Gangs and Society: Alternative Perspectives

Gangs and Society: Alternative Perspectives

Gangs and Society: Alternative Perspectives

Gangs and Society: Alternative Perspectives

Synopsis

Compiled by three leading experts in the psychological, sociological, and criminal justice fields, this volume addresses timely questions from an eclectic range of positions. The product of a landmark conference on gangs, Gangs and Society brings together the work of academics, activists, and community leaders to examine the many functions and faces of gangs today. Analyzing the spread of gangs from New York to Texas to the West Coast, the book covers such topics as the spirituality of gangs, the place of women in gang culture, and the effect on gangs of a variety of educational programs and services for at-risk youth. The final chapter examines the "gang-photography phenomenon" by looking at the functions and politics of different approaches to gang photography and features a photographic essay by Donna DeCesare, an award-winning journalist.

Excerpt

This collection will show throughout that the complexity of gangs mirrors the complexity of the communities in which they are found. One dimension of the complexity of the latter is the diversity of opinion that normally exists within it. With regard to the “gang problem,” there are competing definitions—not only of its nature, but also of appropriate solutions to it. In addition, attempts to represent and speak for the community serve to problematize the concept as a unit of analysis. Is the community a concrete space—for instance, a collection of neighborhoods? Or is it instead a matter of collective identity, a “symbolic” community that extends only as far as people can be found who share a particular cultural identity or system of beliefs or “collective representations” (Hunter 1974)? To address these questions and the substantive issues concerning the relationship between gangs and communities, we have brought together the following eclectic range of textual representations, modes, and subjects of inquiry and theoretical positions related to the question of gangs. The reader will notice that there is no attempt to produce a uniform statement, but instead to provide a forum for critical issues as a way of advancing a nonreductive understanding of gangs. In our view, in order to broaden the understanding of gangs it is necessary to problematize the systemic references that make sociological explanation canonical rather than reflective and critical. We hope this volume will make some headway in that endeavor.

THEORY AND METHODOLOGY

Each of the chapters in part 1 involves an attempt to show the limits of conventional theorizing about gangs. In the first reading, Sudhir Venkatesh points out that gang research and theorizing continue to be defined by the “ecology perspective,” originally adopted by the Chicago School. Focusing on immigrant groups in Chicago in the 1920s and 1930s, which were assumed to be both disenfranchised and poorly organized, researchers like Thrasher (1927) and Shaw and McKay (1931) argued that second-generation immigrant gangs formed deviant subcultures in relative isolation from mainstream society. Unlike what is typically perceived by contemporary researchers, however, the disparate works of the Chicago School did not . . .

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