Gangs, Methodology and Ethical Protocols: Ethnographic Challenges in Researching Youth Street Groups

  • Original Article
  • Open access
  • Published: 14 July 2020
  • Volume 3 , pages 5–21, ( 2020 )

Cite this article

You have full access to this open access article

  • Carles Feixa   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0002-4874-1604 1 ,
  • Jose Sánchez-García   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0002-2880-7813 1 &
  • Adam Brisley 1  

4984 Accesses

5 Citations

2 Altmetric

Explore all metrics

A Correction to this article was published on 04 December 2020

This article has been updated

Gangs have been described as an episodic phenomenon comparable across diverse geographical sites, with the US gang stereotype often acting as the archetype. Mirroring this trend, academic researchers have increasingly sought to survey the global topography of gangs through positivist methodologies that seek out universal characteristics of gangs in different cultural contexts. So, research about youth street groups requires an innovative methodological approach to develop a renewed approach for the twenty-first century’s youth street groups, different from the local, coetaneous, male and face-to-face model, used to understand the twentieth century’s gangs. How can complex social forms such as street gangs be researched in the twenty-first century? Can a single ethnographic approach be shared by researchers working in entirely different cultural contexts? What novel methodological and ethical challenges emerge from such a task and how might they be resolved? This article examines the methodological perspectives of the TRANSGANG project.

Similar content being viewed by others

research paper on gangs

Gangs: Fieldwork Experiences, Ethical Dilemmas, and Emotions in Youth Street Groups Research

research paper on gangs

Participation in and Transformation of Gangs (and Gang Research) in an International Context: Reflections on the Eurogang Research Program

research paper on gangs

Ethical and Methodological Issues in Gang Ethnography in the Digital Age: Lessons from Four Studies in an Emerging Field

Avoid common mistakes on your manuscript.

The structures used by the social scientist are, therefore, so to speak, constructs of the second degree, namely constructs of the constructs made by the actors in society itself, actors whose behaviour the researcher observes and tries to explain according to the procedural rules of his science (Schutz, 1974, p. 37-38).

Introduction

Gangs Footnote 1 have been described as an episodic phenomenon comparable across diverse geographical sites. Academic researchers have increasingly sought to survey the global topography of gangs in order to define the “universal characteristics” of groups that operate in different cultural contexts (Klein 1971 ; Miller 1992 ; Esbensen and Maxson 2012 ). The use of quantitative data and positivist methodologies has tended to result in rather Eurocentric accounts in which the “US gang stereotype” acts as a kind of global “gang archetype”. Footnote 2 In contrast, ethnographic work has revealed that contemporary gang formations diverge significantly from this normative model. Modern gangs are not strictly territorial, nor do they have compact structures. Instead, gangs today are structurally fluid, have significant geographic mobility and, due to patterns of human migration and globalization, organise and have a strong presence on social media (Reguillo 1995 ; Brotherton and Barrios 2004 ; Perea 2007 ). Gang identities in the global era are best understood as hybrid clusters of elements taken from the respective countries of origin of gang members; they are nomadic identities that, just like other contemporary “youth cultures”, appropriate and reproduce styles and trends as they circulate around the globe (Nilan and Feixa 2006 ).

This paper presents preliminary findings from a large-scale, multi-sited ethnographic study (Marcus 1995 ) of transnational youth gangs in 12 different cities around the globe (Barcelona, Madrid, Marseille and Milan in Southern Europe; Casablanca, Tunis, Algiers and Djendel in Northern Africa; Medellin, San Salvador, Santiago de Cuba and Chicago in the Americas). The study began in 2018 and is due to finish in 2022. This paper explores the methodological and ethical challenges of developing an ethnographic project on such a large scale and with such a high degree of cultural difference between the field sites and communities of study. The project is based on an experimental approach that combines “extended case method” (Burawoy 2009 ) with “relational ethnography” (Desmond 2010 ) and departs from the twentieth century’s model of studying youth street groups (a model that privileged local, coetaneous, male and face-to-face gangs). Our aim is to situate the experiences of youths at the centre of the project, unveiling the positive aspects of youth street sociability and how marginalized position within social structure is resisted and remade as a consequence. Some research focuses on proactive experiences in gang behaviour and policies (Leinfelt and Rostami 2011 ; Venkatesh 2009 ), but very few studies systematically compare such aspects in order to find variants and invariants in the evolution or in the reversal of the criminal gang model, use a transnational comparative methodology or focus on a group rarely included in gang studies (Young Arabs) along with another over-studied group (Young Latinos). Both groups face big challenges regarding new generations in their homelands and in their diasporic new land where their collective forms of behaviour have been seen as barriers to their social inclusion. Our standpoint combines post-subcultural studies and decolonial theoretical perspectives with critical criminology focusing on challenging traditional understandings and uncovering false beliefs about youth street groups. As a result, the combination of these viewpoints facilitates look at the field within the social structure of class and status inequalities and considers law and punishment of crime as connected to a system of social inequality and as the means of producing and perpetuating this inequality. Beyond this, we highlight the difficulties to apply the traditional criminological perspective in several different cultural contexts. Accordingly, the third section presents the process of elaboration of a transnational operational definition of “gang” in several academic discussions among all the local researchers of the project. Moreover, the discussion is oriented to a key point marked by several authors in the conceptualization of the meaning of gang: the question of labelling. How can such complex contemporary social formations be researched? Can a singular methodological approach be applied across very different cultural contexts? What new methodological and ethical challenges emerge from such a task and how might they be resolved? This article examines the methodological perspectives of the TRANSGANG project. Footnote 3

The paper focus in particular on our attempts to accommodate cultural difference in the research design and what happened as we put on plans in practice. The first section of the paper shows the theoretical perspective adopted contrasting with current literature on gangs and youth street groups, highlighting the ethnocentric tendency to use experiences from the Americas as a heuristic for experiences elsewhere in the world. We then set our how our plans for fieldwork sought to overcome this limitation by framing our understanding of gangs and youth street groups through debates about post-colonialism and critical subcultural studies. In particular, we focus on the definition of youth street groups in a transnational perspective and the need for out working definitions to avoid trite Western centrist viewpoints and the coloniality of knowledge (Mignolo 2010 ). Footnote 4 In “ Methodological Perspectives on Gang Research in the Twenty-First Century ”, we explore what happened in the first stage of fieldwork and the advantages and limitations of our approach. In “ Methodology in Motion: Defining “Gang Field ””, we discuss our unique approach to research ethics and safety, our attempts to tailor the highly bureaucratic ethical guidelines of the EU’s European Research Council for use around the globe and some of the ethical issues that have emerged from fieldwork thus far. The article is closed by a conclusion section summarizing the main conclusions of the different sections and its general implications for youth street group research.

Methodological Perspectives on Gang Research in the Twenty-First Century

As it is mentioned, our methodological perspective aims to reverse the traditional criminological approach. If we analyse these groups, in the first place, we find that these adolescents and young adults have a feeling of union and group belonging in a structure of sociability that resembles a second family. The use of the word hermanito (brother) by Latino groups shows the dimension of fraternity in the organization, whose main objective is not to commit crimes, but to offer solidarity by sharing their difficult daily life in terms of protection, identity construction and feelings of affection (Brotherton and Barrios 2004 ; Nilan and Feixa 2006 ; Feixa et al. 2008 ). As it is evidenced in previous research, gangs are diverse in ethnic composition, criminal (or not) activities, age of members, propensity towards violence and stable organization (Feixa et al. 2008 ; Feixa et al. 2019 ). Gangs experience changes due to direct factors and indirect factors, such as demographic shifts, economic conditions or the influence of the media, and their reactions vary according to community understanding, representation and policies; effective responses are diverse too: prevention, intervention and suppression or enforcement. A decade later, this situation is still “in process” in the Latin diaspora and the same (in) definition affects the Arabic and Muslim diasporic youth worlds (Camozzi et al. 2014 ; Feixa and Romaní 2014 ; Queirolo Palmas 2014 ). The challenge is to build a framework focused in the background of personal and social narratives, subjectivities and identities of group members. Our proposal is a unique mixture of views coming from subcultural and post-subcultural youth studies combined with a decolonial perspective that applies intersectional frame analyses.

The first tradition is rooted in subcultural studies elaborated at the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies (CCCS) at the University of Birmingham in the second half of the 1970s and the early 1980s. This university produced a series of influential works on youth and popular culture in the British context that opened up this new theoretical perspective from empirical research. One of the most insightful elements of the Birmingham school’s approach is its aim to take youth subcultures seriously and on their own terms, without dismissing them as ephemeral expressions of non-conformism youth or as forms of “juvenile deviance” like most of the previous studies on youth cultural practices and behaviours. As noted by Griffin: “The youth subculture project treated (…) working class youth cultural practices as imbued with meaning and political significance, as worthy to be studied in their own terms, and as potentially creative rather than inherently destructive or of minimal cultural value” (Griffin 2011 , p. 4). It provided youth research with crucial keys for understanding contemporary youth cultural practices such as street sociability; it is articulated more around expressive behaviour and less around direct and explicit political commitment. So, a comprehensive understanding of youth cultural worlds and production, drawing on ethnographic methods and on semiotic analytical tool, is essential for understanding the mediation processes at the heart of gangs.

However, we consider that there are several gaps in subcultural studies that need to be covered to refine this perspective according to our objectives. First, the attention paid to gender, sexual, ethnic and geographical differences among young people will be studied through an intersectional analysis (Yuval-Davis 2006 ). Moreover, we consider that youth subcultures are not clearly delimitated entities, but rather entities with blurred limits and crossbreed cultural references. Because the analysis of youth street groups’ cultural practices is no longer confined to spectacular styles, it rather tends to encompass the everyday life experiences and cultural practices of members or ex-members of youth groups. Consequently, the consideration of the limitations of the Birmingham conceptual framework and the new tendencies in conceiving youth cultural practices constitute the core elements of our “post-subcultural” approach (Bennett 1999 ; Bennett and Kahn-Harris 2004 ; Hodkinson and Diecke 2007 ).

On the other hand, this perspective considers identity construction as key variable in the research. Therefore, we refer to identifications rather than understand identity as a finished thing, as something in continuous construction and strategically negotiated. In recent descriptions of the identity creation processes among youth groups in the West, the treatment of the body (its construction, its treatment, its restructuring, deconstruction), the influence of an alleged global culture centred on the creation of transnational communities and the influence of music, specifically pop, rock, rap and local hybrid scenes, have emerged as major axes for young populations. These cultural elements are setting the primary reference markers for identity negotiation that some authors reflect upon in relation to global youth. Their importance to youth street groups is determined essentially by influencing choices, they invent new ways of understanding the body and diversifying transnational relations and the possibility of participating in solidarity groups related to similar cultural practices and identification artefacts coming from specific backgrounds differentiated from Western traditions. So, the identitarian processes emerge in an interface where, in addition to the hegemonic host culture and the traditional culture of their parents, several other subcultural traditions come together (Brotherton and Barrios 2004 ; Feixa and López 2015 ; Klein and Maxson 2006 ; Matza 1961 ; Venkatesh 2009 ). We can define five basic axes according to our subject, which are used as identification sources of cultural devices: (1) North American street gang tradition (Klein 1995 ; Thrasher 1927/2013 ; Whyte 1943 ); Latin American gang traditions: pandillas and naciones (Feixa 1998 ; Perea 2007 ; Ramoset al. 2013 ; Reguillo 2000 ); Arab youth subcultural traditions (Bayat 2012 ; Camozzi et al. 2014 ; Sánchez García 2016 ,  2019 ); European subcultural traditions (Esbensen and Maxson 2012 ; Klein et al. 2001 ; Leccardi 2016 ; Queirolo Palmas 2016 ; van Gemert et al. 2008 ); and finally, virtual global tradition represented by youth identity models that circulate through the Internet (Fernández Planells et al. 2020 ).

Beyond this, post-subcultural studies meet critical criminology challenging traditional understandings about gangs. This perspective examines the gang field within the social structure of class and status inequalities and considers law and punishment of crime as connected to a system of social inequality and as the means of producing and perpetuating this inequality. As a result, crime is seen as a product of oppression of subaltern groups within society, such as women and ethnic minorities. According to Brotherton ( 2015 ) to research gangs as subaltern groups, it is necessary to have a critical anti-colonial ethnography, as youth members have “little option but to resist this relationship of domination” (Brotherton 2015 , p. 80). This position emphasizes the creative and agency capacity of the gang members, their cultural productions and their forms of sociability as resistance practices, of course contradictory and ambiguous, against a set of discrimination processes in relation to culture, class, race and ethnicity. On the one hand, these groupings are seen as places of production and social transformation; on the other hand, the reproduction dynamics are also evident, that is, the homologies between their functioning logics and their symbolisms (masculinity, strength, authority, hierarchy) and the global functioning of society.

Finally, post-colonial studies, critical criminology links with decolonial epistemologies introducing the concept of border as both a symbolic and a physical space joining gang members’ perspectives with stakeholders’ and academic studies to produce border thinking in gangs. Footnote 5 In short, border thinking is a tool that allows us to discard Western conceptions and seek to accumulate other visions of the world that have been previously dismissed as invalid or backward. Border thinking arises in those populations that neither want to accept the humiliation of being relegated to an inferior position nor assimilate the imposed model. It is in these border spaces that other possible ways of seeing arise, which do seek not only to get rid of what is imposed but also to empower other ways of thinking, being and living (Mignolo 2010 ). With all this, we understand the subjects and groups studied as agents (with their own agency) that negotiate their situation in migrant societies and that, in that displacement (physical or social), adapt varied cosmovisions that are situated in what we will call the border.

Beyond studying gangs, we are interpreting social processes with blurred boundaries in different locations with very different social, political and economic conditions. So, more than construct “subjects” of research in an inductive manner, the objective is to follow configurations of relations. The focus of fieldwork becomes to describe a system of relations, “to show how things hang together in a web of mutual influence or support or interdependence or what have you, to describe the connections between the specifics the ethnographer knows by virtue of being there” (Becker 1996 , p. 56). Thus, more than to construct “subjects”, “youth street groups” or “gangs” in an inductive or deductive manner, the objective is to follow configurations of relations. Methodology constructs the pitch, in our case, “youth street group micro-cosmos” encompassing those agents that are part of it (state, academia, media, the gang, themselves among others) to understand how this field works what positions each of these agents occupies (although positions are variable) and see what dynamics are generated.

In summary, to research youth street groups as subaltern groups, it is necessary to have a critical de-colonial ethnography, as youth members have “little option but to resist this relationship of domination” (Brotherton 2015 , p. 80). The final objective is not to know “what it is” but “what it could be”. This perspective emphasizes the creative and agency capacity of the gang members, their cultural productions and their forms of sociability as resistance practices, of course contradictory and ambiguous, against a set of discrimination processes in relation to culture, class, race and ethnicity. On the one hand, these groupings are seen as places of production and social transformation; on the other hand, the reproduction dynamics are also evident, that is, the homologies between their functioning logics and their symbolisms (masculinity, strength, authority, hierarchy) and the global functioning of society.

Methodology in Motion: Defining “Gang Field”

However, the term gang exists, although it is usually associated mainly with organized crime, delinquency and illegal businesses with leadership and hierarchies similar to gangs in North America; terms and meanings may vary according to geographic locations and subcultural traditions, but using the concept, the danger of stigmatization of although all youth street practices is on the table.

From an “emic” point of view, in the three regions in which our study will be carried out, the use of the term is far from homogeneous. In Europe (as in the USA), the term “gang” tends to have a pejorative sense associated with crime, so it is juxtaposed with other terms of local use. This is the case in Marseille, where youth street groups are considered actors of the small banditry (drug trafficking, deal), while gangs “play in the major leagues” (they have guns and appear once or twice a year on television). Students between 12 and 16 years old use the term gang—to simply refer to their group of friends, showing that young people can call themselves gangs, despite their involvement in criminal activities (Mansilla, forthcoming). In other contexts, as in peripheral neighbourhoods of Paris, young people perceive the term gang as an extra-stigmatization to the fact that their neighbourhoods are marginalized and prefer to call themselves team, clique or crou (Moignard 2007 ). In Spain, the term gang— banda in Spanish—evokes the tradition of banditry of ancient origin and opposes the term pandilla , which does not have criminal connotations but refers to a group of peers. In Italy, when maras appeared in Milan, newspapers started to write about gangs and pandillas to distinguish them from local youth street groups.

