Gangs (cont5)

John Hagedorn
The Enclyclopedia of Community
Sage Publications

Karen Christianson and David Levinson,
General Editors
pp 517-522

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 social actors.

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.

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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

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