Gangs in the Global City

Gangs in the Global City

by John M. M. Hagedorn (Editor)


Usually ships within 1 week


Although they were originally considered an American phenomenon, gangs today have grown and transformed into global enterprises. Despite these changes, criminologists have not yet reassessed worldwide gangs in terms of the other changes associated with globalization.

John M. Hagedorn aims to correct this oversight by incorporating important theoretical advances in urban political economy and understanding changes in gangs around the world as a result of globalization and the growth of the information economy. Contrary to older conceptions, today’s gangs are international, are often institutionalized, and may be explicitly concerned with race and ethnicity. Gangs in the Global City presents the work of an assortment of international scholars that challenges traditional approaches to problems in criminology from many different perspectives and includes theoretical discussions, case studies, and examinations of gang members’ identities. The contributors consider gangs not as fundamentally a crime problem but as variable social organizations in poor communities that are transitioning to the new economy.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780252073373
Publisher: University of Illinois Press
Publication date: 07/07/2006
Edition description: 1ST
Pages: 368
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

John M. Hagedorn is an associate professor of criminal justice and a Great Cities Institute Fellow at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He is the author of Forsaking Our Children: Bureaucracy and Reform in the Child Welfare System and other books.

Read an Excerpt

Gangs in the Global City

Alternatives to Traditional Criminology


Copyright © 2007 Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-252-07337-1


Globalization, Gangs, and Traditional Criminology JOHN M. HAGEDORN

This volume, and the 2002 working conference that preceded it, are beginning steps in a process of reframing gangs beyond the criminology literature. While the volume represents widely divergent viewpoints, what unites the authors is a desire to understand gangs in the global era.

The volume brings together an assortment of international scholars who address, from many different perspectives, problems in traditional criminology. They range from the theoretical (Wacquant, Young, Sassen, and my own essays) to the case study (Hazlehurst, Rus and Vigil, Kersten, Pitts) to examining the identities and agency of male and female gang members on the streets (Moore, Barrios, and Brotherton). The book concludes with a sympathetic yet critical review essay by Jim Short.

Individually, none of the papers makes a full critique, though I attempt a synthesis in my concluding essay. But collectively, the chapters present alternatives to three generally accepted propositions of traditional criminology, which are listed in the table below. The authors in this volume, to one extent or another, elucidate the alternatives listed. This introduction intends to outline thecontours of the critique as it emerges chapter by chapter throughout this volume.

1. While most gangs are unsupervised teenage peer groups, many others have institutionalized in ghettos, barrios, and favelas across the world.

Gangs have been classically constructed as interstitial peer groups, adaptations to immigration and urbanization in the industrial city. The social disorganization paradigm deracialized the study of gangs and described them as transitory adolescent groups rebelling from weak institutions. While the Chicago School's focus on the spaces of the city was a major advance for social science (Hagedorn chapter 1), Wacquant's scathing critique (chapter 2) exposes the limitations of the paradigm and the need for this volume.

While most gangs still remain unsupervised peer groups (for example, Pitts chapter 11; Rus and Vigil chapter 6,) many gangs have older members and have persisted over decades. While authors in the volume use other terms for this process, I argue that some gangs or "street organizations" have institutionalized in poor communities. This concept, drawn from the literature on organizations, may be better suited to describe persisting gangs than "organized crime" or other terms drawn from criminology. As explained in chapter 1, this process is not new. Many gangs of the early twentieth century institutionalized as "voting gangs" or adjuncts to political machines. What is new in the global era, however, is the institutionalization of gangs of oppressed minorities.

The underground economy has also played a major role in the institutionalization of gangs, not only in the United States but around the world. Gangs have distinct economic functions as globalization has not narrowed inequalities but has marginalized some areas while valorizing others (Sassen chapter 4). Immigration has accelerated in the global economy, and Chicago School-style "assimilation" is not even on the agenda for many diasporas and ethnic enclaves (see Valier 2003). While some gangs have international criminal ties (Hazlehurst chapter 5), most are local players in drug markets and other informal economic ventures (Rus and Vigil chapter 6).