In Latin America, there are a lot of local terms to name youth street groups: gangas , clicas and vatos on the border between Mexico and the USA, chavos banda in Mexico, maras in Central America, combos, parches and galladas in Colombia, coros in the Dominican Republic, pibes choros in Argentina, etc. In Cuba, despite the ignorance of the government about the phenomena, the term banda is associated with a musical group, while the term pandilla designates a criminal group.

By his side, in Standard Arabic, the term gang is ignored by its colonial background. The general term used to refer to “criminal youth groups” is iṣhāba while the term shila is used to designate a youth street group. However, there are other related terms coming from the national and local contexts and expressed in colloquial Arabic, such as hittistes (Algeria), tcharmils (Morocco) and baltagiyya (Egypt), which designate different criminalized street groups from paramilitaries to organized drug clans.

On the other hand, each youth group can use different categories to define itself. In Barcelona, the Latin Kings define themselves as a “nation” or “organization”, while the Ñetas define themselves as an “association”. In San Salvador, the Salvatrucha is a mara while the 18 is a pandilla or a barrio . In the case of the North African region, young people do not use a specific name, but rather are identified with the neighbourhood. In addition, some youth street groups propose using the term “street family” to avoid the term “gang” and to denote the horizontal fraternity and vertical authority relationships that occur among them.

So, how can we be sure that we will give the same meaning to the key concepts? This section examines two main methodological challenges that emerged during the operationalization discussions with different local researcher teams of the central concept of the project: what does “gang” mean? Footnote 6

According to Thrasher’s definition, a gang is “an interstitial group originally formed spontaneously, and then integrated through conflict” (Thrasher 1927/2013 , p. 57). Thrasher also points out that gangs, as forms of sociability, are characterized by a behaviour guided by face-to-face encounters, fights, urban spatial movement as a unit, conflicts with other agents and the planning of their actions. Thus, “the result of this collective behaviour is the development of a tradition, unreflective internal structure, esprit-de-corps, solidarity, morale, group awareness, and attachment to a local territory” (ibid.). In line with this approach, a gang can be characterized as an informal group of peers who are attached to a territory, in conflict with other peer groups and sometimes with adult institutions, an obsolete definition.

Although crime is not the main reason why gangs form, the police and political approaches in the USA have reinforced the criminal conceptualisation of gangs. When delinquency is not considered as a fundamental attribute of youth street behaviour, other concepts are used, such as peer groups, street groups, subcultures, countercultures or lifestyles, among others, and the term gang is reserved for youth street groups with members from mainly minority, migrant or ethnic backgrounds. However, the criminological tradition has tended to use the term gang as a synonym of youth street group more or less linked to criminal activities. Consequently, offering a gang definition with which all social actors (gang members, researchers, social workers, institutions, among others) can agree has always been a difficult challenge. Hence, during the twenty-first century, scholars have faced different challenges and have provided different approaches when trying to offer a conceptualisation of gangs.

First, the way in which we define “youth gang” determine the number and composition of what it is that we are talking about regarding the conceptualization of the term. In this question, two kinds of approaches can be found: (1) those offering wide definitions that gather more young people into the gangs’ conceptual net; and, on the other side and (2) those offering narrow definitions that are more exclusive conceptualizations that include fewer young people in gangs. Should more youth groups be integrated in the conceptual field defined as gangs or should the definition be narrowed to include only those groups engaged in illegal activities? Choosing a narrow approach usually involves focusing more on the illegal activities of the group and, consequently, being a member of a gang is seen as a criminalized behaviour. This perspective is represented by academic researchers who apply Klein’s definition, developed in the seventies in Los Angeles: “a gang is a group of young people that can be identified by: a) being perceived as an aggregation different from the others in the neighbourhood, b) recognizing themselves as a defined group, c) being involved in various criminal episodes that generate a constant negative reaction of the neighbours and/or of the services in charge of the application of the law” (Klein 1971 , p. 13). In this direction, the Eurogang network of researchers has defined a gang as “a street gang (or troublesome youth group) is any durable, street-oriented youth group whose involvement in illegal activity is part of their group identity” (Esbensen and Maxson 2012 , p. 5). These broad definitions focus the core criteria on durability, street-orientation, youth, identity and, most importantly, illegal activity.

The second challenge is about the naming process associated with “youth gangs” research. Although the process of assigning characteristics to gang groups helps to determine how conflicts and social problems are framed, if we focus on gangs only as a “social problem”, we ignore fundamental structural issues like racism, poverty and social inequality. Scholars who fail to capture the fluidity and contradiction inherent in gang identification create an artificial sense of similarity between diverse cultural contexts. The image of “the gang” as socially dangerous or damaging prevents gangs from developing into pro-social organizations or more organized criminal entities, often leading to intervention by state agents of control. This is the case in Algeria, where the term gang or its French version bande is ignored for colonial reasons; the researchers do not accept using the label gangs to youth street groups because the remembrances of the concept are very far from the realities of street young people selling gold or looking for a precarious job walking the streets and prevent criminalization and stigmatization.

Another question arising from the conceptualisation of gangs is related to the problem of how to study collective behaviour and group commitments while integrating personal experience and individual behaviour as well. The gang can be understood as an analysis frame about group status and relationships with other social subjects as individuals, criminalizing all the members. Here the focus is on collective behaviour and group engagements, and the personal experience is ignored. A good example of this dichotomy is Miller’s definition: “A self-formed association of peers, united by mutual interests, with identifiable leadership and internal organization, who act collectively or as individuals to achieve specific purposes, including the conduct of illegal activity and control of a particular territory, facility, or enterprise” (Miller 1992 , p. 21).

The last critical challenge we would like to point out when trying to offer a gang definition is how to integrate and emphasize the creative and agency capacities of members of youth street organizations. The definitions that line up into this issue take gang’s cultural productions and forms of sociability as resistance practices, contradictory and ambiguous, against a set of discrimination processes by culture, class, race and ethnicity. In this sense, Queirolo Palmas ( 2014 , p. 23) define gangs as “urban youth groups that take shape in the interstices of a post-migration society, with their cultural practices and sometimes cooperative interactions that are sometimes conflicting, and which are designated by the thinking of the institutions and the media as gangs, a signifier associated with violence, crime and social danger”. A definition that attempts to collect all of these attributes is that offered by Brotherton and Barrios ( 2004 , p. 23): “groups formed in large part by young people and adults from marginalized classes, whose objective is to provide their members with an identity of resistance, an opportunity for empowerment both individually and collectively, of a possible ‘voice’ capable of challenging the dominant culture, of a refuge with respect to the tensions and sufferings of daily life in the ghetto and, finally, of a spiritual enclave in which practices and rituals considered sacred can be developed”. In this perspective, we find the Latin American tradition of gang studies understanding gangs as social formations that attempt to build a cultural citizenship from the margins.

Based on the evidence established from ethnographic research in diasporic situations, as in the case of the Latin Kings in Barcelona (Nilan and Feixa 2006 ), the definition focused on group remarks the identitarian capacity of the crowd and describes it as street-oriented youth groups, with names, symbols and long-time traditions, composed by youths from deprived social backgrounds. Some of their members have connections with illegal activities, even if these activities are not part of the core group identity (Feixa et al. 2019 ). Adding the society-network context and the potential role of gang members as mediators to the Thrasher’s classic definition, we propose to use the generic term “youth street group” to refer to any gathering of young people, according to the definition of youth that exists in each context, who recognize themselves as a group and who use the public space, physical or virtual, to meet and find ways to be respected.

Thus, our perspective challenges the traditional criminological perspective on “gang”, considering the youth street groups not as a sole model but as a “continuum”. At one extreme, we would find, always ideally, the classic gangs based on illegal activities and not only formed by young people—like the bacrim in Colombia, the maras in El Salvador, the tcharmil in Marocco and the quinquis in Spain. At the other extreme, we would find youth subcultures based on leisure and economic activities—like the vatos locos in the Mexican American border, the rappers in north Africa and the tribus urbanas in Spain. And in the middle, there are a variety of hybrid groups that combine both strategies—like the naciones in Latin America, the hittistes in North Africa and the bandas latinas in Spain. The proposed conceptualization and operationalization make it possible to differentiate street gangs not only from organized crime or from transnational criminal organizations, including terrorist cells, but also from informal groups without stable organization, grouped exclusively around leisure. In short, we consider a gang as a dynamic cultural formation in a context of exclusion and social transformation. Youth street groups can both evolve towards more associative, cultural or sports forms and specialize in some kind of crime.

Ethics and Ethnography

In each of the project’s twelve field sites, local researchers are working with young, materially impoverished and social marginalised people who were possibly involved in criminality and may have little access to familial and social support. With a research topic of such ethical sensitivity, it was essential for us to develop project protocols that would ensure the interests of all researchers and research participants were safeguarded at all times. It was agreed with the European Research Council (ERC), the projects funder, that an internal Ethics Advisory Board (EAB) would be appointed to advise on the ongoing conduct of the project and that a post-doctoral researcher with experience of managing research ethics in the context of ethnographic research would be recruited.

Formalised research ethics review processes have been the subject to several bruising critiques from anthropologists and sociologists for their inherent Eurocentrism and general inapplicability to ethnographic research. In our project, the greatest difficulty was ensuring that we abided by our ethical agreement with the ERC while not blindly following a set of standards that were inappropriate for our subject of study and chosen methodology. We therefore worked to the principle that our agreement with the ERC was necessary but not sufficient to ensure the safe and ethical conduct of the research, or put differently, we sought to go beyond the agreement we made with the ERC by adapting our protocols to the ongoing, open-ended and culturally contingent nature of the ethnographic research process. In May 2019, work began on a “handbook” on how to conduct the aspects of the research that required special ethical consideration. The handbook was intended to be a reference document for fieldworkers and was based on broadly accepted ethics principles and norms of sociology and anthropology (ASA 2011 ), our agreement with the ERC and input and feedback from the local researchers and ERB. Before beginning fieldwork, each local researcher received training about how to use the handbook and conduct data collection activities in a manner that the research team considered safe and ethical.

Among the areas that required most adaptation was the process for gaining consent from research participants. Other than standard practices such as translating all consent documents into Spanish, English, Italian, French and Arabic to ensure that all research participants could understand the agreement they were signing, special consideration was given to the lower age limit of consent. The handbook states that laws and local customs and norms regarding the age of consent for participation in research must be respected by the researchers. However, in several of the locations where the research is based (including Spain, France and Italy), there exists no clear regulation regarding the age at which people can legally give consent for participation in research. Footnote 7 Moreover, the age at which people are considered mature adults is culturally contingent and varies in relation to class, gender, nationality and so on. In Algeria, for example, children are considered legally mature at 21. However, it is not clear whether legal maturity is required to give consent to research participation.

We decided that in countries where no law concerning research participation existed, only people over 14 years of age would be invited to participate in the research. This decision was based on the judgement that potential participants who were over the age of 14 were likely be able to (1) understand the information relevant to participating in the research, (2) understand the consequences of participating in the research and (3) give informed consent to participate in the research. Local researchers were instructed to exclude 14-year-olds who they believed lacked these capacities.

A second related point concerned parental permission. As potential participants over the age of 14 were considered able to give informed consent for themselves, we decided not to make the consent of parents and/ or legal guardians a mandatory precondition for participation. However, the handbook stated that under normal circumstances, parents and legal guardians should be informed by the local researchers about their child’s or ward’s participation in the project. This presented some difficulties, however. The team was concerned that some children may be put at risk of harm if their patents or legal guardians were informed about their association with a “gang”. Local researchers were therefore advised to only inform a participant’s legal guardians or parents about their child’s or ward’s participation in the project if they (1) had the participant’s permission and (2) believed that it was appropriate and safe to do so. If the local researchers judged it to be unsafe, they were advised not to tell the parents and to record their reasoning for not doing so in their next bimonthly ethics report. Our evocation of the researcher’s judgement was consciously intended as safeguard against ethnocentrism of the ethical principles on which ethical guidelines are based. The local researchers were recruited because of their local knowledge and expertise, and it was by positioning them as the principle decision maker that we hoped to avoid inappropriately applying our measures and definitions of safety.

A similar tension lay at the heart of the decisions we made regarding the process for recording consent. Among the trickiest aspect of the handbook that the team developed was the process for recording consent. The team was aware that gang members and ex-members may be reluctant to sign consent forms for fear of such documents being used against them in legal proceedings. It was decided that while written consent was ideal, in some circumstances, two alternative processes for recording consent could be used. The first was oral consent recorded via the researcher’s audio recorder. The second was a process called “single-party testimonial consent”. This is where the researcher writes a short description of the fact that the participant has given consent and explains their reasons for not recording consent via more conventional means. The local researchers were advised that if they used an alternative means of consent, they must include a description of their reasoning in their bimonthly ethics report for fieldworkers.

In Algeria, during an ethnographic visit, two local researchers arranged a meeting with a gold seller in a peripheral city about ten kilometres from Algiers. When the local researchers arrived to the informal market, they were met with a 19-year-old gold seller. Before starting the conversation, the local researchers asked him to sign a consent form, and because he was a minor, they asked for the permission of his parents as well. The gold seller refused both requests for different reasons. The gold sellers explained that he attended law classes, and having his name on a document that linked him to illicit economic activity could cause significate problems. The local researcher suggested that the gold seller sign the consent form for young members without seeking parental permission and explained again the nature of confidentially and anonymity in the project, but again, the gold seller refused, explaining that he would not sign any document for fear of the local authorities. In the end, another local researcher suggested that the consent could be recorded at the very beginning of the interview. The gold seller agreed, and the interview was conducted and audio-recorded. What this common situation demonstrates is that when working with at risk populations in repressive contexts, it is necessary to be flexible with the ethical requirements of the project design. By building this flexibility into out project protocols, we were able to avoid a situation where our efforts to be ethical, to ensure consent was properly recorded, ended up jeopardising the interests of our research participants.

Another area of particular concern was researcher and participant safety. All data collection for the project is being carried out under conditions of confidentiality. However, ethics committees usually require researchers to define the circumstances in which confidentiality may have to be broken. The general principle is that confidentiality and secrecy are not the same thing, and if a research participant discloses information that given the researcher course for concern, the researcher has an obligation to involve other professionals or agencies. Some studies work to the principle that any illegal activity uncovered during the course of the research should be reported to the relevant authority. The difficulty with this approach for our research was that it assumes that (1) criminal activity is unlikely to be revealed during the course of the research and that (2) state authorities can be trusted to safeguard the interests of those involved in the research (Scheper-Hughes 2004 ).

Neither assumption was safe in the context of our project, and if such an approach were applied, it could mean that local researchers would be obliged to report everyday forms of criminality such as drug use or vandalism to national authorities in whom they had no trust whatsoever. At the same time, however, the research team did not want local researchers to feel that they were never permitted to break confidentiality. The research team was concerned that local researchers may feel, for example, unable to warn one informant about a threat to their safety because of the need to protect the confidentiality of another. The team therefore developed a reporting framework that included examples of events that may occur and actions that should be taken in response. In the most severe cases, when the researcher believes someone involved in the project faces a credible threat of physical violence or abuse, they are instructed to report the incident immediately to regional coordinator, their local legal advisor, the project’s ethics supervisor and/or the ethics advisory board (EAB).

A discussion will then take place between all the interested parties, and a decision will be make about the appropriate action to take. Local researchers were told that in extremis, this may mean involving the police or some other state agency, but only if it is safe, beneficial and appropriate to do so. The handbook states that in such an event, the safety of the researcher will be treated as paramount and external reporting will not happen if it is likely to jeopardise the safety of the researcher. So far, in practice, only one serious ethical event has occurred during the course of the research. In our field site in Colombia, a group of armed men threatened one of the researcher participants, causing her and the local researcher to leave the neighbourhood where research was being conducted. By leaving the site when she believed she faced a credible threat of physical danger, our local researcher followed the protocols as set out in the project’s handbook. Thankfully, the situation has now been resolved and both the local researcher and research participant are not safe. The local researchers’ response to the threat reinforced the appropriateness of our approach.

The last example occurred in Madrid, Spain, during a course on mediation for members of youth street groups organized at the end of 2018—before writing the ethical handbook—in which we conducted a focus group. Three of the participants refused to fill the consent form and became silent. We interpreted that decision by the fact that their group suffered police prosecution even if it was not involved in criminal activities. One of the other participants was also reticent to sign the form, although he finally did, and he managed to finish the course and obtain the certificate. Time later, that same reticent participant was arrested by the police because his legal situation in Spain was irregular, but thanks to the certificate of the course provided by us, he was able to prove his integration and his social rooting in the community and avoided deportation. Another of the participants who had refused to sign the consent form ended up in prison, asked for our help and accepted to participate in the project.

