselves rather than the collective unit (e.g., Hagedorn, 1998; Klein, Maxson, & Cunningham, 1991). Klein suggests that these gangs are like amoebas, as their “form can flow in a number of directions, toward higher and lower cohesiveness, broader and narrower focus in crime, more or less defined leadership, greater and fewer connections with crime figures, and so on” (1995, p. 128). Hallsworth (2013) takes this idea a step further by comparing gangs to rhizomatic plant structures that lack essences and are instead systems of meandering and unpredictably moving elements that never form a cohesive structure. Each gang member is, therefore, an urban nomad who restlessly moves about social space. The criminal activities of gang members are similarly disorganized, “Street gangs seem aimless . . . Street gang members get into any and every kind of trouble. It’s cafeteria-style crime – a little of this, a touch of that, two attempts at something else” (Klein, 1995, p. 22). Members of these gangs are involved in criminal acts, yet gang leaders do not dictate their actions, and they are not a part of complex collective action.

Klein and Maxson (2010) developed a more nuanced typology by surveying police organizations in 201 cities about the structural characteristics of local gangs (see Table 1). Significant differences in size, age (of both gangs and members), structure, territoriality, and criminality existed, leading to the identification of five different types of gangs. Compressed gangs, which are relatively small, have no subgroups, little history, and are not territorial, represent 39% of the sample. By contrast, larger gangs that have subgroups, a lengthy history, and are territorial (traditional gangs) are over three times less common. Types of gangs often dominate within cities so that most cities displayed a tendency to foster a type of gang. Compressed gangs dominated in 43% of cities whereas neotraditional (12%), specialty (7%), traditional (7%), and collective (3%) gangs dominated less frequently. Twenty-eight percent of cities reported not having a distinct type of gang that was noticeably more common than the rest. Klein and Maxson also found that some gangs specialize in criminal behavior, with drugs, graffiti, and assault being the most common form of specialization.

Table 1. Klein and Maxson’s (2010) Structural Typology

Type of Gang

Description of Gang


Large (>100), subgroups, long duration (>20 years), wide age range (20–30 years), territorial, criminal versatility

(11% of sample)


Medium sized (>50), subgroups, short duration (<10 years), territorial, and criminal versatility

(24% of sample)


Small, no subgroups, short duration, short duration, narrow age range (<10 years), criminal versatility

(39% of sample)


Medium sized, no subgroups, medium duration, medium age range, criminal versatility

(9% of sample)


Small, no subgroups, short duration, narrow age range, territorial, criminal specialization

(17% of sample)

Relative to Thrasher’s (1927) seminal work, the literature in the early 21st century has a better understanding of the types of gangs that exist and the structural characteristics that both vary and may influence behavior. A significant challenge for researchers is to better understand how variations in features of group life (roles, rules, leadership, cohesion, size, etc.) of different types of gangs influence both collective and individual behavior. The rational–instrumental gang typology is conceptually useful, as it potentially explains the collective action of gangs, along with the actions of their members through the idea of structural control. A hierarchical model of social organization dictates the behaviors of members: leaders order and line-level members follow accordingly. However, this typology seems to be the exception and not the rule (Decker et al., 1998; Klein, 1995; Klein & Maxson, 2010). The more commonly found typology of street-gang-as-disorganized-group potentially minimizes the theoretical significance of group structure by deemphasizing the patterned nature of social interaction. By definition, disorganization suggests that an entity is characterized by an absence of systematic functioning so that the internal operations are either random or coherent but not systematically controlled. Without further researching subtle structural differences between gangs, especially those in less organized gangs, scholars risk depicting group processes as unduly chaotic and irrelevant for explaining behavior. Fortunately, scholars have begun to more closely examine how elements of group structure influence criminal behavior.

Gang Organization

A gang’s level of organization influences member participation in criminal behavior, as more organized gangs exhibit higher levels of criminal activity than their disorganized counterparts (Bjerregaard, 2002; Bouchard & Spindler, 2010; Decker, Katz, & Webb, 2008). The reasons for these finding are not yet clear, although some researchers suggest that the evolutionary nature of gang life and competition in the underground economy are important factors. Variations in organizational sophistication may represent stages through which gangs progress, beginning as recreational groups but evolving into criminal, entrepreneurial, and finally organized crime groups. Each stage represents an increased commitment to both criminal activity and using formal incentives to pursue financial goals (Densley, 2014). As gangs persist and enhance their ability to compete in the underground economy, members develop formalized systems of doing business. Money then flows up the hierarchy, creating powerful incentives for low-status gang members to advance to a higher position, yet they face heavy odds against achieving such success (Levitt & Venkatesh, 2000). Competition creates the need for lower-level members to prove themselves worthy of promotion by succeeding in the underground economy and/or by displaying a capacity for violence. Gang members who are successful on the streets have a better chance of moving up the hierarchy.


Even within relatively disorganized gangs, structural features of group life influence behavior. Klein (1971, 1995) argues that cohesiveness, or the degree to which members of a gang routinely interact, is directly related to criminal behavior. Cohesion is both a structural characteristic of a gang that can be measured at any given point in time and a process that ebbs and flows as gang members adjust their social patterns to life circumstances. For example, group cohesion and conflict with other gangs is closely connected (Klein, 1971; Thrasher, 1927) and may be especially important for facilitating contagious violence between gangs. Decker (1996) argues that when a street gang experiences a threat from another gang its members tend to become more cohesive, tightening their interpersonal bonds in case an actual conflict occurs. If a precipitating event reinforces the conflict, gang members are ready to aggressively respond. Their response, which is either a threatening act or an act of violence, then reinforces the need of their counterpart to solidify the group and respond in turn. When violence begets violence, groups remain cohesive and shooting patterns between groups become institutionalized, ricocheting back and forth between groups (Papachristos, 2009).

