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Gangs as Culture and Subculture
Gangs are a global presence. There are gangs in nearly every culture. While they are variations in intentions and behaviors, there are general patterns and basic characteristics of all gangs. The paper will briefly explore the definition of gangs, the history of gangs, the effects of them both locally & globally, as well as the reactions from the communities in which they gangs reside and conduct their activities. Gangs exist firmly as a distinctive subculture. There are theories such as cultural deviance theory, strain theory, and social control theory that offer frameworks in which professionals and scholars may consider and/or explain the formation of gangs. The paper will attempt to reference and/or use these such theories as part of the examination and articulation of gangs as a subculture. Some communities reluctantly accept gangs within their communities because some gangs offer protect to the community members, but there are many others in communities globally that wish to eradicate and prevent gang membership and activity, primarily because of the brutal violence and highly dangerous illegal activities gangs commit. Innocent bystanders in the community are often victims of gang violence. Therefore, the paper will additionally consider the methods of gang prevention and intervention with the most potential for efficacy. Gangs are groups of youths and adults that engage in delinquent and illegal behaviors which definitely ascribe them as a subculture.
In the discussion of gangs as a culture, it can be difficult or awkward to begin. It can be difficult to begin because as an delinquent group, many of their members and activities are undocumented. Because gang culture varies within itself as a subculture, it is difficult to define a gang as well as track its activities. On a greater scale, this lack of information provides gaps in the history of gangs, as gang history is not formally documented as far as those on the other side of the law are concerned. Nonetheless, there is evidence of gangs that extends back centuries and some authors offer explanations as to why gangs are more prevalent in some countries rather than others.
A historical review of American gangs suggests that they began to emerge along racial and ethnic lines in the 1760s…These organized crime gangs had ethnic homogeneity in terms of their organization. The Irish gangs were the first to emerge, followed by the Germans, Jewish and Italians. Although the United States is not alone in being an industrialized nation with major urban areas with denotable inner cities, a sizeable minority population and failed social policies for our urban poor, or in relinquishing much of our responsibility for social control to our criminal justice system, the U.S. is unique in its development of the urban street gang. Gangs in the U.S. are far more prevalent and more permanent in our communities and infrastructure, as well as being larger and more complex than in most countries. (Esperanza, 2010,-Page 5 -- 6)
Gangs have a known history of nearly three centuries. No matter where they are present, gangs form along the same boundaries of ethnicity, race, and class. These are some of the more widespread and common traits of gangs. Gangs have increased likelihood of existence in countries where the poor are vehemently and intentionally disgarded & underserved. When people are made poor and intentionally kept poor because of their ethnicity and class, these conditions are breeding grounds for gangs.
Studying gangs provides revelations of the deficiencies in other aspects of society. Yes, the gang members commit crimes; yes, each individual is responsible for his/her own choices. There is though, definitive influence of environment upon one's choices. If a person assesses that he/she only has a limited amount of choices because of the condition in which he/she lives, then some people, statistically speaking, will choose criminal actions. Cultural deviance theory would explain these aspects of the existence of gangs. Class differences and variation in access to resources such as education are imbalances that are normal aspects of society, which in turn generate a certain amount of criminal activity to be expected within a society, as the theory posits. Strain theory is a related theory to cultural deviance, which takes more of the focus off of the individual and more upon the structures within the society that create a strain so great that some people are bound to resort to criminal activities or at least be complacent when it helps them survive.
Besides being a criminal group, gangs are heavily predicated on personal bonds. Poor people who may have had tough home lives -- parents with substance abuse, orphans, homeless, etc., go to gangs no simply because they have an urge to commit crimes, but also because gangs provide a deep sense of belonging to the members. Regardless of what information exists about gangs, people still question the necessity to study them and questions what kind of insight the study of gangs provides outsiders besides helping them take the gangs down. Applying strain theory to these consideration would prove effective.
Why study gangs? The short answer is that gangs are a significant worldwide phenomenon with millions of members and a voice of those marginalized by processes of globalization. Understanding these social actors is crucial to fashioning public policies and building social movements that can both reduce violence and erode the deep-seated inequalities that all too often are reinforced by present economic, social, and military policies. (Hagedorn, 2005,-Page 153)
Gangs in the 21st century, for example, provide insight into the long-reaching affects of globalization. There have also been people are who marginalized in societies, but the prevalence of gangs specifically could reveal more to the world community about how marginalization may change, but continues to persist.
Just as the world changes, gangs change, too. It is partially because of gangs' abilities to adapt and survive do they continue to exist today.
Gangs are not a static phenomenon. They are always in an ongoing state of evolution and transformation, impacted by processes of social exclusion, rapid and uncontrolled urban growth, migration, community disorganization or lack of positive social capital, racism, bias, presence of readily available drugs and weapons, difficulties of youth building personal identity, politics, mental health issues, problematic families and the lack of a faith foundation. (Esperanza, 2010,-Page 5 -- 6)
These factors that contribute to the worldwide prevalence and existence of gangs have existed just as long, or perhaps longer, than the gangs themselves. Strain theory is useful when considering the history of gangs with respect to factors mentioned by Esperanza. This is one way that the study of gangs has the potential to improve society. If gangs exist because of these factors, then when these factors gain resolution and improvement, the existence, prevalence, and activities of gangs should be altered as well, ideally in a positive direction -- a direction that is positive for the communities and for the gang members.
Gangs are a subculture, yet they are an elusive one. As a subculture, some information can be deduced about them as Lerhman explains:
The concept "subculture" refers to shared symbols, not to a specific type of interaction pattern. From the point-of-view of this paper, a delinquent subculture can be said to exist if a relationship is found between shared symbols (deviant values and deviant speech, or argot) and behavior that is potentially noticeable by officials. The social context of this shared deviance can be quite varied… (Lerhman, 1967,-Page 63)
This much we know about gangs. They often dress similarly, have specific linguistic and nonverbal codes, and a stated by Lerman and other authors, gangs are in flux and highly adaptable. These reasons are why there is a great deal that is unknown about gangs.
There is little, if any, consensus as to what constitutes a gang and who is a gang member, let alone what gangs do, either inside or outside the law…When describing their conceptual and operational definitions, many contemporary gang researchers note the absence of definitional consensus. They subsequently identify two widely used benchmarks for assessing whether a given social group is a gang: (1) youth status, defined as an age classification ranging between 10 and the early 20s or even older, and (2) the engagement by group members in law-violating behavior or, at a minimum, "imprudent" behavior…The irony, of course, is that even the "experts" cannot agree on what constitutes a gang or gang behavior, and many experts find fault with nearly every definition. Failure to employ universal definitions of youth gangs and gang membership has numerous implications for gang research and gang-related public policy. (Esbensen et al., 2001,-Page 106)
Researchers and other professionals do not know a great deal about gangs, but they attempt to categorize and classify gangs based on activities, age, behaviors, personalities, and backgrounds. In recent decades there has been a great deal more effort to learn about gangs as a way to effectively intervene and cease violence, and other forms of crime. The lack of knowledge puts research in a precarious position…[continue]
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