In conclusion, while it is crucial to ensure that standardised protocols such as leaving field sites when threats are encountered are in place prior to the beginning of ethnographic fieldwork, it is equally important to allow people with local expertise to judge for themselves the severity of the threat and take action that they feel is appropriate.

The examples found during our fieldwork in Algeria, Colombia and Spain demonstrate that methodological tools, scientific categories and bureaucratic standards, such as ethical protocols, should be developed with flexibility in mind and should be adapted to the social and cultural context in which the research is conducted. As we have shown in the last section, flexibility built into the design of our ethical protocols means that the local researchers were able to respond appropriately and in a manner that was consistent with the cultural specificities of the field site. More than to construct “subjects” based on standardised categories and methodologies, our objective is to follow configurations of relations that came from “local knowledge” (Geertz 1983 )—in this case relations in, relations out and relations between youth street groups. The “macro-cosmos” of global gang’s policies and representations constitutes the general frame, but the pitch is formed by a myriad of local “youth street group micro-cosmos”.

What unites the three sections of the article is our commitment to emphasising the voices and perspectives of “others” is a basic ethical and methodological commitment that guides all aspects of the project including its methodology, its design, the data being collected and the ethical standards to which we adhere. This relates back to the point about “Eurocentrism” and post-colonial approaches. It is by providing researchers with autonomy and by having confidence in their expertise and judgement that we have been able to avoid reproducing the notion that “European” standards and ideas of risk and danger can be applied elsewhere. The fact that we are not “exporting” researchers from “the centre” (Europe) to the (semi)periphery (North Africa and Latin America) but rather relying on local expertise is the reason why we are able to work in this way. We celebrate the fact that since its inception, the project has made use of local researchers as a means of amplifying their voices, and this is what we mean by a “post-colonial” approach to research.

As seen in this article, traditionally, a youth gang has been typically understood as a small delinquent group of young men based in a locality. The focus has been on crime and violence. Where there has been acknowledgement of larger-sized gangs with a greater geographical range, the emphasis has still been primarily on violence and crime. Less attention has been paid to migration (rural-urban, transnational) and to the economies of gangs, that is, how members and local communities gain a variety of benefits. Gangs have also shown specific cultural practices and creative outputs. These, too, require recognition and highlight the needed of new ways of talking about transnational youth gangs in the global.

This article sets out to fill the gaps detected in gang conceptualization, and we expect to have helped to move forward thanks to the theoretical perspective proposed. The definition we have developed in this article is being implemented in the TRANSGANG project and has strong implications for practitioners and professionals working in law enforcement, public policy or with at-risk youth/young adults and for academic disciplines as criminology, social work, sociology or anthropology interested in youth street groups. The definition sets criminalization views aside and deals with inclusive and positive aspects of gang membership, trying to positivize the marginalized position of gangs within the social structure. Some research focuses on proactive experiences in gang behaviour and policies (Leinfelt and Rostami 2011 ; Venkatesh 2009 ), but very few studies systematically compare such aspects in order to find variants and invariants in the evolution or in the reversal of the criminal gang model.

Our perspective aims to recognize youth street groups as forms of youth culture to resist hegemonic discourses and practices and as social institutions to deal with and fight against stigmatization. Gangs have been examined as forms of youth culture used to resist hegemonic discourses and practices and as social resilience institutions to deal with and to fight against stigmatization. Normally, they are perceived as young, delinquent, depressed school drop-outs, jobless, marginalised, as well as aggressed by the lifestyle of the rich. However, the way of life they have chosen allows them to create distance from their sordid reality and everyday life, which is made even unliveable by contempt, exclusion and rejection.

Change history

04 december 2020.

A Correction to this paper has been published: <ExternalRef><RefSource>https://doi.org/10.1007/s43151-020-00028-y</RefSource><RefTarget Address="10.1007/s43151-020-00028-y" TargetType="DOI"/></ExternalRef>

We use the term “gang” because it is used in daily life by most of the actors in the field—young people, adults, institutions, media, scholars—with different “emic” meanings. Nevertheless, in its more precise use, we will reserve this term to refer to the classical informal group associated with criminal activities, as it is used by hegemonic discourses, and we will use “youth street groups” as a generic term that includes different types of groupings: from those related to delinquency to those associated more with leisure and lifestyle (see “ Methodology in Motion: Defining “Gang Field” ”).

Eurocentrism, therefore, is not the cognitive perspective of the Europeans exclusively, or only of the rulers of world capitalism, but of the group of those educated under its hegemony. And although it implies an ethnocentric component, it does not explain it, nor is it its main source of meaning. It is the long-standing cognitive perspective of the whole Eurocentral world of colonial/modern capitalism and which naturalizes people’s experience of this pattern of power.

The TRANSGANG Project won an Advanced Grant by the European Research Council in the 2017 Call. The PI is Carles Feixa, Pompeu Fabra University (Barcelona). The entire project data are: Transnational Gangs as Agents of Mediation: Experiences of conflict resolution in youth street organizations in Southern Europe, North Africa and the Americas (TRANSGANG). European Union: HORIZON-2020, European Research Council - Advanced Grant [H2020-ERC-AdG-742705]. This is a five years project: it started in 2018 and will end in 2022. There is another ERC Project on gangs, led by Dennis Rodgers (Graduate Institute Geneva), that won an ERC Consolidator Grant in the 2018 Call: Gangs, Gangsters, Ganglands: Towards a Global Comparative Ethnography (GANGS). Both Projects – TRANSGANG and GANGS – will collaborate with the aim to produce advances in comparative gang research.

Our methodology adheres to the decolonial shift “a project of epistemic detachment in the sphere of the social (also in the academic sphere, by the way, which is a dimension of the social), while post-colonial criticism and critical theory are projects of transformation that operated basically in the European and American academy. From the academy to the academy” (Mignolo 2010 , p. 15).

The idea of “border thinking” (Mignolo 2013 ) can allow us to locate ourselves as researchers and also locate study agents. It is necessary to understand border thinking as a branch that comes directly from the decolonial vision born in the Third World. For this, the expansion of border thinking occurs through migrations as central spaces.

The different meanings of “gang” emerge in two different seminars. The first in the kick off Meeting of the project celebrated in Barcelona in October of 2018 where,all the local researchers engaged in the project and significant scholars in the field of “gang” studies participated and gave consensus to the operative definition of “gang”. The second one is a seminar with all the Spain team researchers where we discussed the operativa final definition.

https://fra.europa.eu/en/theme/rights-child/child-participation-in-research

Association of Social Anthropologists of the UK and the Commonwealth (ASA) (2011). Ethical guidelines for good research practice. Accessed on 05-06-2020 from https://www.theasa.org/downloads/ASA%20ethics%20guidelines%202011.pdf

Bayat A (2012) Marginality: curse or cure? In: Bush R, Ayeb H (eds) Marginality and exclusion in Egypt. Zed Books, London

Becker HS (1996) The epistemology of qualitative research. In: Jessor R, Colby A, Shweder RA (eds) Ethnography and human development: context and meaning in social inquiry. University of Chicago Press, Chicago, pp 53–71

Google Scholar  

Bennett A (1999) Subcultures or neo-tribes? Rethinking the relationship between youth, style and musical taste. Sociology 33(3):599–617. https://doi.org/10.1177/S0038038599000371

Article   Google Scholar  

Bennett A, Kahn-Harris K (2004) After subculture: critical studies in contemporary youth culture. Palgrave Macmillan, Basingstoke

Book   Google Scholar  

Brotherton DC (2015) Youth street gangs: a critical appraisal. Routledge, London. https://doi.org/10.4324/9780203727782

Brotherton DC, Barrios L (2004) The Almighty Latin King and Queen Nation. Street politics and the transformation of a New York City Gang. Columbia University Press, New York

Burawoy M (2009) The extended case method: four countries, four methods, four great transformations, and one theoretical tradition. University of California Press, Berkeley

Camozzi I, Cherubini D, Leccardi C, Rivetti P, Feixa C, Sánchez García J (2014) Youth cultures: values, representations and social conditions (SAHWA - background papers no. 03-2014). Barcelona

Desmond M (2010) Relational ethnography. Theory Soc 43(5):547–579

Esbensen, F.-A., & Maxson, C. L. (2012). Youth gangs in international perspective. Results from the Eurogang Program of Research. New York: Springer. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4614-1659-3

Feixa C (1998) De jóvenes, bandas y tribus. Barcelona: Ariel. [4th edition 2014]

Feixa C, López T (2015) Generation one point five. Migrant Latino children and youth identities in Catalonia. In: Chisholm L, Deliyianni-Kouimtzis V (eds) Changing landscapes of childhood and youth in Europe. Cambridge scholars, Newcastle upon Tyne, pp 252–274

Feixa C, Romaní O (2014) From local gangs to global tribes: the Latin Kings and Queens Nation in Barcelona. In: Buckingham D, Brah S, Kehily MJ (eds) Youth cultures in the age of global media. Palgrave Macmillan, London & New York, pp 88–103

Feixa C, Canelles M, Porzio L, Recio C, Gilberti L (2008) Latin Kings in Barcelona. In: van Gemert F, Peterson D, Inger-Lise L (eds) Street gangs, migration and ethnicity. Willan Publishing, Devon, pp 63–78

Feixa C, Sánchez García J, Ballesté E, Cano-Hila AB, Masanet M-J, Mecca M, Oliver M (2019) The (trans)gang: notes and queries on youth street group research (TRANSGANG working papers 2.1). Barcelona: Universitat Pompeu Fabra & European Research Council. https://doi.org/10.31009/transgang.2019.wp02.1

Fernández-Planells A, Sánchez-García J, Oliver M, Feixa C (2020) Researching Transnational Gangs as Agents of Mediation in the Digital Era. In Melde C, Weerman F (eds) Gangs in the Era of Internet and Social Media. Springer, New York (Forthcoming)

Geertz C (1983) Local knowledge. Further essays in interpretative anthropology. Basic Books, New York

Griffin CE (2011) The trouble with class: researching youth, class and culture beyond the ‘Birmingham School’. J Youth Stud 14(3):245–259. https://doi.org/10.1080/13676261.2010.533757

Hodkinson P, Diecke W (2007) Youth cultures: scenes, subcultures and tribes. Routledge, New York

Klein MW (1971) Street gangs and street workers. Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs

Klein MW (1995) The American street gang. Oxford University Press, New York, NY

Klein MW, Kerner H-J, Maxson C, Weitekamp E (eds) (2001) The eurogang paradox. Street gangs and youth groups in the U.S. and Europe. Kluwer Academic Publishers, London

Klein MW, Maxson CL (2006) Street gang patterns and policies, vol xii. Oxford University Press, New York, 310 pp

Leccardi C (2016) Youth cultures in the new century: cultural citizenship and cosmopolitanism. In: Feixa C, Leccardi C, Nilam P (eds) Youth, space & time. Agoras and chronotopes in the Global City. Brill, London, pp 115–130

Leinfelt F, Rostami A (eds) (2011) The Stockolm Gang Model: Panther. Elanders, Stockolm

Marcus GF (1995) Ethnography in/of the world system: the emergence of multi-site ethnography. Annu Rev Anthropol 24(1995):95–117

Matza D (1961) Subterranean traditions of youth. In: Silverstein H (ed) The sociology of youth: evolution and revolution. MacMillan, New York, pp 252–271

Mignolo W (2010) Desobediencia epistémica: Retórica de la modernidad, lógica de la colonialidad y gramática de la decolonialidad. Ediciones del Signo, Buenos Aires

Mignolo W (2013) Geopolítica de la sensibilidad y del conocimiento. Sobre (de) colonialidad, pensamiento fronterizo y desobediencia epistémica. Revista de Filosofia 74(2):7–23

Miller WB (1992) Crime by youth gangs and groups in the United States. LLOC? U.S. Justice Department

Moignard B (2007) Bandes d’adolescents de la France au Brésil: Comparer l’incomparable ? En Les bandes de jeunes, pp. 351–377. La Découverte; Cairn.info. https://www.cairn.info/les-bandes-de-jeunes--9782707153456-p-351.htm

Nilan P, Feixa C (eds) (2006) Global youth? Hybrid identities and plural worlds. Routledge, London and New York

Perea CM (2007) Con el diablo adentro: Pandillas, tiempo paralelo y poder. Siglo XXI, México

Queirolo Palmas L (2014) El problema de las bandas en España como objeto de producción académica y de activismo etnográfico. Papers: Revista de Sociología 99(2):261–284. https://doi.org/10.5565/rev/papers.595

Queirolo Palmas L (2016) Atlantic latino gangs. La Raza Latina, transnationalism and generations. In: Feixa C, Leccardi C, Nilam P (eds) Youth, space & time. Agoras and chronotopes in the Global City. Brill, Leiden, pp 85–114

Ramos D, Victor T, Seidl-de-Moura ML, Daly M (2013) Future discounting by slum-dwelling youth versus university students in Rio de Janeiro. J Res Adolesc 23(1):95–102. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1532-7795.2012.00796.x

Reguillo R (1995) En la calle otra vez. Las bandas: identidades urbanas y usos de la comunicacion. Iteso, Guadalajara

Reguillo R (2000) Emergencia de culturas juveniles. Norma, Buenos Aires

Sánchez García J (2016) From hara to midam: public spaces of youth in Cairo. In: Feixa C, Leccardi C, Nilan P (eds) Youth, space & time. Agoras and chronotopes in the Global City. Brill, Leiden, pp 293–317

Sánchez-García J (2019) De la Esperanza a la represión: El interminable “estado de emergencia” en Egipto, en Luca Queirolo Palmas and Luisa Stagi (eds) Winou el shabab. Images of transformations between the two shores of the Mediterranean. Genova University Press, Génova

Scheper-Hughes N (2004) Parts unknown: undercover ethnography of the organs-trafficking underworld. Ethnography 5(1):29–73

Thrasher FM (1927/2013) The Gang. A study of 1313 gangs in Chicago. Chicago University Press, Chicago

van Gemert F, Peterson D, Inger-Lise L (2008) Street gangs, migration and ethnicity. Routledge, London

Venkatesh S (2009) Gangs leader for a day: a rogue sociologist crosses the line. Penguin Books, London and New York. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1573-7861.2008.01092_4.x

Whyte WF (1943) Street corner society. Chicago University Press, Chicago

Yuval-Davis N (2006) Intersectionality and feminist politics. Eur J Women’s Stud 13(3):193–209. https://doi.org/10.1177/1350506806065752

Download references

This project has received funding from the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s HORIZON 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement no. 742705.

Author information

Authors and affiliations.

Department of Communication, Universitat Pompeu Fabra, Barcelona, Spain

Carles Feixa, Jose Sánchez-García & Adam Brisley

You can also search for this author in PubMed   Google Scholar

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Jose Sánchez-García .

Ethics declarations

Conflict of interest.

The authors declare that there is no conflict of interest.

Additional information

The article Gangs, Methodology and Ethical Protocols: Ethnographic Challenges in Researching Youth Street Groups, written by Carles Feixa, Jose Sánchez-García, and Adam Brisley, was originally published Online First without Open Access. After publication in volume 3, issue 1, page 5-21 the authors decided to opt for Open Choice and to make the article an Open Access publication. Therefore, the copyright of the article has been changed to © The Author(s) 2020 and the article is forthwith distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution CC BY. The original online version of this article as revised.

Rights and permissions

Open Access This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons licence, and indicate if changes were made. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article's Creative Commons licence, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the article's Creative Commons licence and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder. To view a copy of this licence, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/ .

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Feixa, C., Sánchez-García, J. & Brisley, A. Gangs, Methodology and Ethical Protocols: Ethnographic Challenges in Researching Youth Street Groups. JAYS 3 , 5–21 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s43151-020-00009-1

Download citation

Received : 26 February 2020

Revised : 10 June 2020

Accepted : 16 June 2020

Published : 14 July 2020

Issue Date : March 2020

DOI : https://doi.org/10.1007/s43151-020-00009-1

Share this article

Anyone you share the following link with will be able to read this content:

Sorry, a shareable link is not currently available for this article.

Provided by the Springer Nature SharedIt content-sharing initiative

  • Youth street groups
  • Methodology
  • Find a journal
  • Publish with us
  • Track your research

U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

The .gov means it’s official. Federal government websites often end in .gov or .mil. Before sharing sensitive information, make sure you’re on a federal government site.

The site is secure. The https:// ensures that you are connecting to the official website and that any information you provide is encrypted and transmitted securely.