Not all scholars have agreed about the relationship between cohesiveness and crime. Short and Strodtbeck (1965) suggested that gang leaders initiate or encourage conflicts with other gangs when group cohesiveness is low. Gang violence is then more likely to occur when cohesiveness is low, and it increases group solidarity, which diminishes the need for more conflict. Hughes (2013) used Short and Strodtbeck’s data to examine the relationship between group cohesiveness in gangs and general delinquency, finding no evidence that cohesiveness influences general criminal behavior. She did find, however, that cohesiveness is inversely related to violence and suggested that cohesive gangs may have a greater capacity to control member behavior and discourage reckless violence. Cohesive gangs may also be more effective at deterring aggression from other gangs and are less vulnerable to conflict simply because they convey a unified front. Although scholars agree that cohesiveness is an important structural characteristic of group life (e.g., Klein, 2014), they are not certain about how it affects gang member behavior.

Social Integration

Another approach to studying group structure is to examine individual-level social integration into the group. Scholars have historically identified differences in member participation through the idea of a core–periphery structure, and argued that the closer one is to a gang’s core the more committed he or she is to the gang (Hagedorn, 1998; Klein, 1995; Vigil, 2007). Klein (1971, 1995) originally used network analysis to identify patterns of integration, and developments in network analysis over the last 20 years have allowed for a more nuanced examination of relationships within gang life. Gangs in Newark, NJ, for example, are loosely connected but display pockets of relational cohesion and exhibit a rough core–periphery structure so that some members are closely connected to each other while other members are not (McGloin, 2005). Theoretical statements suggesting that core members, or those who are most invested in the gang and relationally more connected to other members, are more delinquent than peripheral members have found some empirical support (e.g., Esbensen, Winfree, He, & Taylor, 2001; Hughes, 2013). Not all gangs fit the convenient core–periphery structure, as associations may overlap to create a complex web of interactions between gangs and gang members. Gang members in Kansas City and San Antonio associate with individuals who affiliate with different gangs or form smaller cliques comprised of individuals who also claim affiliation to different larger gangs or neighborhoods (Bolden, 2012; Fleisher, 2005). Although such trends have been verified through network analysis and/or ethnographic research, there is little research on how these group structures influence member behavior.

Social integration within an extended gang network also appears to influence participation in and exposure to gun violence. In cities like Boston, Minneapolis, Indianapolis, Cincinnati, Lowell, MA, Stockton, CA, and Newark, NJ violence is concentrated within limited social networks, social groups, or street gangs (Braga, 2008; Chermak & McGarrell, 2004; Engel, Tillyer, & Corsaro, 2011; Kennedy & Braga, 1998; Papachristos, Wilderman, & Roberto, 2015; Tita, Riley, & Greenwood, 2003). The degree to which individuals are integrated into these gangs or violent networks increases their likelihood of exposure to violence. A study in Newark found that the probability of gun violence victimization increases the closer one is relationally to a gang member. Being a gang member increased the odds of shooting victimization by 344%, and being connected to a gang member increased one’s odds by 94% (Papachristos et al., 2015). Within a small Boston community the probability of shooting victimization greatly diminishes the more relationally distant a person is to a shooting victim (Papachristos, Braga, & Hureau, 2012). Such findings indicate that gun violence in urban areas often spreads like an infectious disease transmitting from person to person through direct contact, creating concentrated pockets of victimization (Green, Horel, & Papachristos, 2017).

Desistence from gang life and criminal behavior is also influenced by individual-level social integration within the gang. Specific reasons for wanting to leave the gang range from fatigue, concerns about violence, violent victimization, romantic relationships, having children, and getting a job (Decker & Lauritsen, 2002). Yet, leaving also requires members to detach themselves from the relationships they have with other gang members. This requirement is not motivated by fear of violent reprisal but by an acknowledgment that sustained relationships with active members cause former members to experience ambivalence and fall back into gang life (Bolden, 2013). The more integrated (embedded) members are into the gang’s network the longer the desistance process takes (Pyrooz, Sweeten, & Piquero, 2013) and the more exposed to violence they will be through the process (Pyrooz, Decker, & Webb, 2014). Decker, Pryooz, and Moule (2014) argue that the process of desistence involves the gradual rejection of the gang role or identity, which some members develop during early adolescence and embrace for multiple years. Such roles are reinforced through interactions with other gang members and cutting ties allows for a smoother transition to other roles. Desisting gang members must detach themselves from group processes within the gang to effectively leave gang life.

Gender Composition

Researches have also found that gender composition influences both the social dynamics of gangs and levels of delinquency among members. Gang members in all male or all female gangs report lower levels of offending than those involved with sex- balanced or majority male gangs (Peterson, Miller, & Esbensen, 2001; Peterson, Carson, & Fowler, 2018). Yet, females in majority male gangs are more delinquent when compared to females in sex-balanced gangs, and males in sex-balanced gangs are more delinquent, especially in regards to violence, than males in majority male gangs (Peterson et al., 2018). Victimization trends follow a similar pattern, as males in sex-balanced gangs and females in male-dominated gangs are most likely to be victimized (Peterson et al., 2018). Scholars theorize that such trends reflect male gang member’s reaction to status threats in sex-balanced gangs (Peterson et al., 2001). When gender composition is relatively even, males marginalize female members by discouraging or limiting their participating in “masculine” status-enhancing activities like criminal and/or violent behavior (Miller, 2001). When males dominate the gang, they do not experience status threats and females have more freedom to participate in such activities (Miller & Brunson, 2000).

Group Process and Culture

Structural characteristics of gangs provide insight into patterns of interactions within the gang, but they do not fully communicate how or what ideas get transmitted from person to person or why such attributes facilitate delinquency. Group processes are integral to establishing, reinforcing, and transmitting gang culture, which then influences behavior. Research and theoretical development about gang culture has a rich history that continues into contemporary scholarship. Given that this review cannot comprehensively cover the topic of gang culture, it focuses on the role of group processes for developing or transmitting gang culture, the characteristics of gang culture, and how culture is linked to violence.

