In my attempt to study US-style gangs in England, I needed to find an area where they might exist - a densely populated, multicultural, inner-city area, in a large urban city with a high rate of crime and unemployment (see Klein 1995; Spergel 1995). So I packed what I could into two suitcases, grabbed my trusty old Apple computer and headed to London. The capital seemed like a good place to start, and, besides, some friends living in the East End extended an invitation to stay with them until I got settled. Where in London to study? My first impressions of London were that the north and west parts of the city are relatively affluent, and that areas in the east and the south are somewhat 'rough'. I knew that some research on young people and crime had already been conducted in London's East End (for example, Downes 1966; Hobbs 1988; Willmott 1966), and that Foster (1990) did her research somewhere in South London. I figured that south of the Thames was an ideal place to study gangs because research on young people who have offended in this area seemed relatively scant. Where in the south of London? This decision was not difficult as there was one place I repeatedly read about and heard in the news: Brixton. Brixton, however, turned out to be a relatively small area with loosely defined boundaries, typical of many areas in London. London's boroughs, however, have solid boundaries, making the collection of demographic and other data about them more feasible. As such, I decided the study should be in the borough containing Brixton - Lambeth.
Upon further inspection, Lambeth looked like an excellent place to conduct research. Importantly, all of the demographic characteristics I looked for in an attempt to find and study street gangs were in Lambeth. Furthermore, very little research on young people who have offended had been conducted in this borough (although see Burney 1990). No question; I had found my setting. So, in the middle of June 1996 I moved into a room in a two-up, two-down terraced house located directly behind the high street in Brixton - the same room where the majority of this book was written.
My general idea was to do an ethnographic study in Lambeth to determine if criminal and/or juvenile street gangs existed. I wanted to find a group of young people that somewhat resembled a US-style gang, befriend them, observe how they interacted with one another at close proximity, talk to them to see how they made sense of their offences and look at how offending fitted in with the rest of their lives -