  • Publications
  • Account settings
  • Advanced Search
  • Journal List
  • HHS Author Manuscripts

Logo of nihpa

YOUTH GANGS AND VICTIMIZATION: AN INVESTIGATION OF THE IMPACT OF GANG DYNAMICS ON EXPERIENCES OF VICTIMIZATION

John leverso.

1 University of Oklahoma, Department of Sociology, Kaufman Hall, 780 Van Vleet Oval, Norman OK 73019

Kate K. O’Neill

2 University of Washington, Department of Sociology, 211 Savery Hall, Box 353340 Seattle, WA 98195-3340

Studies comparing gang members to similarly situated non-gang members find youth gang involvement is positively associated with experiencing simple and aggravated assault (i.e., violent victimization). This study expands on those studies by using data on gang dynamics from the Denver Youth Survey and bringing theory and concepts directly related to street gangs to the analysis of the relationship between gang membership and different forms of victimization. We focus on specific mechanisms—such as gang organization, centrality, leadership roles, identity, and tenure—that inform gang member behaviors while controlling for risky behaviors and personal histories. Findings indicate (1) gang organization is positively associated with both simple and aggravated assault victimization; (2) gang centrality is positively associated with aggravated assault victimization; and (3) being the leader of a gang is negatively associated with aggravated assault victimization. We discuss the implications of these results using a gang-informed framework.

Youths’ violent offending and victimization can take many forms, including bullying, fighting, brandishing weapons, and in extreme cases, murder. Many of these behaviors are intrinsic parts of street gang culture and membership, and gang membership predicts involvement in youth violence ( Thornberry et al. 2004 ). Youth violence typically involves young people victimizing other young people ( David-Ferdon and Simon 2014 ), and while research often focuses on gang-involved youth as perpetrators ( Pyrooz et al. 2016 ), recent scholarship suggests gang-involved youth are also uniquely susceptible to victimization ( Conway-Turner et al. 2020 ). Intergang conflict, masculine posturing, and involvement in illicit activities are all part of the gang lifestyle, and broad criminological theories, such as routine activities theory ( Cohen and Felson 1979 ; Hindelang et al. 1978 ), have been used to contextualize how gang members’ everyday lives disproportionately expose them to victimization ( Spano, Freilich, and Bolland 2008 ; Taylor et al 2008 ). While studies using broad theories provide valuable insight into these correlations, they are limited in their ability to how or why within- and/or between-gang characteristics/organization facilitate violent victimization of members.

More narrowly scoped research that employs gang-informed frameworks supports assertions that gang dynamics are an important predictor of both violent offending and violent victimization. Such studies tend to use one of three theoretical models Thornberry et al. (2003) developed: selection, facilitation , and/or enhancement . The selection model posits individuals predisposed to violent behavior gravitate towards gangs because gangs allow them to engage in violent behavior. Gang-involved youth are therefore more likely to victimize and be victimized by their peers because their peers are similarly disposed toward violence. Conversely, the facilitation model argues gang-involved youth are no more violent than non-gang-involved youth, but that within-gang dynamics facilitate and encourage violence. The enhancement model combines these arguments, suggesting both individual behavioral dispositions and gang dynamics drive violence and victimization. Overall, research strongly supports the enhancement model ( Delisi et al. 2009 ; Fox 2017 ; Melde, Taylor, and Esbensen 2009 ; Peterson, Taylor, and Esbensen 2004 ; Taylor et al. 2007 ; Wu and Pyrooz 2016 ), implicating gang dynamics and selection as co-occurring drivers of gang members’ violence and victimization. However, as with studies using broader criminological theories, these studies often employ comparisons of gang-involved youth to non-gang counterparts, in part due to data limitations. This, in turn, prevents full and comprehensive application of gang-informed theory and concepts and leaves links between gang dynamics and victimization of gang members undertheorized.

This paper logically extends gang-informed research on violence and moves beyond causal arguments concerning whether or not membership increases victimization by testing the differential influence of gang dynamics. We use a longitudinal sample of gang-involved youth, their offending and victimization histories, and gang dynamics to specify mechanisms through which gangs increase risk of violent victimization (simple and aggravated assault) among gang-involved youth. This data, paired with our use of gang-informed theory and concepts, allows us to account for the fact that gangs are embedded in unique contexts where features distinct to gangs have important implications for gang members’ victimization. Specifically, we analyze the roles of perceived levels of organization in the gang, gang centrality, leadership status, gang identity, and gang tenure (i.e., gang dynamics) in simple- and aggravated-assault victimization.

This research directly responds to calls for increased inclusion of gang-informed theory in gang research ( Fox 2013 ; 2017 ) by using a longitudinal sample of 169 gang-involved youth (286 person years) from the Denver Youth Survey (DYS). While prior studies and datasets have addressed the influence of gang membership and gang member characteristics of violent victimization ( Fox 2017 ; Taylor et al 2008 ; Wu and Pyrooz 2016 ), and specific gang dynamics on violent victimization ( Decker, Katz, and Web 2008 ; Sweeten, Pyrooz, and Piquero 2013 ), data limitations have made it difficult to address all these factors at once. Further, samples used in the study of gang victimization are predominantly derived from school samples or jail surveys ( Fox 2017 ; Lane, Armstrong and Fox 2019 ; Lane and Fox 2020 ; Melde et al., 2009 ; Peterson et al., 2004 ; Taylor et al., 2008 ; Taylor et al.,2007 ; Watkins and Melde 2018 ), which may not include individuals who do not attend school or individuals who engage in less serious offending.

In addition, DYS data on respondent behaviors and histories generally associated with violent victimization allows us to empirically assess both gang- and individual-level characteristics influence of these factors of violent victimization. Given prior research questions whether the relationship between gang membership and victimization holds when accounting for individual behavioral histories ( Katz et. al 2011 ; Spano et al. 2008 ; Taylor et al. 2008 ) it is important to control for such characteristics, and we address these findings in our research question by asking: To what extent are gang dynamics associated with violent victimization when controlling for individual characteristics of gang members ? In answering this research question, this paper illuminates mechanisms for increased victimization of gang members, and investigates them in models including risky behaviors and histories to ascertain whether these relationships hold net of these characteristics.

LITERATURE REVIEW

Victimization in the context of the gang.

While joining a gang may decrease a member’s risk of certain types of victimization such as violence in the home or bullying at school ( Rios 2011 ), gang members are at heightened risk of violence by both rival gang members and fellow gang members ( Delisi et al. 2009 ; Fox 2017 ; Melde et al. 2009 ; Peterson et al. 2004 ; Peterson, Carson, and Fowler 2018 ; Wu and Pyrooz 2016 ). Routine activities theory ( Cohen and Felson 1979 ; Hindelang et al. 1978 ) suggests the day-to-day activities of gang-involved youth places them in situations where they are likely to be victimized ( Spano et al. 2008 ; Taylor et al. 2008 ). For example, street gang members regularly engage in violent disputes with members of rival gangs, and in the course of such interactions members typically perpetuate and experience violence. Street gangs are organized in a way that encourages these disputes ( Decker and Van Winkle 1996 ; Papachristos 2009 ; Papachristos, Hureau, and Braga 2013 ), in that they hold to reciprocity norms such that attacks on individual members are tantamount to attacks on the gang as a group. Subsequently, perpetrators often attribute gang shootings to retaliation for perceived harm to their own gang ( Decker and Curry 2002 ; Decker and Van Winkle 1996 ; Papachristos 2009 ). Such conflicts may persist over time and lead to violence among gang members who may have had little to do with the original sources of conflict.

Additionally, gang members may be victimized by members of their own gang. Joining gangs in some cases involves violent initiation rites, such as violent beatings ( Vigil 1996 ). In this way, gangs may be organized in favor of violence against their own members because they abide by rules or systems that violently punish members for rule-breaking behaviors. Intra-gang conflict, therefore, can readily lead to severe violence if individuals are predisposed to violence or become accustomed to violence because of these dynamics. The precise frequency of intra-gang violence is unknown, but research suggests intra-gang violence is a fairly common experience among gang members ( Papachristos 2009 ), and one study even found gang members are more likely to be murdered by members of their own faction than by members of rival gangs ( Decker and Curry 2002 ).

A third source of violent victimization likely stems from involvement in illicit activities, such as drug sales, where gang members may be targeted for victimization by both gang and non-gang members for instrumental reasons, such as attempts to rob them for drugs or money. Gang members’ participation in such risky activities likely leads to increases in their victimization ( Spano et al. 2008 ; Taylor et al. 2008 ; Wu and Pyrooz 2016 ).

Gang dynamics may affect all three sources of violence—inter-gang, intra-gang, and illicit activities. That is, members’ individual relationship to their membership and/or position in the gang may make them more or less susceptible to these forms of violence. The next section describes research on such dynamics.

Theorizing Gang Dynamics

Theories specific to street gangs suggest common mechanisms through which gang dynamics increases risk of victimization: gang organization ( Decker et al. 2008 ; Leverso and Matsueda 2019 ), gang identity ( Hennigan and Spanovic 2012 ; Leverso and Matsueda 2019 ), and gang role centrality and leadership status (or, as more recent research terms it, gang embeddedness) ( Hagedorn and Macon 1988 ; Klein 1997 ; Pyrooz, Sweeten, and Piquero 2013 ; Vigil 2010 ). Broadly, gang organization refers to the extent to which gangs have established roles for members, leadership hierarchies, and behavioral regulations. The complexity of gangs’ organizational systems varies, and members of gangs may be at higher or lower risk of victimization because of this variation. Gang identity is the extent to which individuals identify with their gang and the extent to which that identification influences their behavior. The more strongly members identify as “prototypical” gang members ( Turner et al. 1987 ), the more likely they are to behave according to established gang norms and expectations. Depending on the nature of these expectations, behaviors motivated by gang identity may increase risk of victimization, particularly if that identity is very strong. Gang centrality refers, specifically, to how central members are to gang activities. In addition, gang centrality is related to gang leadership status inasmuch as gang members in leadership roles may be more actively involved in particular gang activities. Because gang activities are sometimes violent, both centrality and leadership status may increase victimization. While some researchers look to gang centrality and leadership to measure “gang embeddedness” as a singular concept ( Pyrooz et al. 2013 ) we disaggregate the two in our analyses so as to unravel their individual influence on gang members’ violent victimization. Although predominantly investigated in gang research on offending and disengagement, each of these theoretical perspectives pay dividends for understanding gang member victimization.

Gang Organization.

Gang organization is a broad term, and has been used to refer to gang characteristics such as differentiated roles and coordinated activities, the presence of leadership; regular face-to-face meetings; rules, codes, and norms with sanctions for violators; and initiation rites of passage ( Bouchard and Spindler 2010 ; Decker et. al. 2008 ; Pyrooz et al. 2012 ). Studies on gang organization often focus on its impact on delinquency and serious offending. For example, Fagan’s (1989) study of gang members in Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Diego finds gangs with higher levels of organization generally include more serious delinquents. Likewise, Bouchard and Spindler (2010) find gang organization predicts drug sales, violent offending, and general delinquency among gang-involved youth. Decker et al.’s (2008) study of gang members in a drug abuse monitoring program found that even relatively low levels of gang organization are associated with offending, while Pyrooz et al. (2012) find modest support for the relationship between gang organization and offending in a cross-national study using three samples. Given gang organization’s relationship to offending, one might imagine that proximity to delinquents and delinquency, as found in these studies, puts gang members at increased risk of victimization. Indeed, both Decker et al. (2008) and Pyrooz et al. (2012) found correlations between organization and victimization.

We conceive of two important reasons for this connection. First, the positive relationship between gang organization and violent offending supports a positive relationship between gang organization and violent victimization. The reciprocal nature of gang conflict suggests that those involved in higher levels of violent offending are also at higher risk of experiencing violent victimizations. Second, the features of gang organization could directly lead to increases in victimization. Roles and rules, for example, may promote drug sales and fighting with other gangs, which in turn increases levels of offending and risk of victimization among members. Violent initiation requirements and physical assaults as punishment are themselves forms of intra-gang victimization.

Gang Identity.

Gang identity, or the extent to which individuals identify with and are influenced by their gang, is theorized to be both a cause and consequence of how tightly bonded individuals are to their gangs. Recent research on gang identity is often developed from social identity theory (see Lauger 2020 for a review of social identity theory). Social identity theory posits individuals identify with a particular social group—such as a gang—and the strength of this identity predicts behavior regarding the group membership ( Tajfel 1978 ). Stable or increasingly positive social identities are desirable, and therefore individuals compare the “in-groups” to which they belong to the “out-groups” to which they do not. Individuals who make favorable comparisons of their in-group to the out-group tend to hold more positive group-linked identities and are therefore more likely to continue their membership and engage in behaviors that protect their membership. Among gangs and gang members, these in- and out-group comparisons may explain why gang-involved youth are disproportionately involved in both offending and victimization: gang members fight with each other to increase status, respect, and “street cred” in relation to other gangs, and when these behaviors result in positive in-group comparisons, a stronger, more positive gang identity develops ( Wood 2014 ). Notably, identities are not static, but are made salient by different social contexts. When social identities are activated, they experience depersonalization; an individual sees themselves as a prototypical group member ( Turner et al. 1987 ) and behaves accordingly. Given normative behaviors of gang membership and gang life include violence and criminality, it stands to reason that these are attributes of the prototypical gang member, and that gang identity will encourage violence ( Hennigang and Spanovic 2012 ). While the relationship between gang identity and victimization remains understudied, we argue processes of categorization, which increases normative violent and criminal behaviors of gang members, and social comparisons, increase conflict. This in turn increases both victimization and violence.

Gang Centrality and Leadership Status.

Involvement in gang activities is not equally distributed across members. Gang centrality, more recently conceptualized as embeddedness within gang activities ( Pyrooz et al. 2013 ), is an important gang dynamic that could help us understand gang member victimization. Gang tenure, role expectations, and the extent of engagement in inter-gang conflict varies by individual, with so-called “core” members being more central to gang activities than comparatively disengaged “fringe” members ( Esbensen et al. 2001 ; Klein 1997 ). Core members central to (or embedded in) the gang are involved in more offending and have longer gang tenure than do fringe members ( Hagedorn and Macon 1988 ; Pyrooz et al. 2013 ; Vigil 2010 ). In addition more central members may gravitate to roles reserved for high-status gang members, roles which can come with increased victimization. For instance, leadership and enforcement roles are often given to gang members who have demonstrated stronger fighting ability than others. Moreover, gang leaders may be more likely to engage in violence to solidify/maintain their position in the gang hierarchy. Generally speaking, gang embeddedness is positively associated with victimization ( Sweeten et al. 2013 ), as well as offending.

Gang tenure (i.e., length of time in the gang) is likely associated with the gang dynamics highlighted in this paper. Given gang membership constitutes a high-risk state, lengthier gang tenure may increase risk of victimization. For example, individuals with longer tenure may be more active members than are newer gang members, and may be more likely to hold leadership positions. Given these likely associations, we control for gang tenure alongside our other gang dynamics, and discuss its influence accordingly. Taken together research suggests gang organization, centrality, leadership status, identity, and tenure, directly relate to violent offending, and likely influence victimization as well. Thus, we hypothesize:

H: Gang dynamics are associated with both simple- and aggravated-assault victimization, net of risky behavior and histories.

Because some research questions the unique contribution of gang membership to victimization, after accounting for individual offending histories ( Gibson et al. 2009 ) or controlling for offending ( Katz et al. 2011 ; Spano et al. 2008 ; Taylor et. al 2008 ), we test our hypothesis with risky behavioral histories to see if the hypothesized relationship holds net of these characteristics.

CURRENT STUDY

This study advances the scholarship of gang victimization in three important ways. First, while a majority of research has found that gang members are more likely than other youth to be victims of violence, potential mechanisms remain understudied. Thus, by investigating associations among gang member victimization and gang dynamics this study theoretically and practically contributes to existing literature. Second, our sample of high-risk youth complements other samples of adjudicated youth and school-enrolled children. Substantively, school-based samples may not include individuals who do not attend school and carceral samples may include only more serious offenders. Our high-risk sample will complement knowledge on gang victimization of individuals in other contexts, as many gang members may be truants and/or dropouts who have avoided adjudication ( Pyrooz 2014 ).

Finally, our models include controls for past and present violent offending and current weapon carrying to assess the effects of gang dynamics net of individual behaviors. In cases where gang dynamics, particularly gang organization, were examined in previous research pertaining to victimization, the designs were bivariate (Decker et al. 2009) or cross sectional ( Pyrooz et al. 2012 ), and lacked controls for individual level histories. We improve on these designs with multivariate models, which include controls for both past and present offending histories. In doing so, our study acknowledges selection-based arguments in order to isolate the impact of gang dynamics.