Origin and Transmission of Culture: The Role of Social Processes

Scholars generally argue that gang culture is an adaptive response to social structural conditions. Much effort has gone into examining how adolescent adjustment, differential opportunity, status frustration, cultural marginalization, social isolation, social disorganization, and resistance produce underlying conditions for collective adaptation that leads to gang subcultures (Bloch & Neiderhoffer, 1958; Cloward & Ohlin, 1960, Cohen, 1955; Hagedorn, 1998; Horowitz, 1983; Moore, 1991, Sanchez-Jankowski, 1991; Thrasher, 1927, Vigil. 1991). Many of these concepts help explain how underlying conditions foster gangs in some communities and also why the experiences of gang members are different from their non-gang counterparts. Yet, such adaptation occurs within the context of interpersonal communication and group processes, as gang members collaboratively make sense of their circumstances and socialize each other about street and gang life.

Early research and theoretical development lacked in-depth coverage of social processes in gangs, instead focusing on describing gang culture and examining its social structural origins. For example, Cohen (1955) argued, and Cloward and Ohlin (1960) agreed, that interactions, or a conversation of gestures, between like-minded peers allow them to subtly communicate displeasure about their social system and eventually form an oppositional subculture. Neither foundational work extended these ideas to life in the gang. Cohen (1955) briefly and vaguely mentions that group processes are integral to establishing a new system of norms so that members engage in collective behavior that they otherwise would not participate in when alone. He states, “. . . there is a certain chemistry in the group situation itself which engenders that which was not before, that group interaction is a sort of catalyst which releases potentialities not otherwise visible (Cohen, 1955, p. 136). Such observations were not, however, accompanied by detailed descriptions about how interactions between gang members foster unique behavior.

More contemporary scholars argue that developing, maintaining, and transmitting gang culture occurs through street socialization, as gang members (or prospective members) negotiate the daily realities of street life and make sense of their environment through routine interactions with peers (e.g., Stretesky & Pogrebin, 2007; Vigil, 1988, 2002). Faced with multiple forms of marginalization, including poverty, ethnic/culture conflict, cultural repression, inequality, family stress, and so on, and given the opportunity to run the streets at an early age, youth interact with influential peers and learn about surviving on the streets (Horowitz, 1983; Moore, 1991; Vigil, 1991). They make sense of their place in a world in which they do not find much favor and learn how to negotiate street life. According to Vigil (1991) this process begins at a relatively young age when youth begin to participate in life away from home and interact with associates who become trusted friends. Although relationships are initially based in innocuous activities, like sports or general play, they establish social bonds that may later expose previously naïve youth to the logic of the streets. Relationships with older peers or relatives can also expose youth to gang life teaching youth the “ways of the street” and providing them opportunities to engage an array of illicit activities. Tight social bonds create pressure if peers become involved in street/gang life, and friendship comes with the expectation of being loyal while also sharing possessions with and physically defending associates (Vigil, 1991; see also Jones, 2009).

Sometimes groups of youth negotiate street life together at an early age and form a gang when they encounter conflicts with other groups. Other times, youths participate in street life and join preexisting gangs (e.g., Vigil, 1991). In either situation, socialization into gang life typically involves a gradual process of becoming acquainted with and then getting closer to other gang-involved youth (Densley, 2012, 2013; Harding, 2014). Exposure to gangs within one’s family, school, or neighborhood aids this process, but becoming a gang member requires that the gang is familiar with and trusts prospective members. Densley (2012, 2013) highlights the subtle process in which prospective gang members signal to the gang that they are trustworthy and fit what the gang desires. They have to look and act like the gang’s notion of a gang member, and the gang screens prospective members, eliminating from consideration those who do not measure up. Signals range from physical characteristics to neighborhood residence to personal acquaintances, but they also include demonstrating a capacity for violence and the potential for success in criminal endeavors.

These foundational relational processes occur within the context of street life, a hyper-competitive social system that encourages participants, (i.e., gang members) to vie for street capital, which organizes relational and economic power (Harding, 2014). Street capital involves social contacts, symbolic or expressive resources, and cultural competence and combines them to describe how gang members compete in the street environment. Gang members accumulate street capital during social situations in which they or their group abide by the “rules of the street” to build symbolic status (e.g., respect) or by accumulating a greater share of the street economy. Each gang or gang member begins with a small amount of street capital but then must accumulate more to be relevant to other peers. Once it is attained, street capital must be maintained and defended, producing an unceasing competition with other people and other groups. Properly navigating this social system requires an understanding of how to “play the game” (i.e., knowing the rules) and the capacity to rely on associates to successfully compete. Early exposure to the streets informs prospective members how to “play the game,” giving them the capital to signal to gangs their eligibility for membership, but the process of learning about and earning street capital continues throughout gang life.

As gang members negotiate a competitive street environment, they communicate, transmit, and amend gang culture during frequent and routine interactions with peers. Street socialization does not end once gang membership begins. Threat is a common element in gang life, as members are aware that current or past conflicts with other gangs may lead to violence, and members frequently communicate about such possibilities with each other (Decker, 1996; Decker & Van Winkle, 1996). Yet, conversing about such threats or violence occurs more commonly than actual violence, as members spend most of their time engaged in relatively mundane activities that provide ample opportunity for street socialization (Decker & Van Winkle, 1996; Lauger, 2012). For example, gang members gossip about peers, which allows them to develop both personal and group identity in contrast to other peers, groups, or types of people in their social environment (Campbell, 1987). Gossip also allows them to use, define, apply, and explain negative and positive labels that become meaningful in their social milieu. They hear that a rival is “weak,” openly mock that person, and then explain the reasons for and consequences of his or her weakness (Lauger, 2012). Gang members also share violence narratives with each other, highlighting the logical ordering of events that lead to the justifiable use of violence (Lauger, 2014). They communicate with each other about when potentially lethal retaliation is an appropriate response to threatening behavior and often align such aggression to the cultural ideas of authenticity or “being real.” Group life, and the routine social processes that occur in the group, is influenced by the lingering threat or potential threat of violence, and the resulting cultural ideas reflect that concern.

