Encyclopedia of Gangs

Encyclopedia of Gangs

Encyclopedia of Gangs

Encyclopedia of Gangs


In light of Los Angeles' gang state of emergency, ethnic and minority gangs are arguably more high profile now than at any other time in our history. News media typically focus on the crime and violence associated with gangs, but not much else. This encyclopedia seeks to illuminate the world of gangs, including gang formations, routine gang activities, aberrations and current developments. One hundred essay entries related to gangs in the United States and worldwide provide a diffuse overview of the gang phenomenon. Each entry defines and explains the term, provides an historical overview, and explains its significance today. As the following entries demonstrate, gangs are part of the fabric of American society. They are not only in our communities but also our schools and other social institutions. Understanding the world of gangs is therefore needed to understand American society.

Entries include: Bikers, Bloods, Cholas, Crips, gang mythology, gang warfare, graffiti, Hell's Angels, Hong Kong Triads, Latin Kings, law enforcement, occultic gangs, mafia, media, prison gangs, rites, Skinheads, Streetgang Terrorism Omnibus Prevention Act, tattoos, trafficking, Wanna-bes, "West Side Story," Witness Protection programs, and youth gangs.


This is the first encyclopedia of gangs in the United States. It appears at a time when the study of gangs has become popular in the nation’s higher educational institutions, as well as a staple news item in mainstream media outlets. Twenty years ago the subject of gangs was a rare specialization in sociology and criminology. Only a few empirically based books on the topic exist from that period. Sociological and criminological explanations of gangs were limited to a few variants of Merton’s paradigm of “strain,” Chicago School notions of social disorganization, and the odd application of social bonding to underscore the claims of social control advocates. However, the epistemological assumptions upon which so many truth claims about gangs in the past were based have lately come under significant scrutiny—in part as a response to the growing complexity of gangland. The spread of gangs from urban to suburban areas of the United States and beyond has ensured that the subject is consistently developing, being revised, and producing all kinds of questions for which we do not yet have answers. Thus the range of contributions that you will find in this volume and the different approaches taken by the authors is reflective of both the qualitative and quantitative changes in gang studies.

Thus we are left with a variety of approaches to the study of gangs, a growing array of gang theories, and a panoply of gang types which to the outsider may seem confusing and perhaps overwhelming. Are gangs inherently violent? Do they always have criminal intentions? Should they be treated as criminal organizations? Are they distinguishable along race and ethnic lines? What is the nature of the relationship between prison gangs and street gangs? Does gang membership tend, still, to be a male affair? Such questions are being consistently asked not only by students fresh to the study but also by researchers who have spent much of their careers trying to grasp the complexity of the subject. The encyclopedia provides a glimpse of the gang field; we believe enough to get you oriented, to stimulate your curiosity, and to provide you with guidance for continued investigation.

So what do we have in store for you? Let us just mention four areas that are well represented in this volume to get you started: gang theory, gang practices, gang types, and gang expansion.

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