MATERIAL AND METHODS

The DYS is a longitudinal study of delinquency and drug use in high-risk neighborhoods in Denver, Colorado, from 1987 to 1998. The period in which these data were collected has implications for interpreting our results. The Bloods and Crips formed in Denver in the 1980s, resulting in a splintering of gangs, increases in gang conflict, and a proliferation of gangs and gang activities ( Durán 2013 ). Given this context, the results of this study are most relevant to areas and time periods where gangs are undergoing proliferation and increased activity.

DYS data were gathered annually, creating ten waves. The first includes a total of 1,526 completed interviews. A child survey was used for respondents aged 7-11. After age 11 all respondents were administered a youth survey until they were aged approximately 18. Starting with Wave 6, all respondents aged 18 and over were given the adult survey. We use data from the youth and adult surveys because the child survey lacks questions about gang membership. We restrict the study to respondents who self-report being members of a street gang and report their gang is involved in fights with other gangs or participates in illegal activities (regardless of whether the respondent reported being involved with fights or illegal activities personally). This restricted measurement of gang membership is consistent with those used in other studies using the DYS ( Esbensen and Huizinga 1993 ; Leverso and Matsueda 2019 ), and is necessary to ensure respondents are referring to a street gang and not a peer group. 3 In total, 226 individuals representing 404 person years report gang membership during the survey period. However, because variables about gang organization that are central to our investigation were introduced in Wave 3, we further restrict our analysis to respondents reporting gang membership in Waves 3 or later, resulting in a sample of 201 persons and 360 person years. After list-wise deletion of missing key variables we have a final analytic sample of 286 person years representing 169 individuals.

Dependent Variables

Simple- and aggravated-assault victimization..

The DYS contains three measures of violent victimization: how many times in the past year a respondent was strong-armed by someone with a weapon, hit by someone trying to hurt them, or attacked by someone with a weapon trying to seriously hurt or kill them. The strong-arm robbery variable was dropped as an outcome because it lacked sufficient variation to be a dependent variable (very few respondents reported this type of victimization). Of the two remaining variables, we treated being hit as a measure of simple-assault victimization and being attacked with a weapon as a measure of aggravated-assault victimization. While this contrasts with previous research where all three measures are combined to make a summed frequency scale ( Childs, Cochran, and Gibson 2009 ; Gibson et al. 2009 ; Peterson et al. 2004 ; Taylor et al. 2007 ), there is good reason to use individual survey items to represent simple- and aggravated-assault victimization.

To start, prior research on gang member victimization cautions against using items without internal consistency ( Fox 2013 ). The Cronbach’s alpha for the three-item scale is 0.14, indicating robbery, simple-assault, and aggravated-assault victimization cannot be reliably combined to measure violent victimization as a single construct. Further analysis of simple- and aggravated-assault victimization suggests they are not strongly related either. Specifically a correlation test found a week correlation (α=0.07), and prior literature asserts differences between these types of violent victimization in regards to severity ( Hart and Rennison 2003 ), frequency ( Lauritsen and Rezey 2013 ), and correlates ( Lauritsen and Heimer 2008 ). Specific to gang research, scholars have warned about using theoretically different constructs of victimization in one measure ( Ozer and Engel 2012 ). We therefore measure simple-assault victimization as a self-reported count of how many times the respondent was hit by someone trying to hurt them in the past year, and aggravated-assault victimization as a count of how many times the respondent was attacked by someone with a weapon trying to seriously hurt or kill them in the past year.

Independent Variables: Gang Dynamics

Perceived gang organization..

Following Leverso and Matsueda’s (2019) work on gangs using the DYS data, we measure gang organization based on subjective perceptions of organizational features. While a “true” and objective state of gang organization exists, the development of any gang organization measure necessarily relies on individual perception and reports thereof. Given perceptions of gang membership are as likely, if not more likely, to motivate individual behaviors as is the true state of gang organization (see Matsueda 2006 ; Thomas and Thomas 1928 ) we posit this is a reasonable approach given data limitations. Indeed, Pyrooz and Decker (2019) find support for using self-reported perceptions to research group level characteristics.

Gang organization is a summed scale of time-varying dichotomous variables. For each year a respondent answered “yes” to being a member of a street gang they were also asked to respond to a series of questions about the organization of that gang. Respondents were given eight measures of gang organization: “Tell me if the following describes your gang”: (1) “there are initiation rites,” (2) “the gang has established leaders,” (3) “the gang has regular meetings,” (4) “the gang has specific rules or codes,” (5) “gang members have a specific role,” (6) “there are specific roles for girls,” (7) “there are specific roles for each age group” and (8) “the gang has colors and symbols.” High scores indicate greater organizational structure in the gang. Exploratory and confirmatory factor analyses indicated a one-factor solution and the Cronbach’s alpha is 0.68. Similar questions and scales have been successfully used in previous studies ( Bouchard and Spindler 2010 ; Decker 1996 ; Decker et al. 2007).

We follow previous research ( Leverso and Matsueda 2019 ) and measure gang identity using six items measured from 1 to 5: “being in a gang makes me feel important,” “being in a gang makes me feel respected,” “being a member of the gang makes me feel like I’m a useful person to have around,” “being a member of the gang makes me feel like I really belong somewhere,” “I really enjoy being a member of the gang,” and “how important to you is the gang and their activities?” Exploratory and confirmatory factor analyses indicated a one-factor solution and Cronbach’s alpha was 0.88 for the scale. The scale score is the mean of all items divided by six so the scale remains bounded between 1 and 5. Higher scores indicate a stronger gang identity.

Gang Centrality.

We measure gang centrality with two variables. First, following previous research, we use a five-concentric-ring response scale ( Esbensen et al. 2001 ; Melde, Diem, and Drake 2012 ). Respondents were told, “The target scale represents the activities that go on in your gang. How far out from the center of things are you?” This item was reverse-coded and higher scores indicated greater role centrality. Second, we include a separate variable asking respondents if they were the leader of the gang as there is evidence leadership and embeddedness go hand-in-hand ( Pyrooz et al. 2013 ). Finally, we include a variable for the length of time an individual was a member of a gang (i.e. gang tenure) because gang membership is a high-risk state, which suggests greater time spent in the gang may be associated with increases in victimization. This variable is a summed score of how many waves an individual reports being in a gang. For example, an individual reporting gang membership in three waves would be scored a three.

Independent Variables: Risky Behaviors and Histories

We control for violent offending using a dichotomous measure of whether or not a respondent reports committing simple or aggravated assault within the past year and we include a lagged ( t -1) violent offending variable to control for whether or not respondents were involved in violent offending in the prior year. In addition, we separately control for whether or not a respondent has carried a hidden weapon in the past year because Spano et al. (2008) has found that carrying a weapon renders gang membership a non-significant predictor of victimization. We also include behavioral measures of frequency of drinking beer or hard liquor in the last year. Finally, we include a dichotomous, lagged victimization variable to control for whether or not respondents had experienced any violent victimization in the prior year (see Table 1 ).

Variable Descriptions and Descriptive Statistics, Denver Youth Survey Waves 3-10

Independent Variables Background and Contextual Variables

A detailed description of background and contextual variables appears in Table 1 . We include demographic measures of race, ethnicity, gender, socioeconomic status as measured by self-reported income, and age.

Analytic Strategy

To investigate the effects of gang dynamics on gang members’ violent victimization, we present our sample as a pooled time series. Our outcome measures of victimization are counts, and, therefore, we assume the counts follow a Poisson distribution. In estimating Poisson regressions, we found overdispersion—the variance exceeds the mean due to a large number of zeros. The negative binomial corrects for overdispersion, providing consistent and asymptotically efficient estimates of parameters and consistent estimates of standard errors. We use robust standard errors to correct for clustering on individuals and control for previous crime and victimization at t-1. Our analysis then proceeds in two steps. We first present descriptive statistics for our full sample at the person level taken from their first year of gang membership (N= 169). Next, we present person-year negative binomial regression models for both simple- and aggravated-assault victimization based on gang identity, gang organization, gang centrality, and risky behaviors and histories and controls (N= 286). Specifically, we test the hypothesis that gang dynamics are associated with both simple- and aggravated-assault victimization, net of risky behavior and histories .

Descriptive Statistics and Excluded Observations

Descriptive statistics for our sample of gang members are presented in Table 1 . Consistent with prior research, DYS gang members report a relatively brief period of membership: Almost half of respondents report only one year of gang tenure, 28% report two years of gang tenure, and 27% report three to six years of gang tenure. The composition of the sample reflects the ethnic and racial composition of the neighborhoods in which they reside: 54% of respondents are Hispanic and more than one-third are Black . 4 The mean age respondents reported joining a gang is 16.7 ( SD = 2.38).

We examined the distribution of missing data on the key variables in our analysis by comparing the distribution of 24 variables for included observations (n = 169) against excluded observations (n = 57). Pertaining to the majority of variables in our models we find no substantial differences between included and excluded observations. However, findings regarding gang tenure, violent offending, and carrying a weapon did indicate some statistically significant differences between included and excluded observations – though the practical implications of these differences are mostly incidental. 5 As expected given having only one data point increases the likelihood of list-wise deletion, respondents missing from analysis are more likely to report only one year of gang tenure. In addition, the 57 respondents excluded from analyses were more likely to report carrying a weapon (71% vs. 52%) and more likely to report involvement in violent offending (64% vs. 46%). While these differences do not substantively alter our interpretation of our results concerning carrying a weapon, violent offending, and violent victimization, it is worth noting more serious offenders may be underrepresented in our analyses.

Experiences of Victimization

Table 2 presents models predicting self-reported simple- and aggravated-assault victimization. When discussing results from negative binomial models, we convert coefficients into percent changes in-text, using the following formula:

The Effects of Gang Membership on Reported Victimization (Negative Binomial Models)

Robust standard errors in parentheses.

Given the frequency of beer and hard liquor consumption we divided the values by 10 so the interpretation is in terms of 10's of drinks.

Coefficients converted to percent changes in-text using the following formula: (exp β -1)×100= percent change in victimization counts

Overall, results support our hypothesis that gang dynamics are associated with simple- and aggravated-assault victimization. However, some gang dynamics are clearly more important than others with regards to predicting violent victimization, and the salience of gang dynamics is not uniform across the two types of victimization.

Simple Assault

Of our focal variables, only gang organization is associated with simple-assault victimization: a one-unit increase in perceived gang organization is associated with a 22% increase in simple-assault victimization counts among gang members. These results indicate that as perceptions of gang organization increase, the number of times per year individual gang members are victims of simple assault do as well. Such results suggest gangs are organized in favor of violence not only towards outsider threats, but towards their own members as well. Gang identity and centrality were not significantly associated with simple-assault victimization, a difference we explore further in our Discussion section.

Among individual behaviors and histories, violent offending, carrying a hidden weapon, and beer drinking are positively and significantly associated with simple-assault victimization counts. Gang members who report having engaged in one or more violent offenses in the past year see a 274% increase in victimization counts, though prior histories of violent offending are not a significant predictor of simple-assault victimization. Carrying a hidden weapon also exerts a sizable effect on simple-assault victimization; it is associated with a 206% increase in victimization counts. Drinking beer 10 times a year is associated with a 4% increase in reports of victimization. Of the background and contextual variables, age is associated with a decrease in simple-assault victimization, while being male is associated with a 151% increase in victimization. These results imply perceived gang organization and individual histories are important correlates of gang members’ simple-assault victimization, and reveal that not all gang dynamics are associated with simple-assault victimization.

Aggravated Assault

Our results for aggravated assault-victimization also partially support our hypothesis. Differentiating it from our results for simple-assault victimization is the fact that both perceived gang organization and gang centrality are significant predictors of aggravated-assault victimization. The positive association between perceived gang organization and aggravated-assault victimization is slightly larger in magnitude (31% increase with each additional feature of gang membership) than is the positive association between perceived gang organization and simple-assault victimization (22%). Further, a one-unit increase in gang centrality is associated with a 103% increase in aggravated-assault victimization. This is interpreted to mean gang members who are (or believe themselves to be) heavily involved in gang activities experience aggravated assaults in considerably greater numbers than do gang members who are further removed from gang activities. On the other hand respondents who report being a leader in their gang experience approximately 62% fewer incidents of aggravated-assault victimization than do non-leaders (p < 0.10).

As with simple-assault victimization, individual behaviors and histories are associated with aggravated-assault victimization. Having carried a hidden weapon in the past year is associated with an 282% increase in counts of aggravated-assault victimization, having been involved in one or more violent offenses is associated with a 144% increase in counts of aggravated-assault, and drinking beer 10 times a year is again associated with a 4% increase in reports of aggravated-assault victimization. No demographic variables are associated with experiences of aggravated-assault victimization.

Previous research finds gang membership is associated with increases in victimization ( Delisi et al. 2009 ; Fox 2017 ; Melde et al. 2009 ; Peterson et al. 2004 ; Taylor et al. 2007 ; Wu and Pyrooz 2016 ). However, a scarcity of gang-only samples means researchers generally compare gang members to similarly situated non-gang members using broader criminological theory. As a result, most research on how gang membership influences victimization offers a partial account of how gang dynamics influence youths’ victimization trajectories. By focusing on specific mechanisms shown to inform gang member behavior ( Decker et al. 2008 ; Hennigan and Spanovic 2012 ; Leverso and Matsueda 2019 ; Hagedorn and Macon 1988 ; Klien 1997 ; Vigil 2010 ; Pyrooz et al. 2013 ), we are able to empirically support our gang-informed framework and add nuance to the gang/victimization relationship. In addition, our inclusion of both gang dynamics and individual behaviors and histories known to influence victimization ( Katz et al. 2011 ; Spano et al. 2008 ; Taylor et al. 2008 ) allows us to test the importance of gang dynamics net of these factors.

We find varying levels of support for our hypothesis, gang dynamics are associated with both simple- and aggravated-assault victimization, net of risky behavior and histories . While perceived gang organization is positively and significantly associated with both simple- and aggravated-assault victimization, gang centrality and leadership are associated only with aggravated assault, and gang identity does not appear to be associated with violent victimization. Consistent with Ozer and Engel (2012) , our findings underscore the importance of disaggregating types of violent victimization in research on its correlates. One reason is that simple assault is considerably more prevalent than the more severely injurious victimization experience of aggravated assault (see Morgan and Truman 2019 ): DYS gang member respondents reported having experienced simple assault at more than double the amount of aggravated assault. Moreover, there are substantive differences in the experiences of our measures of simple and aggravated assault, being hit and being hit with a weapon by someone trying to cause death or serious injury (aggravated assault). For example, the former could describe an impulsive schoolyard fist fight among youths, whereas the latter could imply some premeditation (obtaining a weapon) and considerably more malicious intent. In line with this, our findings suggest that while these two types of violent victimization likely share some explanatory mechanisms, there are also important differences in how and why these events come to pass. While perceived gang organization is a crucial factor in both simple- and aggravated-assault victimization, gang centrality and leadership emerge as important predictors of aggravated-, but not simple-, assault victimization.

The finding that perceived gang organization is broadly associated with increases in violent victimization is unsurprising given prior literature indicates gangs are generally organized in ways that increase both within- and between-gang violence ( Decker and Curry 2002 ; Decker and Van Winkle 1996 ; Papachristos 2009 ). Initiation-type rituals ( Vigil 1996 ), corporal punishment for violations of gang code ( Padilla 1992 ) and impulsive physical scuffles amongst mostly young and male gang members may contribute to gang members’ experiences with simple-assault victimization. In addition, there is a feedback loop between violent offending and victimization ( Pyrooz, Moule, and Decker, 2014 ). Because gang organization is associated with greater levels of violent offending, it follows that members of gangs with greater levels of organization may be victimized at higher rates than gangs with less organization. Indeed, we find positive correlations between violent offending and violent victimization (see Table 2 ), and perceived gang organization and violent offending (supplementary analyses not shown).

While perceived gang organization is associated with both simple- and aggravated-assault victimization, gang centrality and leadership are only associated with the less common but more severe-in-its-consequences aggravated-assault victimization. We suggest this finding is related to what these two gang dynamics have in common: individual agency. Where gang organization and perceptions thereof may be more closely tied to structural characteristics of the gang, centrality and leadership are more dependent on individual gang members’ characteristics, desires, and abilities. Gang organization in favor of violence generally places gang members at higher risk of offending and victimization than similarly situated youth, but there is also variation among gang members regarding risk-taking and offending behaviors. Our findings suggest the gang-specific consequences of this behavioral diversity are expressed through gang centrality and leadership status. Specifically, we argue that as centrality to gang activities increases, risk of exposure to serious victimization does too. Simply put, gang activities are high risk, so it follows that the more gang activities one participates in the higher one’s risk of victimization.