Gang Culture and Violence

Group processes are integral for establishing local gang and group-specific subcultures, and many scholars argue that culture influences criminal behavior. The idea of culture/subculture is, however, complex and involves subtle differences about its definition and the mechanisms that lead to specific behaviors. Early cultural theories defined subculture as a unique normative system that determines the valued ends and/or the preferred means of personal conduct, or as a system of shared values that differs from convention (Berg & Stewart, 2010; see also Cloward & Ohlin, 1960; Cohen, 1955; Miller, 1958; Wolfgang & Ferracuti, 1974). One of the strongest criticisms of early subcultural theories is that they are largely descriptive, using criminal behavior as evidence for the existence of criminal belief systems (Berg &, Stewart, 2010; Costello, 1997). These early works did not carefully examine the relationship between group processes, cultural mechanism, and criminal behavior.

Contemporary scholars maintain the importance of gang norms and values, but they avoid the conceptual mistakes of their predecessors by distinguishing cultural elements from behavior (e.g., Decker & Van Winkle, 1996; Vigil, 2002). Moore (1991) argues the norms of control and loco intersect and at times compete with each other to produce varying levels of violence in Hispanic gangs. Control, the idea that gang members should independently handle situations and act rationally, often causes members to quietly deal with problematic situations. By contrast, loco (crazy) equates unpredictable and often extreme behavior with masculinity, toughness, and reputational advancement (see also Vigil, 2002). Gang members may engage in violent behavior because they and their gang value being loco or crazy; it is goal to pursue. Gangs with norms in favor of being loco produce gang members who value being crazy so that their behavior will be more violent than gang members who value control. Vigil (2002) notes that while symbols, outward appearance, and even structures of gangs vary across different ethnic gangs in Los Angeles, many elements of gang culture remain consistent, especially conceptions of masculinity that align with toughness, the need to defend one’s honor, and the value of being “loco” or “crazy.”

Horowitz (1983) embraces a slightly different conception of culture by arguing that it reflects symbols or “cognitive and moral categories through which group members appraise and evaluate their behavior and that of others” (p. 20). Gang members are exposed to an honor-based code that shapes how they perceive and interpret social situations, especially as it relates to respectful and disrespectful conduct. It emphasizes the “inviolability of one’s manhood,” defines actions that offend, and makes gang members hypersensitive to perceived violations (Horowitz, 1983, p. 80). Yet, gang members experience normative ambiguity in that they are exposed to competing cultural systems and may, therefore, share the same values as conventional society, comfortably navigating most situations. However, culture is “played out” during interpersonal exchanges. Specific situations trigger or activate the idea that a man should defend his honor and that aggressive or violent behavior may be the best way to do this. Each potentially contentious situation is an opportunity to activate culture so that some situations may merit violent reprisal when others do not. Violence is then not a goal to be pursued but a strategy employed during specific situations to defend one’s honor in response to insults (see Horowitz & Schwartz, 1974).

Horowitz’ description of gang culture aligns with what scholars call the cognitive view of culture, which emphasizes the role of perceptual schemas that influence how individuals interpret situations and anticipate future consequences of behavior (e.g., Hannerz, 1969; Harding, 2010; Kirk & Papachristos, 2011). People employ cultural frames that inform them about the meaning of events and cultural scripts, which structure event sequences and allow them to anticipate what will happen next (Harding, 2010; Lauger, 2014). One’s ability to understand and properly navigate a specific social setting is contingent on having access to the requisite “cultural toolkit” (Swidler, 1986). Meaning matters, and gang members must develop an understanding about specific events and event sequences to properly negotiate their cultural milieu. Active gang members will likely interpret situations and anticipate the consequences of behavior differently than non-gang peers, but meanings are derived from local and group context. In Indianapolis, for example, gang members negotiate a local environment in which the notion of a “real” gang member is problematic and contested (Lauger, 2012). Self-defined gang members often converse in ways that highlight the boundaries between legitimate and illegitimate gang members, and they will “do gang” or perform in manner that is consistent with the meaning of gang to avoid the negative consequences that accompany a derisive label. These conversations often focus on violence, expressing a clear patterning of events (a script) that explains when it should and should not be used, and link both action and inaction to meaningful labels like “being real” (Lauger, 2012, 2014). According to Sanders (1994), San Diego gang members understand that engaging in a drive-by shooting is a strategic resource in response to the anticipated potential consequences of ongoing gang conflicts and hostile interactions. Shootings then become the topic of conversation and storytelling, as members regale each other about violent exploits and reinforce the understanding that such events are a logical response to specific types of hostile situations.

Regardless of the exact cultural mechanisms that influence behavior, street gangs are positioned within a broader cultural setting so that many elements of gang culture are similar to local street culture (Mitchell, Fahmy, Pyrooz, & Decker, 2017). Gang members embrace, more intensely than non-gang peers (Matsueda, Melde, Taylor, Freng, & Esbensen, 2013), the code of the street, which is a system of ideas that informs individuals how to negotiate street life, especially as it relates to interpersonal conflict and respect, or gaining the deference that one deserves (Anderson, 1999). Much like the code described Horowitz (1983), the street code informs individuals on how to negotiate relationships and defend masculinity during interpersonal disputes. It aligns toughness with masculinity and respect (honor), and public life is often orchestrated to cultivate well-known reputations for violence, which theoretically protects people from being victimized.

Street culture also involves an array of elements, including, but not limited to, fatalism, legal cynicism, autonomy, and various gender/sex roles that potentially influence criminal behavior (Brezina, Tekin, & Topalli, 2009; Harding, 2010; Kirk & Papachristos, 2011; Miller, 2008; Rosenfeld, Jacobs, & Wright, 2003). Jacobs and Wright (2006) note that violent retaliation in street life is caused by the combination of legal cynicism, autonomy, concerns about status, and a desire for justice. When individuals are victimized in the streets they may be inclined to spurn the legal system and get even through violent retaliation, which can enhance status on the streets. Although violent retaliation occurs outside of gang life, gang members are more prone to engaging in such behavior. Part of the reason for this is that gangs often operate in a highly contentious, even threatening, social environment in which inter-gang conflicts are relatively normal and patterns of conflict between gangs may be longstanding or institutionalized (Decker, 1996; Papachristos, 2009). Ingrained hostility between two gangs can involve a sizable number of individuals, which increases the probability that any single gang member will have a contentious encounter with a member of the other gang. Retaliation may be the most “viable” option when problems arise, and the group may reinforce such sentiments.

