III. Gang Studies in the United States

A. The Gang. -- All intellectual paths involving studies of gang structure and activity lead backwards to the pioneering investigation conducted more than thirty-five years ago in the city of Chicago by Frederic M. Thrasher. In his Introduction to the new and abridged version of Thrasher's The Gang, published in 1963, James. F. Short, Jr., sums up the present position of that classic study:

For sheer scope of inquiry, Thrasher stands alone, alone it is doubtful that such an investigation will be attempted again. This is the basic work concerning the gang as a form of social organization.

Thrasher's volume called attention to numerous facets of gang phenomenon which, since his time and his work, have become part of the common understanding of the society. First, he put to rest the theme current at that time that gangs were nothing more than examples of the recapitulation of primitive forms of life. This idea, a perversion of Darwinian themes and an attempt to portray gang members as something less than human beings equivalent to all other human beings in the evolutionary scheme, still dies hard. Thrasher stressed particularly the ecological aspects of gang emergence, pointing out that they tend to thrive in interstitial areas, such as zones of the city lying between adjacent commercial and residential neighborhoods. He called attention to the fact that juvenile gangs are often the breeding groups for adult crime, and he was particularly astute in his emphasis on feudal political arrangements as they contributed to the survival of gangs.

In particular, Thrasher managed to place into proper. perspective the entire phenomenon of gang activity. He described in detail the demographic features of gang membership, suggested that incarceration often fails because it lends a glow of prestige to the young person, and placed the fence -- the buyer of stolen goods -- into the picture in a prominent place. Kimball Young, distilling a major theme from The Gang in his review of the volume, highlighted one of its lessons. "To treat the gang member as an isolated person, to compute his intelligence quotient, or to call him psychopathic is to leave the full causation of his conduct untouched."

Thrasher had been born in Indiana in 1892 and worked for a period as a newspaper reporter before beginning his career in sociology at Ohio State University in 1917. His study of gangs reflected the same reportorial interest and skill that marked the work of Robert E. Park, another former newspaperman who was a preeminent sociologist on the faculty of the University of Chicago,

-17-

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Juvenile Gangs
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page i
  • Contents iii
  • Preface iv
  • I - Juvenile Gangs 1
  • II - Gangs in Perspective 4
  • III - Gang Studies in the United States 17
  • IV - Gangs in Metropolis 42
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