This assertion is supported by our finding that gang centrality is associated with increases in aggravated-assault victimization (see also Sweeten et al. 2013 ). Further, more central gang members may be more likely to engage in retaliatory violence, which often involves acts of violence above and beyond simple assault ( Papachristos et al. 2013 ). In support of this statement, supplemental analyses indicate more “central” DYS gang members report more involvement in violent offending. It therefore appears that while gang organization uniformly influences risk of victimization among gang members, regardless of their within-gang status, central members of the gang experience contexts for risk above and beyond those of other members, and those contexts place them at greater risk of experiencing severe violent victimization. However, while gang dynamics indicative of being a more active member increase risk of aggravated-assault victimization, leadership status appears to exert the opposite effect.

The finding that being a leader is not related to simple assault and is negatively associated with aggravated-assault victimization is surprising. While our null finding for simple assault supports the assertion that individual-level gang dynamics are not especially predictive of simple-assault victimization, the tentative finding that leadership roles insulate members from aggravated-assault victimization appears to counter our narrative that “core” gang members are exposed to serious victimization risks more than peripheral members. However, we argue this finding may be because gang members’ perceptions of leaders as among the toughest people in a gang deters would-be assailants. In addition, leadership status may in fact be tied to capacity for violence, and it is possible gang leaders are more likely to forcibly end conflicts before they escalate past what we identify here as simple assault, and have greater control over decisions to fight (see Short and Strodtbeck 1965 ). Leadership roles, therefore, may afford members some protection from aggravated-assault victimization, though leaders experience simple assault victimization at the same rates as other members.

The finding that gang identity is not significantly associated with violent victimization is somewhat surprising, and we believe it has two likely explanations. First, as with other null findings regarding simple-assault victimization, it is likely that gang organization is the most salient predictor of this victimization type and that its influence eclipses the influence of gang dynamics at the individual level. Second, with regards to aggravated-assault victimization, it may be possible to identify strongly as a gang member but to be relatively uninvolved in high-risk gang activities. While gang centrality and identity likely overlap in important ways, they are not strongly correlated (α=0.26). Thus, it is possible that even among members who strongly identify with their gang, there is enough variation in taste for risk among these members that some are substantially more likely than others to steer clear of high-conflict, high-risk contexts. This finding therefore suggests a defining characteristic among deeply embedded gang members is their willingness to expose themselves to risky contexts, and that this exposure is an important predictor of aggravated-assault victimization among gang members. Regardless, given the relative novelty of this finding we encourage future researchers to explore this relationship using other datasets and analytical methods.

Of individual behaviors and histories, violent offending, carrying a weapon, and drinking beer were significantly associated with both types of violent victimization. Regarding simple assault, and taken together with our null findings regarding individual-level gang dynamics, we interpret results to mean the influence of individual-level characteristics that exist independent of respondents’ gang membership eclipses the influence of individual-level gang dynamics. Taking our results regarding aggravated assault together with the finding that gang centrality and leadership are important correlates of aggravated-assault victimization suggests both gang-dependent and non-gang-dependent individual-level characteristics influence aggravated-assault victimization. The finding that carrying a weapon exerts strong effects on aggravated-assault victimization aligns with prior research on the importance of individual behaviors, but contradicts prior research that indicates gang dynamics are spurious if one accounts for carrying a weapon ( Spano et al. 2008 ). Further, our analyses do not support the notion that prior victimization and/or offending are key factors in predicting gang members’ violent victimization. Thus, it appears prior histories of violent victimization and offending among gang members are less important than are their current gang contexts.

The above findings improve our knowledge of gang member victimization in important ways. DYS data on youths in high-risk communities facilitates a new vantage point in understanding the relationship between gangs and victimization in that it allows us to compare gang members to other gang members in an emergent gang city. In addition, this paper demonstrates the advantages of using gang-informed theory and concepts to better understand how different gang dynamics influence different types of violent victimization among gang-involved youth. The findings that the influence of gang dynamics varies based on both the type of dynamic and the type of victimization being analyzed should motivate future researchers to continue to disaggregate gang dynamics and victimization to further unpack this complex relationship.

This study has some limitations, and these limitations demonstrate future research is necessary to further support the findings and arguments presented in this paper. To start, while our sample affords us a rare opportunity to empirically compare gang members to other gang members, it is somewhat small and yields less statistical power than do larger samples (see Long and Fresses 2006 ). Thus our estimates of effect sizes may be conservative. Limitations related to our sample size may be especially relevant with regards to our argument that leadership roles insulate gang members from aggravated-assault victimization, given the leadership coefficient is only significant at p ≤ 0.10. Therefore, we present this finding as suggestive and encourage future researchers to critically evaluate this relationship. Finally, our measure of prior violent victimization necessarily includes victimization both within and prior to gang membership. While we explored restricting this variable to one state or the other, we ultimately determined it would have reduced the sample size in a way that would preclude multivariate models. For this reason, we suggest future researchers work to disaggregate pre- and post-gang-membership victimization in analyses wherever possible.

Regardless of its limitations, this study demonstrates the value of using gang-informed theory to analyze the relationship between gang dynamics and violent victimization in gang contexts. This research moves past the causal argument that gang membership leads to higher rates of victimization and suggests gang dynamics – particularly gang organization, gang centrality, and leadership – act as mechanisms to influence simple- and aggravated-assault victimization among gang members. Further, our results are robust to the inclusion of mechanisms for victimization suggested in prior literature, such as drinking, offending, and prior victimization. Taken together, these results clearly illustrate the advantages of investigating gang dynamics using gang-informed theory by showing this approach can help researchers understand an important dimension of youths’ violent victimization.

3 While research demonstrates self-report alone is a valid measure of gang membership ( Esbensen et al. 2001 ) the more restricted definition used here is necessary to rule out youths in non-criminal peer groups. For example, one participant reported being a member of a gang, but further analysis into the name of this gang revealed the respondent was referring to a church choir.

4 Unfortunately, the DYS did not disaggregate between race and ethnicity during data collection. Therefore, “Hispanic” is grouped along with racial identities despite the fact that it is an ethnicity. Thus, Black, White, and Asian Hispanics were forced to select either their race or their ethnicity during data collection.

5 Due to nontrivial levels of missingness, additional analyses were conducted using multiple imputation techniques. Missing values for our covariates were imputed using Stata 15’s chained command and imputing the data 10 times. Our imputation models adjusted for all independent variables with missingness. However, missing values for outcome variables were not imputed to prevent the introduction of bias. Sample size in these models increased to 343. Results, available on request, were consistent with the reported models.

  • Bouchard Martin, and Spindler Andrea. 2010. “ Groups, gangs, and delinquency: Does organization matter? ” Journal of Criminal Justice 38 ( 5 ): 921–933. [ Google Scholar ]
  • Childs Kristina K., Cochran John K., and Gibson Christopher L.. 2009. “ Self-control, gang membership, and victimization: An integrated approach .” Journal of Crime and Justice 32 ( 1 ): 35–60. [ Google Scholar ]
  • Cohen Lawrence E., and Felson Marcus. 1979. “ Social change and crime rate trends: A routine activity approach .” American Sociological Review 588–608. [ Google Scholar ]
  • Conway-Turner Jameela, Visconti Kari, and Winsler Adam. 2020. “ The Role of Gang Involvement as a Protective Factor in the Association Between Peer Victimization and Negative Emotionality .” Youth and Society 52 ( 3 ): 469–489. [ Google Scholar ]
  • David-Ferdon Corrinne, and Simon Thomas R.. 2014. “ Preventing Youth Violence: Opportunities for Action .” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention . [ Google Scholar ]
  • Decker Scott H., Katz Charles M., and Webb Vincent J.. 2008. “ Understanding the black box of gang organization: Implications for involvement in violent crime, drug sales, and violent victimization .” Crime and delinquency 54 ( 1 ): 153–172. [ Google Scholar ]
  • Decker Scott H., and Van Winkle Barrik. 1996. Life in the gang: Family, friends, and violence . Cambridge University Press. [ Google Scholar ]
  • Decker Scott H., and Curry David G.. 2002. “ Gangs, gang homicides, and gang loyalty: Organized crimes or disorganized criminals .” Journal of Criminal Justice 30 ( 4 ): 343–352. [ Google Scholar ]
  • DeLisi Matt, Barnes JC, Beaver Kevin M., and Gibson Chris L.. 2009. “ Delinquent gangs and adolescent victimization revisited: A propensity score matching approach .” Criminal Justice and Behavior 36 ( 8 ): 808–823. [ Google Scholar ]
  • Durán Robert. 2013. Gang life in two cities: An insiders journey . Columbia University Press. [ Google Scholar ]
  • Esbensen Finn-Aage and Huizinga David. 1993. “ Gangs, drugs, and delinquency in a survey of urban youth .” Criminology 31 ( 4 ): 565–589. [ Google Scholar ]
  • Esbensen Finn-Aage, Winfree Thomas L. Jr, He Ni, and Taylor Terrence J.. 2001. “ Youth gangs and definitional issues: When is a gang a gang, and why does it matter? ” Crime and delinquency 47 ( 1 ): 105–130. [ Google Scholar ]
  • Fagan Jeffery. 1989. “ The social organization of drug use and drug dealing among urban gangs .” Criminology 27 ( 4 ): 633–670. [ Google Scholar ]
  • Fox Kathleen A. 2013. “ New developments and implications for understanding the victimization of gang members .” Violence and victims 28 ( 6 ): 1015–1040. [ PubMed ] [ Google Scholar ]
  • Fox Kathleen A. 2017. “ Gangs, gender, and violent victimization .” Victims and Offenders 12 ( 1 ): 43–70. [ Google Scholar ]
  • Gibson Chris L., Miller Mitchell J., Jennings Wesley G., Swatt Marc, and Gover Angela. 2009. “ Using propensity score matching to understand the relationship between gang membership and violent victimization: A research note .” Justice Quarterly 26 ( 4 ): 625–643. [ Google Scholar ]
  • Hagedorn John M., and Macon Perry. 1988. People and Folks. Gangs, Crime and the Underclass in a Rustbelt City . Lake View Press, PO Box 578279, Chicago, IL 60657: (paperback: ISBN-0-941702-21-9; clothbound: ISBN-0-941702-20-0). [ Google Scholar ]
  • Hart Timothy C. and Rennison Callie M.. 2003. Reporting crime to the police, 1992-2000 . US Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs; Washington, DC. [ Google Scholar ]
  • Hindelang Michael J., Gottfredson Michael R., and Garofalo Jane. 1978. Victims of personal crime: An empirical foundation for a theory of personal victimization . Cambridge, MA: Ballinger. [ Google Scholar ]
  • Hennigan Karen, and Spanovic Marija. 2012. “Gang dynamics through the lens of social identity theory.” Pp. 127–149 in Youth gangs in international perspective . Springer, New York, NY. [ Google Scholar ]
  • Katz Charles M., Webb Vincent J., Fox Kate, and Shaffer Jennifer N.. 2011. “ Understanding the relationship between violent victimization and gang membership .” Journal of Criminal Justice 39 ( 1 ): 48–59. [ Google Scholar ]
  • Klein Malcom W. 1997. The American street gang: Its nature, prevalence, and control . Oxford University Press. [ Google Scholar ]
  • Lane Jodi, Armstrong Gaylene S., and Fox Kathleen A.. 2019. “ Fear of victimization among incarcerated youths: Examining the effects of institutional “neighborhood” characteristics and gang membership .” Youth & Society 51 ( 3 ): 417–439. [ Google Scholar ]
  • Lane Jodi, and Fox Kathleen A.. 2020. “ Race and ethnic differences in fear of property, personal, and gang victimization among people involved in crime: testing the effects of perceived neighborhood characteristics .” Victims & Offenders 15 ( 4 ): 395–417. [ Google Scholar ]
  • Lauger Timothy R. " Gangs, identity, and cultural performance . 2020." Sociology Compass 14 ( 4 ). [ Google Scholar ]
  • Lauritsen Janet L. and Heimer Karen. 2008. The Gender Gap in Violent Victimization, 1973–2004 . Journal of Quantitative Criminology 24 ( 2 ): 125–147. [ Google Scholar ]
  • Lauritsen Janet L. and Rezey Maribeth L.. 2013. Measuring the prevalence of crime with the national crime victimization survey . U.S. Department of Justice Office of Justice Programs Bureau of Justice Statistics. Washington, DC. [ Google Scholar ]
  • Leverso John, and Matsueda Ross L.. 2019. “ Gang organization and gang identity: An investigation of enduring gang membership .” Journal of quantitative criminology 35 ( 4 ): 797–829. [ Google Scholar ]
  • Long J. Scott, and Freese Jeremy. 2006. Regression models for categorical dependent variables using Stata . Vol. 7 . Stata press.. [ Google Scholar ]
  • Matsueda RL (2006) Criminological implications of the thought of George Herbert Mead. In: Deflem M (ed) Sociological theory and criminological research: views from Europe and the United States . Elsevier, Oxford, pp 77–108 [ Google Scholar ]
  • Melde Chris, Taylor Terrence J., and Esbensen Finn-Aage. 2009. “ ‘I got your back:’ An examination of the protective function of gang membership in adolescence .” Criminology 47 ( 2 ): 565–594. [ Google Scholar ]
  • Melde Chris, Diem Chelsea, and Drake Gregory. 2012. “ Identifying correlates of stable gang membership .” Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice 28 ( 4 ): 482–498. [ Google Scholar ]
  • Morgan RE, and Truman JL. “Criminal victimization 2020. National Crime Victimization Survey 2019, Bureau of Justice Statistics. [ Google Scholar ]
  • Ozer M. Murat, and Engel Robin S.. 2012. “ Revisiting the use of propensity score matching to understand the relationship between gang membership and violent victimization: A cautionary note .” Justice Quarterly 29 ( 1 ): 105–124. [ Google Scholar ]
  • Padilla FM (1992) The gang as an American enterprise . Rutgers University Press, Rutgers. [ Google Scholar ]
  • Papachristos Andrew V. 2009. “ Murder by structure: Dominance relations and the social structure of gang homicide .” American journal of sociology 115 ( 1 ): 74–128. [ PubMed ] [ Google Scholar ]
  • Papachristos Andrew V., Hureau David M., and Braga Anthony A.. 2013. “ The corner and the crew: The influence of geography and social networks on gang violence .” American sociological review 78 ( 3 ): 417–447. [ Google Scholar ]
  • Peterson Dana, Taylor Terrence J., and Esbensen Finn-Aage. 2004. “ Gang membership and violent victimization .” Justice Quarterly 21 ( 4 ): 793–815. [ Google Scholar ]
  • Peterson Dana, Carson Dena C., and Fowler Eric. 2018. “ What’s sex (composition) got to do with it? The importance of sex composition of gangs for female and male members’ offending and victimization .” Justice Quarterly 35 ( 6 ): 941–976. [ Google Scholar ]
  • Pyrooz David C. 2014. “ From colors and guns to caps and gowns? The effects of gang membership on educational attainment ”. Journal of research in crime and delinquency 51 ( 1 ): 56–87. [ Google Scholar ]
  • Pyrooz Davod C., Fox Andrew M., Katz Charles M., and Decker Scott H.. 2012. “Gang organization, offending, and victimization: A cross-national analysis.” Pp. 85–105 in Youth gangs in international perspective . Springer, New York, NY. [ Google Scholar ]
  • Pyrooz David C., Sweeten Gary, and Piquero Alex R.. 2013. “ Continuity and change in gang membership and gang embeddedness .” Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency 50 ( 2 ): 239–271. [ Google Scholar ]
  • Pyrooz David C., Moule Richard K. Jr, and Decker Scott H.. 2014. “ The contribution of gang membership to the victim–offender overlap .” Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency 51 ( 3 ): 315–348. [ Google Scholar ]
  • Pyrooz David C., Turanovic Jillian J., Decker Scott H., and Wu Jun. 2016. “ Taking stock of the relationship between gang membership and offending: A meta-analysis .” Criminal Justice and Behavior 43 ( 3 ): 365–397. [ Google Scholar ]
  • Pyrooz David C., and Decker Scott H.. 2019. Competing for control: Gangs and the social order of prisons . Cambridge University Press. [ Google Scholar ]
  • Rios Victor M. (2011). Punished: Policing the lives of Black and Latino boys . NYU Press. [ Google Scholar ]
  • Short James F., and Strodtbeck Fred L.. 1965. Group process and gang delinquency . Chicago: University of Chicago Press. [ Google Scholar ]
  • Spano Richard, Freilich Joshua D., and Bolland John. 2008. “ Gang Membership, Gun Carrying, and Employment: Applying Routine Activities Theory to Explain Violent Victimization Among Inner City, Minority Youth Living in Extreme Poverty .” Justice Quarterly 25 ( 2 ): 381–410. [ Google Scholar ]
  • Sweeten Gary, Pyrooz David C., and Piquero Alex R.. 2013. “ Disengaging from gangs and desistance from crime .” Justice Quarterly 30 ( 3 ): 469–500. [ Google Scholar ]
  • Tajfel Henri E. 1978. Differentiation between social groups: Studies in the social psychology of intergroup relations . Academic Press. [ Google Scholar ]
  • Taylor Terrence J., Peterson Dana, Esbensen Finn-Aage, and Freng Adrienne. 2007. “ Gang membership as a risk factor for adolescent violent victimization .” Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency 44 ( 4 ): 351–380. [ Google Scholar ]
  • Taylor Terrence J., Freng Adrienne, Esbensen Finn-Aage, and Peterson Dana. 2008. “ Youth gang membership and serious violent victimization: The importance of lifestyles and routine activities .” Journal of interpersonal violence 23 ( 10 ): 1441–1464. [ PubMed ] [ Google Scholar ]
  • Thomas William Isaac, and Thomas Dorothy Swaine. 1928. “ The methodology of behavior study .” The child in America: Behavior problems and programs . 553–576. [ Google Scholar ]
  • Thornberry Terrence P., Huizinga David, and Loeber Rolf. 2004. “ The causes and correlates studies: Findings and policy implications .” Juv. Just 9 : 3. [ Google Scholar ]
  • Thornberry Terrence P., Krohn Marvin D., Lizotte Allen J., Tobin Kimberly, and Smith Carolyn A.. 2003. Gangs and delinquency in developmental perspective . Cambridge University Press. [ Google Scholar ]
  • Turner John C., Hogg Michael A., Oakes Penelope J., Reicher Stephan D., and Wetherell Margaret S.. 1987. Rediscovering the social group: A self-categorization theory . Basil Blackwell. [ Google Scholar ]
  • Vigil James D. 1996. “ Street baptism: Chicano gang initiation .” Human Organization 55 ( 2 ): 149–153. [ Google Scholar ]
  • Vigil James D. 2010. Barrio gangs: Street life and identity in Southern California . University of Texas Press. [ Google Scholar ]
  • Watkins Adam M., and Melde Chris. 2018. “ Gangs, gender, and involvement in crime, victimization, and exposure to violence .” Journal of criminal justice 57 :11–25. [ Google Scholar ]
  • Wood Jane L. 2014. “ Understanding gang membership: The significance of group processes .” Group Processes and Intergroup Relations 17 ( 6 ): 710–729. [ Google Scholar ]
  • Wu Jun, and Pyrooz David C.. 2016. “ Uncovering the pathways between gang membership and violent victimization .” Journal of quantitative criminology 32 ( 4 ): 531–559. [ Google Scholar ]