Culturally specific conceptions of gender also intersect with violence. Both gang scholars and non-gang scholars have consistently noted that when conceptions of masculinity are connected to toughness, males will feel the need to defend their honor in public settings through violence or threats of violence (Anderson, 1999; Horowitz, 1983; Moore, 1991; Oliver, 1994; Vigil, 2002). Conceptions of femininity also influence women in street life. Young women in high-crime urban communities have to perform different feminine roles to negotiate hostile and potentially violent social situations. They have to “go ghetto,” or display a tough exterior and demonstrate a willingness to fight even when they generally embrace more conventional norms (Jones, 2009). Miller (2001, 2002) argues that female gang members construct identities in opposition to traditional conceptions of femininity and cross gender boundaries to become more like the male members of their gang. Yet they still perform according to traditional female gender stereotypes to avoid being involved in extreme violence. They, in essence, “do female” when they do not want to be involved in a situation and can avoid the negative consequences of backing out of a conflict because males in the group view them as being weaker (see Miller & Decker, 2001). Thus gender becomes a situated transaction to be performed according to the social context.

Street life, and gang life more specifically, is lived out in public spaces where local gathering places like clubs/bars, street corners, and schools become a stage for social performances in which individuals and groups vie for status, reputation, or street capital (Anderson, 1999; Densley, 2013; Harding, 2014; Lauger, 2012; Stretesky & Pogrebin, 2007). Group processes inform gang members about the expectations for public behavior and how to respond to contentious public interactions. When conflicts arise between individuals, both parties reference cultural expectations to anticipate if or when violence may occur. They engage in an interactional transaction, as a perceived insult is matched with another insult, and the exchange may escalate quickly if neither party is willing to back down (e.g., Athens, 2005). Hughes and Short (2005) find that most interpersonal violence between gangs is rooted in norm violations, identity attacks, and retaliation. Such contests are opportunities to dominate an adversary, attain status (street capital), and perform the role of a violent gang member in front of an invested audience (Densley, 2013; Harding, 2014; Hughes & Short, 2005; Lauger, 2012; Stretesky & Pogrebin, 2007). Violence is not inevitable during these transactions, as individuals often back down, find ways to “save face” in the process, and/or are convinced by a third party to “squash” the conflict (Garot, 2010; Jacobs & Wright, 2006), but violence remains a possibility. Even if a situation does not produce immediate violence, hostility may persist between conflicting parties and lead to delayed retaliation (see Jacobs & Wright, 2006) or a series of contentious interactions between the parties that eventually leads to violence (see Lauger, 2012).

Group Process, Identity, and Performances

Descriptions of gang culture identify a degree of consistency between gangs and gang members, but efforts to examine the social psychological influence of the group on the individual are lacking (Wood, 2014). Without considering how group life influences gang members, scholars risk depicting gang members and gang culture as homogenous. Descriptions of gang typologies have existed since the inception of gang research, and contemporary researchers have expanded that research, but recent scholarship has started to explore micro-level differences through the notion of gang identity. How gang members view themselves may be contingent on both how their gang defines itself and how well connected they are to that gang. Social processes and the degree to which an individual is integrated into those processes are essential issues for understanding social psychology street gangs.

Street gangs, like many types of groups, have a collective identity, or a collective sense of “we,” that is developed over time through interactions between group members (Horowitz, 1983; Lauger & Densley, 2018). Collective identity is never fully formed or stagnant, but is instead a process closely linked to ongoing interactions between members as they negotiate their social context (Melucci, 1995; Snow, 2001). Yet, it allows groups to symbolically carve out their place within a social environment and communicate to outsiders what the group (gang) is about. Groups publicly perform in a way that communicates who they are and what they are capable of doing. Collective identity also constructs, reinforces, and communicates group ideals to members while organizing collective action through statements about group activities, ideals, or goals. Such statements can be found in cultural materials, or they become the focus of routine conversations between members (Hermanowicz & Morgan, 1999; Polletta & Jasper, 2001). The formation of a collective identity can become the foundation for collective action, as members of the group reference “who they are” as they encounter situations in the social world.

Historically, the presentation of collective identity has occurred on the street corner or in other settings where peers congregate. Gang members shout out their gang’s name and talk about what their group is and what they can do, reinforcing an image they desire to sell to peers. The public behavior of an individual member or a group of members can represent the entire gang, reinforcing an outward identity that resonates with the surrounding audience. This often involves talking about group exploits, especially violence, in a way that depicts the gang as having an elevated status worthy of respect and fear. Although physical spaces are still “staging areas” for social performances (see Anderson, 1999), social media has also moved such public presentations of self and group onto the “virtual corner” (Lauger & Densley, 2018; Pyrooz, Decker, & Moule, 2015). Gangs have an online presence, often posting images of members that align with idealized local expectations and are designed to distinguish themselves from inferior groups (e.g., Patton, Eschmann, & Butler, 2013; Storrod & Densley, 2017). Gangs and gang members present themselves as crazy and willing to engage in extreme violence if other gangs initiate conflict. They also challenge or threaten other gangs, demonstrating their superiority in their brazen disrespect of other groups.