Most readers will be surprised that Maori gangs in New Zealand have persisted for more than forty years: Cameron Hazlehurst's case study of gangs in a small country (chapter 5) describes an institutionalized group of gangs that appears similar to gangs in the United States. These New Zealand gangs are national in scope with chapters in different cities. They have a Maori identity and are engaged in the drug trade and other underground economic activities. Hazlehurst calls these gangs "self-sustaining, adaptable, and organic," borrowing concepts directly from Philip Selznick, the founder of the institutional school of sociology.

In the United States, institutionalized gangs are more familiar. The Almighty Latin King and Queen Nation in New York City in the 1990s came to resemble a social movement (Brotherton chapter 10) or a religion (Barrios chapter 9). This gang began not on the streets but in prison and was influenced by a migrating Chicago Latin King. The ALKQN developed a written constitution, laws, and prayers and saw itself as a community organization. This gang, whether you accept the persuasive arguments of Brotherton and Barrios or not, is a far cry from Frederic Thrasher's unsupervised peer groups.

The role of prison in gang formation is picked up in my own chapters (1 and 12). Chicago's Blackstone Rangers, as well as the Vice Lords, began their organization in juvenile prison and brought the gang back to the streets. La Eme in Texas and California has also brought its prison gang organization out to the community and has rivaled and even muscled out street gangs. Reports from Rio de Janiero, Puerto Rico, and South Africa have suggested that drug gangs originally formed in prison and only later organized on the streets, a process not consistent with traditional criminological theory.

While institutionalized gangs have become a familiar part of the urban landscape, there is consensus among the authors that most gangs today are not fundamentally different from gangs of the industrial era. Contemporary gangs are not "postmodern" but a product of late modernity, to borrow from the title of my chapter 12, with continuity with the past as well as changes. Just as the method of understanding gangs has been to investigate processes of immigration, urbanization, and industrialization, today the keys to understanding gangs are processes of globalization-the redivision of space, the strengthening of traditional identities, and the underground economy.

2. Gangs are found all over the world and today often respond to the changing spaces of globalizing cities.

In nearly all of the chapters, gangs outside the United States are a major theme. This is an important corrective to the almost entirely American-centered study of gangs. Klein et al.'s Eurogang Paradox (2001), for example, while having many chapters on European gangs, has as its central theme the comparison of European gangs with their American prototypes. Klein argues that the Europeans, while attempting to contrast their "peer groups" to the stereotypes of American gangs, in fact demonstrate their similarity,

But is "the gang" an American concept? Certainly London had gangs long before the United States, if Dickens and Elizabethan scholars (for example, Salgado 1977) can be believed. Pearson's influential Hooligan (1983) traces a much longer story of British gang life and one predating American influence. And what of the Triads in China, the mafia of Sicily, or the Bo-tsotsi of South Africa? Gangs have a long tradition outside the United States.

This American-centered study of gangs followed from the centrality in the literature of Frederic Thrasher's work on immigrant peer groups in Chicago nearly a hundred years ago. A largely American literature on "gangs" has followed the twists and turns of U.S. gang life into the twenty-first century. Klein's conclusion in The Eurogang Paradox is that most European gangs (or whatever name they are called) form as unsupervised peer groups, like American gangs, and develop through a definable group process. While this cross-cultural perspective is helpful, it mirrors the narrowness of the U.S. literature and its focus on criminality, and lacks integration with broader literatures on the city and globalization.