A Literature Review on Gang Violence

Affiliation.

  • 1 Upstate University Hospital, Upstate Medical University, Syracuse, New York and Binghamton University, Binghamton, New York.
  • PMID: 28692626
  • DOI: 10.1097/JTN.0000000000000303

Gangs and gang violence are a concerning cause of preventable injuries and death in the trauma community. The number of gangs and gang members has been on an upward trend since 2003 with an estimated 30,000 gangs in the United States. This includes approximately 850,000 gang members. Trauma centers are in a unique position to participate in the prevention of gang violence. This review compiles current, relevant literature on gangs and gang violence covering the following topics: prevention/intervention, contributing influences, and experiential reflections. The purpose of the literature review is to deepen understanding of gangs and gang violence and potentiate further research in this area in order to help promote successful prevention efforts. Trauma nurses can use this information in developing culturally sensitive, compassionate care and trauma centers will find this useful in the development of injury prevention programs aimed at the reduction of gang and street violence.

Publication types

  • Adolescent Behavior
  • New York / epidemiology
  • Peer Group*
  • Risk Assessment
  • Urban Population*
  • Violence / prevention & control*
  • Violence / statistics & numerical data*
  • Young Adult
  • Miller's unpublished work
  • collected papers
  • Revisiting Roxbury Project
  • our research
  • external links

Gary Sweeten Associate Professor Phone: (602) 496-2342 Office: UCENT 613 [email protected]

Jacob Young Assistant Professor Phone: (602) 496-1343 Office: UCENT 639 [email protected]

Rick Moule Assistant Professor, University of South Florida Phone: (813) 974-8514 [email protected]

Gang Research at ASU

About walter b. miller.

research paper on gangs

Miller served as a member of committees for the Department of Labor and the Department of Justice and as a research consultant on projects by the National Education Association and various U.S. cities. He was truly a scholar, working with such academics as John Q. Wilson and Daniel Patrick Moynihan. While notable for his study of gangs, Miller was also involved in the areas of crime prevention through environmental design (CPTED), youth delinquency and poverty studies. He played a mean trumpet, and used his musical prowess as a way to break down barriers of income, race/ethnicity and culture between himself and many of the gang youth with whom he worked. He served as a lecturer and researcher at various institutions, including: Harvard,  Brandeis University, Boston University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Beginning in the mid 1970s, Miller directed the National Youth Gang Survey. Later, with the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, he worked closely with the National Youth Gang Center. This brought his work full circle, evolving from his days with the Special Youth Program in the early 1960s and “the generating milieu” in a single city to a national strategy in exploring gang membership. It should not come as any shock, given his education and the peers with whom he worked, Miller focused on relationships. Drawing on the rich tradition of social science at Harvard (Sheldon and Eleanor Glueck, William Foote Whyte) and the history of Boston, Miller brought these relationships to life in a manner few have achieved.  

City Gangs   

research paper on gangs

Youth Gangs Research Paper

Academic Writing Service

View sample Youth Gangs Research Paper. Browse other  research paper examples and check the list of research paper topics for more inspiration. If you need a religion research paper written according to all the academic standards, you can always turn to our experienced writers for help. This is how your paper can get an A! Feel free to contact our custom writing service for professional assistance. We offer high-quality assignments for reasonable rates.

1.    Introduction

Youth gangs have been a part of the American culture since  the  eighteenth   century  (Sante  1991,  Sheldon 1898). Gangs  are diverse in American  society; not all gangs  are  the  same.  Traditionally, researchers  have identified poverty  as a common  bond  between members of youth gangs (Miller 1958, Cohen 1960, Moore 1978, Taylor  1989, Curry  and  Spergel 1992). Many gangs today are still largely populated by young people from inner city neighborhoods, characterized by high unemployment, high educational dropout rates, and a general  feeling  of  hopelessness.  Yet,  today,  not  all gangs  share   an  impoverished   background. Youth gangs are springing up in affluent suburbs and in rural areas (Goldstein and Soriano 1994, Spergel and Curry 1993, Evans et al. 1999). At the start of the twenty-first century,   many  traditional  views  about   what   constitutes  a gang are still prevalent.  Defining gangs has been, and continues to be, a problem in the USA. The practice  of defining  a gang  has  become  highly  subjective,  ranging   from  disorganized   noncriminal to highly   organized    criminal    organizations   (Taylor 1989). This diversity continues to be debated  by professionals  in social work,  law enforcement,  education,  and community  organizations.

Academic Writing, Editing, Proofreading, And Problem Solving Services

Get 10% off with 24start discount code.

The following sections include discussions on the difficulty of defining youth gangs (see Sect. 2), as well as covering  the diverse ethnic  membership  of youth gangs in America  (see Sect. 3). Myths  of gangs and gang members are discussed because society tends to view gangs from a myth-based perspective. In order to understand the problem,  define the problem,  and prevent  the  problem   of  gangs,  a  reality-based   approach  must be found (see Sect. 5). These discussions rely on available gang studies for a broader perspective of the gang problem in the USA today. Following the conclusion,  an extensive reference list is provided  to assist with further  review of the topic.

2.    Defining Gang

Historically,   defining   the   term   gang  has   been   a problem in the USA. Early definitions did not focus on criminal activity, but rather  on delinquent  behaviors. Consensus  of definition  does not  exist today.  Many researchers  have created  their  own versions  of what constitutes   a  gang  (Klein  1968,  Huff  1989,  Taylor 1990, Monti  1993). In  fact,  every organization that comes in contact with gangs has created an operational definition  of the term to suit its own needs. Although law enforcement’s focus, understandably, is on gangs that are breaking  the laws and mores of society, there isn’t one definition for all jurisdictions to follow (Cromwell et al. 1992).

Neighborhoods,  families,  and   communities   also come in contact  with gangs and  must  find a way to define existing groups. Groups  of youth in many communities across America may appear similar to gangs, yet they have no criminal  past or future.  One researcher  called these types  of groups  adjunct,  advocated  political groups,  and underscored that  often they comprise productive young citizens of a particular community  (Taylor  1993).

Gangs vary by membership and activity. Generally, researchers  agree  that  there  are  different  degrees of gang  involvement   and  activity  (Fagan   1989,  Huff 1990, Taylor 1990). Although some young gang members earn a living through drug trafficking, illegal weapons  sales,  and  other  criminal  activities,  others join gangs for noncriminal reasons.  For  example,  a young  person  may join a neighborhood gang to get protection in their neighborhood; another  may join to gain respect they would otherwise not receive at home or in the community;  and still others may join for the camaraderie. Whatever the reason, gang members are as diverse as the gangs themselves.

What  constitutes  a gang  to  some  communities  is clearly not always tied to criminal behavior. Some will choose   to   define  gangs   by  categorizing   them   as organized or unorganized criminal groups. Yet others will be swayed by images that  are often fictional (see Sect. 4).

3.    Overview Of US Youth Gang History

The earliest record  of youth  gangs in the USA  may have been as early as the eighteenth century, at the end of  the  American  Revolution in  1783 (Sante  1991). Some of these gangs were known as Smith’s Vly gang, the Bowery Boys, the Broadway  Boys, and the Long Bridge Boys (Osman 1992). These gang members were not   necessarily   criminals   who   committed   violent crimes, although they did fight with rivals.

Redfield (1941) believed the first gangs in the USA migrated  from Mexico in the nineteenth  century after the Mexican  Revolution in 1813. It was around this time that  the first criminal gangs were formed. These were youth gangs involved in criminal activity, due in part to the economic situation and the increase in population in urban  areas.

The Irish immigrants were the first to form criminal gangs in New York City in the 1820s. The 1850s saw an increase in gang membership as urban government corruption was rampant. During  the early years after the civil war ended, migration  patterns  increased for industrial   centers   like  New   York,   Chicago,   and Detroit. The Irish, Jewish, and Italian immigrants who came were impoverished  and formed gangs based on ethnicity. It was also at this time that drugs were introduced to gang life.

The early part of the twentieth century was dominated by economic turmoil. Due to the increase in population of the urban  areas and  the decline in the economy,  the  gap  between  the  rich and  poor  grew. According to Thrasher  (1927), there were 1,313 gangs in Chicago  in the 1920s. Many  of these were ethnic gangs. The increase in the number  of immigrants  in urban  areas  continued   throughout this  century.  In particular in the early 1940s large numbers  of Puerto Ricans entered New York City. This fact, along with a growing   African-American  population   from   the south,  contributed to the large minority  populations in northern cities.  While  Irish,  Italian,  Jewish,  and other  Eastern  European ethnic  groups  were  establishing their communities, Puerto Ricans and African-Americans,  including  strong  pockets  of black  West Indians, became a strong presence. Racial conflict was clear in northern big cities such as Detroit, Michigan, where one of the worst race riots in American  history took  place  in  1943.  Groups   of  white  youth  gangs roamed the city attacking  black citizens (Shelden et al. 1997). Around the same time in Los Angeles, the Zoot Suit Riots of 1943 were underway. In these riots, white residents  and  visiting soldiers  harassed  and  beat  up young Chicano  men who dressed in the popular zoot suit style of clothing (Moore 1978, Shelden et al. 1997).

Following   World   War   II,   gangs  became   more organized.  As the population in ethnic ghetto  neighborhoods shifted  from  largely  Eastern  European  in the early 1950s toward  African-American and Latino in the 1960s and 1970s, so did the ethnicity of gangs in those  areas.  Weapons,   illicit  narcotics,   and  sexual encounters  came with delinquent  and  criminal  street youth  gangs  in  the  1950s and  1960s.  Urban   cities experienced  poverty,  crime,  and  inferior  education. Some researchers  contend  that  young people, undereducated  and  without  access to  good  jobs,  become frustrated  with  their   lives  and   join  gangs  as  an alternative   to  boredom,  hopelessness,  and  poverty (Shaw and  McKay  1942, Cloward  and  Ohlin  1960, Taylor 1990). Today, the composition  of youth gangs is changing  with the onset  of affluent  suburban and rural youth gangs (Korem  1994, Evans et al. 1999).

During  the 1960s, the connection  between criminal gangs and youth  gangs varied from neighborhood to neighborhood, and city to city. Female gangs evolved from  male gangs in some of these cities. The media focused on youth culture and its music, dancing,  and desire to have its own identity.  Youth  culture defines itself within the context of hip hop, grunge, and other youth experiences and expressions. Many times gangs were  blamed   for  anything   negative  or  delinquent (Miller 1975). The issue of social class is underscored by how some communities responded  to the challenge of gangs. Many  middle class communities  supported recreational programs for youth.  Unfortunately, the concept of positive youth development only applied to the middle class youth  in suburbia.  Inner city youths were  not  included  in  positive  youth   development, instead   youth   detention   was  used  to  regain   and maintain  social control.

The Watts Riots of 1965 did for African-American gangs what  the Zoot  Suit Riots  did for the Chicano gangs  in 1943. Basically,  the  outcome  was that  the media began to portray the youths in a negative light, and  the  youths  began  to  see themselves  differently. They chose to see themselves as defiant  rather  than defeated, and to ‘redefine exclusion as exclusivity’ (Shelden et al. 1997).

For  the most part,  the 1960s saw a decline in gang violence. By the early 1970s, they were back  on the front  page. At this time, drug use in gangs began to decrease while the use of violence began to increase. The gangs of the 1970s, with greater use of guns, were more lethal in their encounters than previously (Horowitz  and  Schwartz  1974, Taylor  1989). By the 1980s, the urban ghettos became overcrowded and the youth  gangs  transformed themselves  into  entrepreneurial organizations with the crack cocaine epidemic of  that   decade   (Sanchez-Jankowski  1991,  Taylor 1989).

The youth  gang problem  in the USA today  affects communities  of all sizes. Although youth  gangs  are more prevalent in urban areas like Detroit, New York, Chicago,  and Los Angeles, they can also be found in affluent suburban and rural areas (Korem 1994, Evans et al. 1999). According  to the 1996 National Youth Gang    Survey,   approximately   31,000   gangs   and 846,000 gang members were active in the USA in that year. The survey respondents reported  that, especially in rural areas, the gang problem  began to effect them in 1994. This study also found that the proportion of Caucasian  gang members was especially high in rural areas.

In looking at youth gangs, it is imperative to include not only those in urban centers, but also those in suburban and  rural  communities.  Gang  membership today is no longer exclusive to school drop-outs from impoverished,  overpopulated urban  areas. It can also include affluent middle-class suburban youths and youths from underpopulated rural areas.

While  it  is easy  to  see the  daily  newscast  about Latino   and  African-American gangs,  the  gangs  of skinheads   and  White  Supremacist   are  not  always defined as gangs. Remembering the diversity of gangs, including  youth  gangs,  is important. Highly  structured,  corporate gangs  can  be found  all around the country;  but not all gangs are corporate-style gangs, some are loosely held organizations, having virtually no leadership (Taylor  1990).