Convincing performances help gangs build street capital, but, for many gangs, such performances are partially based on myth (Lauger, 2016). Gang members are known to exaggerate violent exploits and scholars who have spent time with gang members often remark that violence is more often a topic of conversation than an actual activity (e.g., Fleisher, 1998; Klein, 1971, 2005). The outward presentation of gangs or gang members can create the impression that a group is larger and more violent than what reality suggests (Felson, 2006). Collective identity performances produce a challenge that involves discerning truth from fiction or myth from reality, which has both empirical and practical implications. Researchers must carefully distinguish objectively occurring events and actual group characteristics from ones that are embellished or fictional. Gang members must assess if other gangs truly resemble the image they promulgate, and the consequences for inaccurate assessments can be severe. The validity of another gang’s or gang member’s public posturing is often a topic of conversation for members of a gang. They assess if the outward identity is authentic, and such evaluations help them evaluate the relative risk of conflicts with the other gang or gang member (Lauger, 2012).

Participation in a group can have a significant impact on a person’s sense of self, especially during adolescence when identity is malleable. Personal identity is a complex concept because it is neither singular nor stable; a person can be multiple things at once and then change as time progresses. Personal identity tends to be a concoction of different roles performed in different settings largely derived from the relative breadth and intensity of one’s personal network (Stryker, 1980). A group’s collective identity can influence a group member’s personal identity, but the nuances about this relationship are contested within the broader (non-gang) literature (Athens, 1994; Hogg, Terry, & White, 1995; Stets & Burke, 2000), and so many issues are not resolved in the gang literature. Gang scholars often argue that gang members engage in identity performances or what Goffman (1959) calls “impression management.” Gang members perform a role in some, but not all, public settings to look like the idealized expectations of a gang member, but such performances may not align with one’s personal identity (Garot, 2010).

Vigil (1988, 1991) offered the first in-depth discussion about gang identity by differentiating a person’s real self from that which he or she pursues (ideal self), fears (feared self), and reveals publically (claimed self). During adolescence, when individuals are experimenting with and trying to understand who they are, gangs become like a surrogate family for some youth. This is especially true for youth who come from unstable and/or abusive households. The gang provides an expression of the member’s ideal self or what an individual pursues. Older, more established members become symbolic representations of group ideals; they model the role that younger members should pursue. Social processes in the gang also establish a clear boundary between members and non-members, which reinforces the defining or ideal attributes for inclusion. As members adopt the cultural practices of the group (e.g., tattoos, manner of dress, and physical posture) and embrace what the gang stands for, individuality is sacrificed for the ideals of the group. If this happens, a member’s real self aligns with both the ideal and claimed self. A gang member’s public behavior will then become consistent with the gang’s ideals (collective identity) and his or her real (internalized) self.

Not all members are equally invested in gang life. Core members are more committed to the gang and have personal identities that align with gang ideals while peripheral members experience cognitive dissonance between the gang’s ideals and their personal identity. Peripheral members’ public behaviors (or claimed self) are motivated more by fear, and so they act like a gang member not to pursue what they genuinely aspire to become but to appease their peers. Integration into the gang influences identity development and the motivation for gang performance or behavior.

Social identity theory provides another formal statement about gang member identity (see Goldman, Giles, & Hogg, 2014; Hennigan & Spanovic, 2012; Hogg et al., 1995; Wood, 2014). It also emphasizes the group’s role in establishing personal identity, but acknowledges that because people are typically involved in multiple groups, their identities are often comprised of many different roles. Group participation is represented by a social category, which is a stereotypical or idealized image of the group/group members that provides meaning to group life. Social categories are typically developed through group processes, although they may also involve more general expectations found in the broader social environment. “Gang member” is, therefore, a social category developed within each specific gang, but it also models stereotypical ideas that exist outside of the gang. Becoming a member of a gang involves identifying with the social category of “gang member.” This changes how a person views him or herself by defining one’s personal identity according to the characteristics of the social category, and it becomes a source of personal esteem. Members not only identify with the gang category but also perform it in social situations so that personal behavior becomes stereotypical of the group when the gang member category is activated in a given context. People embrace multiple social categories due to participating in different types of groups so that each category has varying levels of importance. The salience of the gang identity to a person is contingent on one’s commitment to the gang relative to his or her participation in other groups. It is theoretically possible for a gang member to embrace only one social category and, therefore, “do gang” all the time. The gang identity becomes the core of his or her identity due to a lack of participation in other groups. It is also possible for a gang member to only sporadically perform the gang role in social situations when activating “gang member” becomes advantageous.

Discussion of the Literature: Following in Thrasher’s Footsteps

Group processes have been a focus of gang scholarship since Thrasher’s (1927) seminal study, which provided a foundation for examining an array of different elements of group life. Thrasher argued that street gangs are, by definition, conflict groups, different from casual crowds, spontaneous play groups, families, formal groups, and an array of other collectivities that exist in society. Other types of groups, like a crowd or play group, can become a gang if conflict with other groups becomes an integrative force that fosters group solidarity. Thrasher also identified that gangs vary, and he constructed a basic organizational continuum in which gangs begin as diffuse (amorphous) groups that may evolve into solidified (well-knit) or even conventionalized (formalized gangs) groups. The degree of cohesion and loyalty within the gangs, especially as they deal with conflict, explains differences in the developmental trajectory of groups over time. Gangs also have an informal system of control, as groups have a code that reflects collective sentiments, determines expectations for behavior, establishes a rudimentary status system, and activates mechanisms of formal and informal control.

Research and conceptual development about gangs and group processes over the last 80 years builds on, advances, or amends Thrasher’s observations. Scholars generally acknowledge that gangs are indeed conflict groups, as inter-gang conflict and threat are significant elements that shape the formation of gangs, gang life, and interactional processes within the gang (Decker, 1996; Decker & Van Winkle, 1996). Empirical advancements demonstrate that inter-gang conflict accounts for a disproportionate amount of violence in urban locations (e.g., Engel et al., 2011; Papachristos, 2009) and that relational proximity to gang members increases a person’s risk for violent victimization (Papachristos et al., 2015). Researchers have confirmed that gang members are more likely than their peers to engage in criminal activity, particularly violence (Bjerregaard & Lizotte, 1995; Esbensen & Weerman, 2005; Melde et al., 2009; Pyrooz et al., 2016; Taylor, 2008; Taylor et al., 2007), and such activities increase dramatically after youth join gangs (e.g., Thornberry et al., 1993, 2003). Group processes, or interactions between gang members, partially explain these findings.

