Globalization and Gangs
The gang problem as an international
phenomenon has begun to receive notice with the publication of books such
as Cameron and Kaye Hazlehurst’s 1999 Gangs and Youth Subcultures:
International Explorations and The Eurogang Paradox: Street Gangs
and Youth Groups in the U.S. and Europe, edited by Malcolm Klein
and associates and published in 2001. Despite definitional problems, youth
gangs of a type familiar to Americans appear to have a long history in
countries as far flung as New Zealand, Norway, and South Africa.
Internationally, a global criminal economy, especially the illegal distribution
of drugs, includes gangs as both major and bit players. Devastated areas
such as the townships of urban South Africa are home to numerous gangs
that operate politically and control the underground economy. Chinese
Triads operate all across the globe, with particular strengths in South
Asia and the United States. The Sicilian Mafia still controls a significant
amount of global trafficking in drugs. Drug organizations are also strong
in Colombia and Nigeria, and a new Russian mafiya has emerged and spread
internationally. In eastern Europe, the turmoil caused by the move to
a market economy and the loss of social safety nets has strengthened gangs
and drug organizations. In Albania, for example, the World Bank estimates
that one quarter of all young males are involved in the drug economy.
This closely parallels similar studies on the extent of the illegal economy
in U.S. cities.
Gangs today come in all types. The majority of gangs in the United States
and across the world are still unsupervised teenage peer groups. These
loosely organized formations are mostly male, but in some places there
are also large numbers of female gangs. At the same time, in large cities
in the United States and elsewhere some gangs have institutionalized and
have persisted for decades. These gangs are firmly embedded in the illegal
economy of poor neighborhoods; they are linked to prison gangs and play
a significant role in neighborhood social and political life. The large
numbers of youths and young adults in gangs makes gangs important urban
The mass media have sensationalized gangs and gang violence, distorting
the nature of gangs and the conditions for their growth. By stressing
relatively infrequent acts of random violence, the media promote fear
in the general public. Ironically, gang clothing, language, and music
have been seized on for commercial exploitation by major corporations
and diffused worldwide.
Back to Beginning
Globalization affects people the world over; in the United
States it has led gangs to become players in the underground economy,
notably in the drug trade. The scholar John Hagedorn, who researches
gangs, predicts that if Europe follows the United States in its
approach to twenty-first-century capitalism, it can expect to contend
with U.S.-style gangs in its cities.
The process of globalization is jarring every society on earth.
Prosperity for the middle and upper classes in the developed world
has meant the crystallization of a “dual city” in the
metropolis worldwide (Castells and Mollenkopf, 1991). The informal
or underground economy appears to be a structural development of
the post-industrial information age, and not just a new version
of “How the Other Half Lives” (Riis, 1894/1957). The
new dual city contains multiple conflicting strata and no longer
represents the industrial era bourgeois / proletarian dichotomy…The
end of the industrial era has meant the transition of many U.S.
gangs into new kinds of economically focused, post-industrial gangs.
…What I believe, and I think this view is shared by many,
is that if Europe follows the laissez-faire American road and dismantles
their welfare states as they globalize their economies, then increased
inequalities are bound to give birth to American-style problems.
If European countries want to emulate the United States, then they
can have U.S.-style gangs as well.
Source: J. M. Hagedorn (2002) Gangs and globalization. In M. Klein,
H.-J. Kerner, C. Maxson, & E. G. M. Weitekamp, E. G. M. (Eds.),
The Euro-gang paradox (p. 53). Dordrecht, Netherlands: Kluwer.
Most urban political economists see the polarization of
rich and poor to be a master trend of the global era. This polarization
increases racial divisions both within the United States and between the
United States and the nations of Africa, Latin America, and South Asia.
As this trend continues, issues of security become paramount, particularly
when countries follow neo-liberal policies of dismantling their welfare
states. The war on terror is one manifestation of the world’s richest
nations’ obsessive concern for security; its domestic manifestations
are gated communities and community policing. In this atmosphere, few
observers believe the gang problem is likely to go away soon.
John M. Hagedorn
Go to References