The contributors to this volume agree with Klein's point about the continuity of the gangs of today with adolescent gangs of the industrial era (see Rus and Vigil chapter 6; Pitts, chapter 11; Young chapter ; Moore chapter 7). But if gangs are placed within the spatial and social changes wrought by globalization (Sassen chapter 4, Hagedorn chapter 1), we may come to some different conclusions about their nature. Immigration, as noted earlier, is not the industrial-era process of assimilation, and the increased mobility of immigrants has resulted in the creation of various kinds of ethnic enterprises in the receiving countries, many in the informal or underground economy (Stepick 1989; Sassen 1999). Sassen points out in this volume (chapter 4) that "new economic regimes" in this era and global networks have allowed for the creation of marginalized spaces where gangs and other powerless social actors operate.

It is the concentration of wealth in cities that creates what Marcuse (1997) calls a citadel protecting itself against the dark ghettoes, that contain Sennett's "night army of the service workers" (1994, 68), and laborers in the underground economy. This spatial imagery resonates with the earlier Chicago School approach. Indeed, rather than reject and replace the insights of the Chicagoans, in both of my essays I advocate updating or supplementing their ecological approach. Jock Young (chapter) also cautions against the tendency to see the concept of social exclusion as meaning a complete cultural and spatial divide between the "excluded" and the "excluders." In the spirit of the late Robert Merton, Young powerfully reminds us of the homogenizing global effects of American culture, influencing elites and oppressed alike.

However, Young's incisive analysis should not obscure the real spatial dynamics occurring in cities today. The current redivision of space in Chicago (Hagedorn chapter 1) has pushed gangs from their "interstitial" spaces out toward and into the suburbs, making them more like the banlieue of Paris. The postindustrial spatial dynamics of the city have altered Burgess's concentric zones in many ways (for example, Davis 1998, 64-65). As other literatures have been pointing out, to criminology's neglect, security in the citadel is big business and an integral part of the gentrification of cities (Marcuse 1997). Very little attention in criminology has been paid to the impact of gentrification on gangs and social organization in poor, gentrifying, minority neighborhoods.

The notion of a citadel implies absolute exclusion in a manner Young warns against. After all, the needs of the wealthy require a new servant class (Sassen chapter 4), which inevitably mingles the rich and poor. However, gangs today exist both in marginalized ghettos, as Wacquant argues (chapter 2), as well as in gentrifying areas. Gang activity differs spatially as does the underground economy that provides many gangs today with their prime function. A rich noncriminological literature on the informal economy has looked at how underground economic activities are integrated with the mainstream economy, but in socially excluded spaces, informal goods and service mainly provide survival and relief loosely coupled with the mainstream economy (for example, Portes and Sassen-Koob 1987; Portes 1996). This volume (Sassen; Hagedorn) begins an investigation of the meaning of space in the globalizing city for gangs, but our efforts are introductory and cursory, not conclusive.

Neoliberal policies emphasizing the market and paring down the safety net have also contributed to marginalization and gang activities (Sassen chapter 4). John Pitts's analysis (chapter 11) of Tony Blair's emulation of U.S. criminal justice policy and its effects on gangs will be instructive to readers around the world. Both Hazlehurst (chapter 5) and Rus and Vigil (chapter 6) frame their analysis of contemporary gangs in the particularities of neoliberal national policies. According to these authors, it is the neoliberal policies of the United States, not globalization per se, that have had devastating consequences around the world.

If this volume aspired to representatively sample the current international literature on gangs, the contributors would be quite different. Nothing demonstrates the narrowness of the American paradigm better than looking at major studies of gangs and other groups of armed young men in Rio de Janiero (Dowdney 2003) and Soweto (Glaser 2000). Indeed, Rio and Soweto, as well as São Paolo and Cape Town, represent gang cities that underscore the themes of this volume. Institutionalized gangs also appear to exist, in various forms, in major cities of India, Puerto Rico, Haiti, Russia, Albania, El Salvador, China, Mexico, Nigeria, and cities in many more countries. Another volume would be required to describe the various kinds of interstitial and institutionalized gangs in these cities, their relationship to globalization, and to other groups of armed young men (see Hagedorn chapter 12).