Scholars continue to both develop Thrasher’s conception of an organizational continuum and examine the influence of structural variations between gangs (Decker et al., 1998, 2008). Gangs begin as diffuse groups that sporadically and haphazardly engage in criminal activity, exhibiting little to no formal group structure so that leadership is fluid within the gang (e.g., Klein, 1995). Most gangs remain disorganized, but some evolve into more organized entities (e.g., Densley, 2013). Research also indicates that organizational sophistication is associated with higher levels of criminal behavior (Bjerregaard, 2002; Bouchard & Spindler, 2010; Decker, Katz, & Webb, 2008). Individual-level integration into the gang is correlated with criminal activity so that members who are more connected to other gang members engage in more crime (Hughes, 2013). Research is less clear about the influence of group cohesion on criminal activity. Despite convincing arguments that cohesion is directly linked to crime and violence (Decker, 1996; Klein, 1971), some studies find that is not connected to general criminal behavior and inversely related to violence (Hughes, 2013).

Thrasher’s ideas about the “code of the gang” have been substantially advanced through theoretical works that describe various gang cultures and connected them to underlying social structural conditions (e.g., Cohen, 1955; Cloward & Ohlin, 1960; Horowitz, 1983; Miller, 1958; Moore, 1991; Vigil, 1991, 2002). Horowitz (1983) describes an honor-based code that gang members embrace, emphasizing the need to aggressively defend one’s masculinity during interpersonal conflict to maintain a proper reputation and build status within their social environment. This is similar to Anderson’s (1999) street code, which also applies to non-gang members, but appears to be embraced more intensely by gang members (Matsueda et al., 2013). A substantial amount of research has closely examined how culture intersects with group processes to produce crime behavior (e.g., Densley, 2013; Harding, 2014; Lauger, 2012, 2014; Moore, 1991; Vigil, 1991, 2002). In short, gang culture is an adaptive response to adverse social conditions that is developed through street socialization, as gang members interact with each other and engage in routine communicative events. Gang culture is multifaceted, but it informs individuals about gender roles, the nature and meaning of disrespect, justifiable causes and consequences of violence, and a host of other ideas that shape what gang members pursue and how they perceive social events.

The social psychological influence of the gang on its members is an emerging area of research that was not well developed by Thrasher. Gangs embrace a collective identity that communicates to people, both in and outside of the gang, who they are and what they are capable of doing (Horowitz, 1983; Lauger & Densley, 2018). Collective identities are in constant development and performed in public settings that range from the street corner to social networking sites on the Internet. Thus, individual members “do gang” or perform like a gang member for peers, modeling the idealized image of a gang members. Some scholars are dubious that these performances are consistent with person’s sense of self, suggesting instead that individuals play the role of a gang member only in select situations (Garot, 2010). A gang may provide an idealized image of “the gang member” for individuals to emulate, but the degree to which members are invested in pursing that ideal may be contingent on their degree of social integration into the gang, level of commitment to gang life, and how invested they are in other types of social groups (see Hennigan & Spanovic, 2012; Vigil, 1988, 1991). The relationship between gang membership, group ideals, and personal identity merits further exploration.

Further Reading

Decker, S. (1996). Collective and normative features of gang violence. Justice Quarterly, 13, 243–264.Find this resource:

    Decker, S. H., Bynum, T., & Weisel, D. (1998). A tale of two cities: Gangs as organized crime groups. Justice Quarterly, 15, 395–425.Find this resource:

      Decker, S. H., Katz, C. M., & Webb, V.J. (2008). Understanding the black box of gang organization: Implications for involvement in violent crime, drug sales, and violent victimization. Crime and Delinquency, 54, 153–172.Find this resource:

        Densley, J. (2013). How gangs work. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.Find this resource:

          Harding, S. (2014). The street casino: Survival in violent street gangs. Bristol, U.K.: Policy Press.Find this resource:

            Hennigan, K., & Spanovic, M. (2012). Gang dynamics through the lens of social identity theory. In F. A. Esbensen & C. L. Maxson (Eds.), Youth Gangs in international perspective: Results from the Eurogang program of research (pp. 127–149). New York, NY: Springer.Find this resource:

              Homans, G. C. (1951). The Human Group. New York, NY: Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc.Find this resource:

                Horowitz, R. (1983). Honor and the American dream. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.Find this resource:

                  Hughes, L. A. (2013). Group cohesiveness, gang member prestige, and delinquency and violence in Chicago, 1959–1962. Criminology, 51, 759–832.Find this resource:

                    Hughes, L. A., & Short, J. F. (2005). Disputes involving youth street gang members: Micro-social contexts. Criminology, 43, 43–76.Find this resource:

                      Klein, M. W. (1971). Street gangs and street workers. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, Inc.Find this resource:

                        Klein, M. W., & Maxson, C. (2010). Street gang patterns and policy. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.Find this resource:

                          Lauger, T. R. (2012). Real gangstas. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.Find this resource:

                            Papachristos, A. (2009). Murder by structure: Dominance relations and the social structure of gang homicide. American Journal of Sociology, 115, 74–128.Find this resource:

                              Short, J. F., & Strodtbeck, F. L. (1965). Group process and gang delinquency. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.Find this resource:

                                Thornberry, T. P., Krohn, M. D., Lizotte, A. J., Smith, C. A., & Tobin, K. (2003). Gangs and Delinquency in Developmental Perspective. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press.Find this resource:

                                  Thrasher, F. (1927). The Gang. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.Find this resource:

                                    Vigil, J. D. (1988). Group processes and street identity: Adolescent Chicano gang members. Ethos, 14, 421–445.Find this resource:

                                      Vigil, J. D. (1991). Barrio gangs: Street life and identity in Southern California. Austin: University of Texas Press.Find this resource:

