Joan W. Moore and James F. Short, Jr.

Gangs as Neighborhood Peer Groups

This picture of "White Fence" adorns the cover of Joan Moores' latest book, Going Down to the Barrio, a tour de force of gang research.

Click here for references to social science definitions of gangs.


In People & Folks, I did not offer a new defintion of gangs, but defined them by the process of formation, similar to Thrasher, Short, and Moore.


Later, in an article in Vol 24 of Crime and Justice: A Review of the Research, I discussed the definition controversy in this way:

Here is a discussion of gang definitions by Binh P. Le and Morris Jenkins of Penn State.









Kenneth B Clark. Center | Great Cities | John Hagedorn
UIC Criminal Justice Department

Gang Resources Hompage

Joan Moore's research was done collaboratively with "pintos," or ex-con gang members from East Los Angeles. Her work contextualizes gangs within their barrios and the ghetto economy. Unlike most researchers, she looks at both male and female gangs. In the Thrasher tradition, Moore (1998, 67) defines gangs as:

"unsupervised peer groups who are socialized by the streets rather than by conventional institutions. They define themselves as a gang or "set" or some such term, and have the capacity to reproduce themselves, usually within a specific neighborhood."

This defintion returns to the Chicago School way of looking at gangs as wild peer groups, forming through a group process on the streets. It also adds self-definition: while others may call some group a "gang," for Moore the only gangs are those who also describe themselves as gangs.

Jim Short (1997, 81) is perhaps the most distinguished gang researcher still living today. His study of Chicago gangs in the sixties is surpassed only by Moore's multi-generational studies of LA gangs in the next decade. Like Moore and Thrasher, Short defines gangs as the result of a group process of wild adolescents:

"Gangs are groups whose members meet together with some regularity over time, on the basis of group-defined criteria of membership and group-defined organizational characteristics; that is, gangs are non-adult-supervised, self-determining groups that demonstrate coninuity over time."

Once again, self-definition is important. And for neither Moore nor Short, is criminality or violence a defining characteristic. Rather, it is one of the behaviors we want to explain.

But some problems emerge with these defintions. Adult members of gangs are increasingly visible and playing leadership roles. Gangs are influential in prison and many have strong relationships with their analogs on the street. Many, but not all gangs, have also added well-defined economic functions, mainly drug dealing which has colored their relationships to their neighborhoods.

While I have been reluctant to add to the definitional dances of criminologists, the following describes what I mean when I use the word "gang." GO TO HAGEDORN'S WORKING DEFINITION.