While American research today, like Klein's Eurogang Paradox, has begun to look outside the United States, it has yet to shed its American-centered perspective. It is still trying to fit gangs everywhere into a Procrustian, American- made bed. What is clear is that gangs today organize in response not just to industrialization and urbanization but primarily to social exclusion and the changing spaces of globalizing cities worldwide. This volume argues that literatures other than criminology are needed to understand this phenomena. Indeed, I believe U.S. criminology is in a moribund state and in danger of becoming irrelevant to concerns broader than U.S. law enforcement.

3. Gangs are "social actors" whose identities are formed by ethnic, racial, and/or religious oppression, participation in the underground economy, and constructions of both masculinity and femininity.

Traditional criminology tends to look at gangs as dependent variables: products of social disorganization, broken families, or street socialization. Gang members, in the traditional argot, are usually troubled boys, limited in social and human capital, or plagued with few resources.

This certainly describes many gangs and their members. However, as many of the chapters explicitly argue (for example, both Barrios and Brotherton) gangs are independent variables as well, social actors (Hagedorn) who construct their identities aggressively and in more ways than just as mirrors of others, à la Blumer and Mead. No better example of this process can be found than Joan Moore's look at the construction of female gang identity by Muslim girls (chapter 7). Moore not only provides a global literature review of female gangs (a hint: there isn't much) but also examines how globalization affects the construction of identity for female gang members. She argues that while some studies have looked at how globalization structures male identity, similar investigations have not been extended to women. Female gang members are responding to changing gender roles within traditional communities, like Islamic societies, as well as to economic and social changes.

Joachim Kersten (chapter 8) picks up this theme by looking at Berlin skinheads. Kersten looks at how the reunification of Germany has impacted youth from the East and West and how extremist, racist organizations form under these conditions. Germany has long been the tragic theater for the working out of identity of armed young men, and the skinheads represent another episode. The emergence of racist, anti-immigrant gangs is not restricted on the continent to Germany, however; the coincidence of immigration and economic restructuring pits domestic and foreign workers against one another. Turks in Berlin, Algerians in Paris, and Bangladeshis in London (Pitts chapter 11) all face violence from native gangs and citizens and also from gang rivalries. As Pitts shows, these gangs actively resist oppression. This situation needs much more scrutiny.

Like the skinheads, many of the gangs described in this volume participate in politics. Brotherton and Barrios describe a politicized period in the life of New York's Latin King and Queen Nation, and Hazlehurst describes a long history of politics from Maori gangs. The politics of Chicago gangs (Hagedorn chapter 1) is a century-long tradition, but their early politics were tied to patronage and the Democratic machine. In the 1960s, gangs in Chicago participated in the politics of black and Latino rebellion, and in the last few years some Chicago gangs have returned to ward politics (Rey 2002).

Luis Barrios (chapter 9) will surprise many who are not familiar with his work or with the religious nature of gangs. The religious or spiritual experience has long been a companion of the gang life, particularly in the prisons. From Malcolm X on, Muslims have offered a powerful spiritual alternative to the streets. Among many African American gangs today in New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago, Minister Louis Farrakhan exercises significant influence. Again, these religious ties are not new-recall the scene from the movie Gangs of New York, taken from Asbury, where a priest leads the Irish gangs to war against the Protestant mob (see Hagedorn 2003).

Gangs in Chicago, Chiapas, New York, New Zealand, and London all have strong racialized identities, a major theme of the volume. While the sweeping culture of globalization homogenizes all in its path, as Young (chapter ) argues, it also shapes what Castells calls "resistance identities" (Brotherton chapter 10). These identities are typically ethnoreligious in nature and influence minority communities and their gangs as well.

Wacquant's essay polemicizes against a nonracialized understanding of the ghetto, and indeed this book argues that racial identity is crucial to understanding gangs. Hazlehurst's chilling account of the attempted annihilation of Maori identity will be all too familiar to students of U.S. policies toward Native Americans and Latin American elites' suppression of indigenous peoples.


Excerpted from Gangs in the Global City Copyright © 2007 by Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Customer Reviews