                                        Vigil, J. D. (2002). A rainbow of gangs: Street cultures in the mega-city. Austin: University of Texas Press.Find this resource:

                                          Wood, J. L. (2014). Understanding gang membership: The significance of group processes. Group Processes & Intergroup Relations, 17, 710–729.Find this resource:


                                            Anderson, E. (1999). Code of the street: Decency, violence, and the moral life of the inner city. New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company.Find this resource:

                                              Athens, L. (1994). The self as soliloquy. Sociological Quarterly, 35, 521–532.Find this resource:

                                                Athens, L. (2005). Violent engagements, skirmishes, and tiffs. Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, 34, 631–678.Find this resource:

                                                  Ball, R. A., & Curry, G. D. (1995). The logic and definition in criminology: Purposes and methods for defining gangs. Criminology, 33, 225–245.Find this resource:

                                                    Berg, M. T., & Stewart, E. A. (2010). Cultural transmission theory. In J. M. Miller (Ed.), 21st Century Criminology: A Reference Handbook (pp. 228–235). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.Find this resource:

                                                      Bjerregaard, B. (2002). Self-definitions of gang membership and involvement in delinquent activities. Youth & Society, 34, 31–54.Find this resource:

                                                        Bjearegaard, B. (2010). Gang membership and drug involvement: Untangling the complex relationship. Crime and Delinquency, 56, 3–34.Find this resource:

                                                          Bjerregaard, B., & Lizotte, A. J. (1995). Gun ownership and gang membership. Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, 86, 37–58.Find this resource:

                                                            Bloch, H., & Neiderhoffer, A. (1958). The gang: A study in adolescent behavior. New York, NY: Philosophical Library.Find this resource:

                                                              Bolden, C. L. (2012). Liquid soldiers: Fluidity and gang membership. Deviant Behavior, 33, 207–222.Find this resource:

                                                                Bolden, C. L. (2013). Tales from the hood: An emic perspective on gang joining and gang desistence. Criminal Justice Review, 38, 473–490.Find this resource:

                                                                  Bouchard, M., & Spindler, A. (2010). Groups, gangs, and delinquency: Does organization matter?Journal of Criminal Justice, 38, 921–933.Find this resource:

                                                                    Braga, A. (2008). Pulling levers focused deterrence strategies and the prevention of gun homicide. Journal of Criminal Justice, 36, 332–343.Find this resource:

                                                                      Brezina, T., Tekin, E., & Topalli, V. (2009). Might not be a tomorrow: A multimethods approach to anticipated early death and youth crime. Criminology, 47, 1091–1129.Find this resource:

                                                                        Campbell, A. (1987). Self-definition by rejection: The case of gang girls. Social Problems, 34, 451–466.Find this resource:

                                                                          Chermak, S., & McGarrell, E. (2004). Problem-solving approaches to homicide: An evaluation of the Indianapolis violence reduction partnership. Criminal Justice Policy Review, 15, 161–192.Find this resource:

                                                                            Cloward, R. A., & Ohlin, L. (1960). Delinquency and opportunity. New York, NY: Free Press.Find this resource:

                                                                              Cohen, A. (1955). Delinquent boys. New York, NY: Free Press.Find this resource:

                                                                                Costello, B. (1997). On the logical adequacy of cultural deviance theories. Theoretical Criminology, 1, 403–428.Find this resource:

                                                                                  Decker, S. (1996). Collective and normative features of gang violence. Justice Quarterly, 13, 243–264.Find this resource:

                                                                                    Decker, S. H., Bynum, T., & Weisel, D. (1998). A tale of two cities: Gangs as organized crime groups. Justice Quarterly, 15, 395–425.Find this resource:

                                                                                      Decker, S. H., Katz, C. M., & Webb, V. J. (2008). Understanding the black box of gang organization: Implications for involvement in violent crime, drug sales, and violent victimization. Crime and Delinquency, 54, 153–172.Find this resource:

                                                                                        Decker, S. H., & Lauritsen, J. L. (2002). Breaking the bonds of membership: Leaving the gang. In C. R. Huff (Ed.), Gangs in America (pp. 103–122). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.Find this resource:

                                                                                          Decker, S. H., Pryooz, D. C., & Moule, R. K., Jr. (2014). Disengagement from gangs as role transitions. Journal of Research on Adolescence, 24, 268–283.Find this resource:

                                                                                            Decker, S. H., & Van Winkle, B. (1994). “Slinging dope”: The role of gangs and gang members in drug sales. Justice Quarterly, 11, 583–604.Find this resource:

                                                                                              Decker, S. H., & Van Winkle, B. (1996). Life in the gang. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press.Find this resource:

                                                                                                Densley, J. A. (2012). Street gang recruitment: Signaling, screening and selection. Social Problems, 59, 301–321.Find this resource:

                                                                                                  Densley, J. A. (2013). How gangs work. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.Find this resource:

                                                                                                    Densley, J. A. (2014). It’s gang life, but not as we know it: The evolution of gang business. Crime & Delinquency, 60, 517–546.Find this resource:

                                                                                                      Engel, R., Tillyer, M. S., & Corsaro, N. (2011). Reducing gang violence using focused deterrence: Evaluating the Cincinnati initiate to reduce violence. Justice Quarterly, 30, 403–439.Find this resource:

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

                                                                                                          Esbensen, F.-A., Huizinga, D., & Weiher, A.W. (1993). Gang and non-gang youth: Differences in explanatory factors. Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice, 9, 94–116.Find this resource:

                                                                                                            Esbensen, F.-A., & Weerman, F. M. (2005). Youth gangs and troublesome youth groups in the United States and the Netherlands: A cross-national comparison. European Journal of Criminology, 2, 1477–3708.Find this resource:

                                                                                                              Esbensen, F.-A., Winfree, L. T., He, N., & Taylor, T. J. (2001). Youth gangs and definitional issues: When is a gang a gang and why does it matter. Crime and Delinquency, 47, 105–130.Find this resource:

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