An essay on gangs
for the Encyclopedia of Community
Also, Hagedorn on -
Gangs and Masculinity
Hagedorn's Working Definition
Here's what I mean when I use the word "gang."
Gangs are organizations of the street
composed of either 1. the socially excluded or 2. alienated,
demoralized, or bigoted elements of a dominant racial, ethnic,
or religious group.
What is important is that the gang is not a stable form, but can, and has, changed its shape and functions over time. While most gangs begin as unsupervised
adolescent peer groups and remain so, some institutionalize
in barrios, favelas, ghettoes, and prisons. Often these institutionalized
gangs become business enterprises within the informal economy
and a few are linked to international criminal cartels. Others
institutionalize as violent supporters of dominant groups
and may devolve from political or conventional organizations.
Most gangs are characterized by a racialized or ethno-religious
identity as well as being influenced by global culture. Gangs
have variable ties to conventional institutions and, in given
conditions, assume social, economic, political, cultural,
religious, or military roles.
When we look around the world, as in A World of Gangs we find a world of different shapes of gangs and armed groups. While we can separate a gang from an ethnic militia in theory, it is not so easy in practice. Gangs sometimes evolve into political, ethnic, or even religious forms. At times political or military forms devolve into gangs, concerned mainly with criminal venture.
definition supports the group process perspective for most gangs,
but also looks at what has changed in the postmodern era. It streses
the role of gangs in the informal economy, the continuity of the
prison experience, admits the presence of the international drug
economy, accepts many gangs self-characterization as "organizations,"
and posits a variable role for gangs in economics and politics.
definition represents a clear break from the Chicago School notion
of gangs as "unreflective" organization and conceptualizes
the process of institutionalization as
applying to some gangs
Click here for references
to social science definitions of gangs.