Contemporary Gangs: An Organizational Analysis

Contemporary Gangs: An Organizational Analysis

Contemporary Gangs: An Organizational Analysis

Contemporary Gangs: An Organizational Analysis


Contemporary gangs are persistent despite efforts to control them. Theories of gangs explain the emergence of gangs but offer littleinsight into their persistence and growth. Weisel examined theorganizational characteristics of four criminal gangs. Although even large gangs appear disorganized, they are not ephemeral groups. Instead the gangs feature characteristics of organic-adaptive organizations rather than hierarchical or bureaucratic organizations. As such, these gangs feature blended goals, shared decision making, a structure based on subdivisions, and a generalist orientation. Such features promote efficiency in a highly volatile environment and contribute to increases in the size and number of contemporary gangs in America.


Although street gangs have been in existence since at least the turn of the century, concern about these criminal enterprises, often related to sensational media coverage of gang-related violence, rose dramatically throughout much of the 1990s. Research suggested that many gangs were undergoing significant changes. Some gangs were growing larger by recruiting and retaining more members over a wider age range, or merging with other gangs; some gangs were increasing their life span by decreasing rates of mortality; and gangs in some areas were becoming more numerous as rates of organizational founding rose, leading to increasing numbers of gangs in suburban areas and smaller cities.

Researchers also claimed that gang members had become more mobile, more highly organized and more violent than those of previous years (Hagedorn, 1988; Taylor, 1990b; Pennell, 1994; GAO, 1989). There were some indications of gang involvement in legitimate business enterprises, and with sophisticated criminal enterprises such as wholesaling drugs, laundering money and participating in financial crimes. Increasingly, researchers and criminal justice practitioners liken some criminal youth gangs to more traditional organized crime such as the Mafia and to highly-organized business enterprises. Most researchers recognize, however, that there are a wide variety of gangs and most of them participate primarily in social activities, such as partying, and minor crime, such as vandalism, rather than operating as sophisticated criminal enterprises.


Despite some important research on gangs (Chin, 1990; Cummings and Monti, 1993; Jankowski, 1991; Moore, 1991, 1993; Hagedorn, 1988; Decker and Van Winkle, 1996), much is unknown about these criminal . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.