The idea of defining the term gang is good in theory. The problem is in gaining consensus among the organizations and  communities  that  are  effected by youth gangs. Today, gangs are identified based on the needs of the organization that  comes in contact  with them.  Whether  a highly  organized  criminal  corporation  or  a  loose-knit   group  of  friends  that  comes together   for  camaraderie  rather   than   criminal  activities, gangs are too diverse for one definition. Whatever the definition of choice, in defining gangs it is paramount that  the  distinction  is made  between criminal and noncriminal gangs. Juvenile youth gangs could  be  considered  delinquent  depending  on  how their respective communities  view delinquency. However, criminal  behavior  is not  automatically part  of youth  gangs.  Some  researchers  have  promoted the notion  that  all gangs are criminal.  One of the shortcomings of literature  on gangs is the focus on criminality.  Delinquency,  continued  lifetime criminal behavior,   is  well  documented  in  many   academic studies.  Yet, there  is little if any attention on youth gangs, gangs, or gang members involved in noncriminal activities. This lack of focus does not conclude there are no other gang types; it does, however, point to  the  posturing and  approach of  how  society  has viewed youth gangs in America.

4.    Role Of The Media And Cinema

The debate  about  what  constitutes  a gang has been underscored by the portrayal of gangs and gangsters in the media and cinema. Entertainment has become big business  as an  industry  that  promotes  and  sells gangsters, action heroes, and violence.

The media  has been developing  a bio-sketch  of a gang member  since the Zoot  Suit Riots  of 1943 and using it to keep fear of diversity in the minds of all who are willing to be taken  in. The Watts  Riots  of 1965 gave the media more ammunition for its exaggerated view of a gangster.  Thanks  to their  portrayal, many people today believe that a gang member is a Latino or African-American illiterate youth,  who comes from a female-headed  household, in an impoverished  urban area.  The suburban gangster  is not  seen as a threat because he has been portrayed as a literate youth who comes from an intact family with Christian family values,  from  an  affluent   community.   Given  these choices, who would you be afraid  of?

American cinema has a long history of gangster movies. From  ‘West Side Story’ to the more hardcore portrayal  of  criminal   street   gangsters   today,   the cinema has literally been a training  ground  for gang wannabes.  Classic  movies  such  as  ‘The  Godfather’ give an excellent example  of Thrasher’s  (1927) evolution of street gangs, rising from neighborhood playgroups and evolving into successful criminal street gangs.  From  the  portrayal of  rebelling  youth  (i.e., ‘Rebel Without  A Cause,’ Blackboard Jungle,’ ‘Wild Ones’…), to star-crossed  love (i.e., ‘West Side Story’), and   the  hardcore   reality  of  street  gangsters   (i.e., ‘Menace II Society,’ ‘187,’ ‘Heat,’ ‘Boyz in the Hood’), the  youth  of America  did  not  have  to  look  far  for gangster role models.

Society, and  in particular some media  forces,  has been ready to assign responsibility for brutal acts exclusively to so-called vicious gangs. But the reality is that gang members run the spectrum of angels to demons.  According  to the Bureau  of Justice, only 10 percent of gang members are hardcore,  violent members.  Researchers  have found  that  most  are  peripherally involved in violence; more  important, there  is evidence to show that only a small percentage of gang members are responsible  for the violence.

5.    Gang Myths

In  order  to  gauge  properly  the  gang  influence  in a community,  gang myths must be addressed and dispelled. Although there are many myths in existence today,  the following are a selection that  tend to crop up in research (Goldstein and Huff 1993, Taylor 1990, 1993).

Myth 1: All street gangs are turf oriented.

Reality  1: There  are  gangs  that  claim ownership  to a  particular  territory,  but   this  is  not   the   exclusive  reason   for  gang  membership.   Others   include Scavenger gangs (loose-knit,  immoral,  noncriminal), Commercial  gangs  (focused  on  material  gain),  and Corporate gangs  (well organized,  highly  structured, focused on financial gain by criminal action).

Myth 2: Females are not allowed to join gangs.

Reality   2:  Females   are   joining   gangs   in   record numbers.    One   female   gang   supported   research, showed females in autonomous gangs involved in organized  criminal activities.

Myth 3: There are no gangs in my neighborhood.

Reality  3:  Today,   no  neighborhood,  regardless  of economic  status,   is  immune  to  gang  membership. Gangs can be found in rural areas, suburban areas, as well as urban  areas.

Myth   4:  Gang   members   wear  baggy  clothes  and athletic team baseball hats.

Reality   4:  Baggy  clothing   has  become   the  ‘cool’ style of dress and not a uniform that all gang members wear.

Myth  5: All gangs  have  a single leader  and  a tight structure.

Reality   5:  Some   gangs   are   loosely   held   organizations, having virtually no leadership.

Myth 6: Gangs are a law-enforcement  problem.

Reality 6: Gangs  are a problem  for every member of society including parents,  teachers,  and police.

Myth 7: I know a gang member when I see one.

Reality  7: This statement opens  the door  to racism. Using  traditional ideas  of  gang  membership  would mean that only Latino  and African-American youths would be targeted.  It is important to remember  that youth  gang  members  are  diverse  in  color,  style  of dress, activities, and background.

6.    Conclusion

Historically,  youth  gangs began as a group  of young people coming together with a common bond. Today, ethnicity seems to be the bond that is focused on by the media,   the  cinema,   and   society.  The  youth   gang problem continues to grow in the USA. It is no longer an  urban  issue, as shown  by the  current  and  rapid onset of suburban and rural gangs. The gang structure is also changing, with gangs of different sizes engaged in activities ranging from non-criminal to criminal. At the start  of the twenty-first  century,  society needs to define the term gang, taking into account the facts that there are different  types of gangs ranging  from noncriminal to criminal; loosely knit to highly structured; coming from diverse ethnic backgrounds; experiencing different reasons for joining, as well as choice of activities pursued. Youth gangs should be studied and defined by the behavior  that is associated  with gangs. As difficult as it will be to come to one definition of the term gang, some consensus must be reached if there is any  hope  of  identifying  specific prevention   and  intervention  programs.

References:

  • Cloward R A, Ohlin L E 1960 Delinquency and Opportunity: A Theory of Delinquent Gangs. The Free Press, New York
  • Cohen A K 1960 Delinquent Boys: The Culture of the Gang. The Free Press, Glencoe, IL
  • Cromwell P, Taylor D, Palacios W 1992 Youth gangs: a 1990s perspective. Juvenile and Family Court Journal 43(3): 25–31
  • Curry G D, Spergel I A 1992 Gang involvement and delinquency among Hispanic and African-American adolescent males. Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency 29: 273–91
  • Evans W P, Fitzgerald C, Weigel D, Chvilicek S 1999 Are rural gang members similar to their urban  peers? Implications  for rural communities.  Youth  and Society 30(3): 267–82
  • Fagan J E 1989 The social organization of drug  use and  drug dealing among urban  Criminology 27: 633–69
  • Goldstein A P, Huff R 1993 The Gang Intervention Handbook. Research  Press, Champaign, IL
  • Goldstein A P, Soriano  F I 1994 Juvenile gangs. In: Eron L D, Gentry J H, Schlegel P (eds.) Reason to Hope: A Psychosocial Perspective on Violence and Youth.  American  Psychological Association,  Washington, DC
  • Horowitz R, Schwartz G 1974 Honor, normative ambiguity and gang violence. American Sociological Review 39(April): 238–51
  • Huff C R  1989  Youth   gangs  and  public    Crime  and Delinquency 35: 524–37
  • Huff C R 1990 Gangs in America. Sage, Newbury Park,  CA
  • Klein M W 1968 Impressions of juvenile gang members.  Adolescence 3: 53–78
  • Korem D  1994  Suburban  Gangs; the  Affluent    International  Focus Press
  • Miller W B 1958 Lower class culture as a generating  milieu of gang delinquency. Journal of Social Issues 14: 5–19
  • Miller W B 1975 Violence by Youth Gangs and Youth Groups as a Crime Problem in Major American Cities. US Department of Justice, NCJ 137446, Washington, DC
  • Monti D J 1993 Origins and  problems  of gang research  in the United States. In: Cummings S, Monti  D J (eds.) Gangs State University  of New York Press, Albany,  NY
  • Moore J W 1978 Homeboys:  Gangs, Drugs and Prison in the Barrios of Los Angeles. Temple University Press, Philadelphia, PA
  • National Youth Gang Survey 1996 Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention,   NCJ 173964, Washington, DC
  • Osman K 1992 Gangs. Lucent Books, San Diego, CA
  • Redfield R 1941 Folk Culture of Yucatan. University of Chicago Press, Chicago, IL
  • Sanchez-Jankowski M S 1991 Islands in the Street: Gangs and American Urban Society. University of California  Press, Berkeley, CA
  • Sante L 1991 Low  Life:  Lures  and Snares  of Old New  Vintage Books, New York
  • Shaw C R, McKay H D 1942 Juvenile Delinquency and Urban Areas. University  of Chicago Press, Chicago,  IL
  • Shelden R G,  Tracy  S K,  Brown  W B 1997 Youth  Gangs in American Society. Wadsworth Publishing
  • Spergel I A, Curry D G 1993 The national youth gang survey: A research  and  development    In: Goldstein  A P, Huff C R (eds.) The Gang Intervention Handbook  Research  Press, Champaign, IL
  • Taylor C S 1990 Dangerous Society. Michigan State University Press, East Lansing,  MI
  • Taylor C S 1993 Girls, Gangs, Women and Drugs. Michigan State University Press, East Lansing,  MI
  • Thrasher F M  1927 The  University  of  Chicago  Press, Chicago,  IL.

ORDER HIGH QUALITY CUSTOM PAPER

research paper on gangs

IMAGES

  1. youth gangs research paper

    research paper on gangs

  2. An essay on gang violence

    research paper on gangs

  3. Racial Inequality and Gangs: Issue Analysis

    research paper on gangs

  4. Middle-Class Delinquency to Gangs Research Paper Example

    research paper on gangs

  5. The Rise of Gangs in the United States Research Paper

    research paper on gangs

  6. (PDF) The Global Impact of Gangs

    research paper on gangs

COMMENTS

  1. (PDF) Youth Gangs: An Overview of Key Findings and ...

    Gangs come in a variety of forms: prison gangs, outlaw motorcycle gangs, extremist groups, and drug trafficking organizations, among others. The current essay summarizes what is known about youth ...

  2. Gang Homicide: The Road so Far and a Map for the Future

    Gang violence and homicide has been a part of gang research since its beginnings in the late 1920s. Early attention to the topic comes from Asbury (1927) who spoke about gang murders moving from one location to another, from continents to neighborhoods. Similarly, Thrasher (1927; citing Yarros, 1926) identified Chicago as "the murder capital of the world" largely as a consequence of gang ...

  3. Disengagement from street gangs: a systematic review of the literature

    Additionally, a stark finding of the review is the scarcity of research investigating gang disengagement in the UK, despite previous research highlighting UK gang activity as an increasing problem (Mares, 2001; Shropshire & McFarquhar, 2002). Nevertheless, this review has enabled the wider literature to be drawn together in order to provide an ...

  4. PDF Advancing Knowledge To Reduce Gangs and Gang Violence: Perspectives

    The presentations focused on the research on gangs that NIJ has funded since 2012, information in CrimeSolutions on how . to address gangs and gang violence, a randomized controlled trial (RCT) of a gang intervention program in Denver, and lessons learned in addressing hurdles to rigorous research on a gang prevention program in Philadelphia.

  5. Youth gang affiliation, violence, and criminal activities: A review of

    This paper reviews and critically evaluates diverse research on the nature of youth gangs and the factors that motivate engagement in and desistance from gang-related activities, risk and protective factors associated with gang membership, and explores the adverse consequences associated with gang affiliation, including extensive research on ...

  6. Gangs and social media: A systematic literature review and an

    Indeed, many scholars have focused their attention on criminal activities in an attempt to expose a relationship between gangs' use of social media and violence and find that gang members are using social platforms to sell drugs, threaten and harass individuals, post violent videos and download illegal music (Moule et al., 2014; Patton et al., 2013, 2014; Pyrooz et al., 2015).

  7. Gangs in School: Exploring the Experiences of Gang-Involved Youth

    However, youth with some exposure to gang life are, perhaps, best suited to speak on their activities in school, how gang youth are identifiable in school, and the reactions of students to the presence of gangs. Moreover, research suggests that youth gang affiliation is more common than generally believed with national prevalence rates of 2% ...

  8. Gangs, Methodology and Ethical Protocols: Ethnographic ...

    Gangs have been described as an episodic phenomenon comparable across diverse geographical sites, with the US gang stereotype often acting as the archetype. Mirroring this trend, academic researchers have increasingly sought to survey the global topography of gangs through positivist methodologies that seek out universal characteristics of gangs in different cultural contexts. So, research ...

  9. Youth Gangs and Victimization: an Investigation of The Impact of Gang

    This paper logically extends gang-informed research on violence and moves beyond causal arguments concerning whether or not membership increases victimization by testing the differential influence of gang dynamics. We use a longitudinal sample of gang-involved youth, their offending and victimization histories, and gang dynamics to specify ...

  10. Research on Gang-Related Violence in the 21st Century

    Despite the proliferation of research examining gang violence, little is known about how gang members experience, make sense of, and respond to peer fatalities. Drawing from two ethnographies in the Netherlands and Canada, this paper interrogates how gang members experience their affiliates' murder in different street milieus.

  11. PDF An Examination of the Relationship between Gang Membership and Hopelessness

    gang membership, in order to provide some understanding. It will examine the role, if any, hopelessness plays amongst adolescent street gang members as opposed to their counterparts. I attempt to connect the research on hopelessness to similar underpinnings found within the literature on street gangs, as to demonstrate a correlation between the ...

  12. A Literature Review on Gang Violence

    This review compiles current, relevant literature on gangs and gang violence covering the following topics: prevention/intervention, contributing influences, and experiential reflections. The purpose of the literature review is to deepen understanding of gangs and gang violence and potentiate further research in this area in order to help ...

  13. Gang Prevention: An Overview of Research and Programs

    Gang Prevention: An Overview of Research and Programs. Since the mid-20th century, gang violence in this country has become widespread—all 50 states and the District of Columbia report gang problems, and reports have increased for 5 of the past 7 years. Despite the steady growth in the number and size of gangs across the United States and the ...

  14. PDF From the Administrator Gang Prevention: An Overview of Research and

    Gang Prevention: An Overview of Research and Programs by James C. Howell Highlights This bulletin presents research on why youth join gangs and how a community can build gang prevention and intervention services. The author summarizes recent literature on gang formation and identifies promising and effective pro-grams for gang prevention.

  15. Street gangs and coercive control: The gendered exploitation of young

    The fact that gang research focuses mainly on men (and is written by men) means young women's experiences in gangs have historically remained 'hidden' (Medina et al., 2012).Most of what we know about gender and gangs comes from the United States (see Decker et al., 2022; Panfil and Peterson, 2015), where research finds women tend to be involved in less serious violent offending than ...

  16. PDF Societal and Correctional Context of Prison Gangs

    Research on prison gangs should begin anew with correctional agency-researcher collaborations. Fleisher, Prison Gangs 2 ... prison gang and prison street gang. This paper goes beyond customary statements about prison gangs, such as Camp and Camp's 1985 study on prison gangs, which reported that, "prison gangs were three percent of the ...

  17. Gang Research at ASU

    He describes in great detail the role of delinquent and non-delinquent activities in the lives of the young men and women in the seven gangs he studied. The book occupies an important place in our understanding of youth programming, communities, families and gangs. **Download full book: city-gangs-book.pdf. ** Dowload book by chapter.

  18. An Introduction to Gangs and Serious Youth Violence in the United

    This article introduces the special issue on UK gangs and youth violence. Written to coincide with the launch of the National Centre for Gang Research at the University of West London, this collection adds the voices of academics who have spent years researching serious violence to a conversation dominated by policymakers and media commentators.

  19. Youth Gangs Research Paper

    View sample Youth Gangs Research Paper. Browse other research paper examples and check the list of research paper topics for more inspiration. If you need a religion research paper written according to all the academic standards, you can always turn to our experienced writers for help. This is how your paper can get an A!

  20. Gang Membership and Drug Involvement: Untangling the Complex

    Abstract. Previous research has consistently demonstrated a relationship between gang membership and involvement in illegal substances. In addition, researchers have noted that gang members are frequently more heavily involved in drug sales, which often lead to increases in violent behaviors. Most of this research, however, is either cross ...

  21. Outlaw motorcycle gangs and their members' crime: Examining the social

    Prior research has found that members of outlaw motorcycle gangs (OMCGs) are disproportionately involved in serious crimes, such as extortion, weapon- and drug- trafficking, and violence (Blokland, Van der Leest and Soudijn, 2017, 2019; Klement, 2016; Lauchs and Staines, 2019; Morgan et al., 2020).Fear of escalating inter-gang violence between OMCGs has further added to governments' felt ...