Gangs in the Global City

May 16 and 17, 2002. Chicago, IL

Seneca Hotel


The Gangs in the Global City conference was successfully completed and papers are now being revised for a volume to by published by the University of Illinois Press. This site will follow up the conference and publish related materials.

One important site is the Street Organization Project which held an international conference in May of 2001.



Book Proposal

Conference Abstracts

Funding: The Chicago Seminar and Dennis Judd, The Great Cities Institute, and the UIC College of Lettters and Sciences.

The Original Call for a Conference, by John M. Hagedorn, University of Illinois-Chicago


This volume is a mix of theory, case studies, and reviews that together suggest the old paradigm for the study of gangs is in need of revision.
The salience of race and ethnicity for gangs in the global era is a major theme of the book. Rather than declining in significance as the Chicago School and modernization theory predicted, race has become central to the self-identity of gangs as well as shaping the neo-liberal penal response. Similarly, the socially excluded spaces of the global city differ in many ways from the interstitial spaces of the industrial city. The ghetto remains central in the US, and a global re-division of space has created walls of exclusion and segregation in urbsan aras around the world, while promoting a homogenous, globalizing culture. One response to a shrinking world has been a strengthening of “resistance identities,” including nationalism and religious fundamentalism, both of which influence gangs.

Another theme is that globalization has excluded vast populations from the formal economy. An informal economy, including a new global criminal economy, has become a mainstay for institutional gangs. The harsh response of the US war on drugs has been criticized world-wide, but also followed by Great Britian and neo-liberal politicians across the globe. These policies have created a permanent link between the gang, the ghetto, and the prison. New social movements have arisen in opposition to neo-liberal policies, and even in some places these movements have incorporated gangs.

This volume aims to introduce the study of gangs to the disciplines of urban political economy and critical theory. Based on a May 16-17, 2002 "Gangs in the Global City" working conference in Chicago, the volume brings together major figures in gang research, urban political economy, and critical theory. The goal of the conference is not to produce new theory, but to challenge the existing corpus of theory on gangs, and suggest some new directions.

Preliminary Outline of Chapters

Introduction: John M. Hagedorn

I. Theoretical Challenges

John Hagedorn looks at what endures and what is lacking in the Chicago School perspective. He looks at gangs, race, and space in the post-industrial city and argues for an ecological analysis of globalization. Jock Young then re-examinies the concept of social exclusion, which he applied to criminology in his book The Exclusive Society. Young puts forth the unique notion of the “Bulimic Society” as one which culturally includes while physically excludes. Loic Wacquant’s important essay “Three Pernicious Premises in the Study of eh American Ghetto” is reprinted here to end this section, Wacquant’s trenchant critique of social disorganization theory has not been widely applied within criminology. While all of these essays differ on important points, together they represent the beginnings of a significant theoretical challenge to classical criminology.

II. The Spaces of Globalization

Saskia Sassen looks at the meaning of space in the global era for social organization of the urban poor, including gangs. Two case studies follow. Jan Rus and Diego Vigil look at the changes in Chiapas over the past several decades. They document the salience of Mayan ethnicity as well as the importance of the drug trade for youth and the cultural diffusion of US gang identity. Cameron Hazlehurst examines how the gang problem in New Zealand has been observed for the past several decades. He documents the significance of ethnicity in Maori gangs and the globalization of the international criminal economy. While this section is necessarily limited to a theoretical piece and two case studies, it demonstrates the salience of space and ethnicity in the global era.

III. The Power of Identity

Joan Moore looks at the implications of globalization for female gangs. While the uncertainties of the fast-changing global economy have been routinely applied to male gang members, few studies place girls and women in the same context. Moore reviews the scant global literature on female gang with particular attention to Muslim female peer groups. Joachim Kersten looks looks at the conditions in Germany after reunification and their influence on different types of violent male groups, particularly skinheads. Luis Barrios completes this section with an essay about the spirituality of the Almighty Latin King and Queen Nation in New York City. Barrios exploration of religious identity of gangs adds to an understanding of the importance of identity in the global era.

IV. The Response to Neo-Liberalism

John Pitts looks at the adoption in Great Britain of neo-liberal policies and their implications for a war on gangs and crime. He looks closely at the construction of race as it shapes repressive British policies modeled on the US. David Brotherton examines the case study of the Almighty Latin King and Queen Nation in New York City in the 1990s as an example of a social movement which the city tried mightily to crush. Douglas Thompkins ends this section with a look at inmate organization in US prisons and the relationship of economics and politics.

V. The Challenge to Criminology: A Critique

Jim Short critiques the challenges to criminology in the volume and presents his own views on the future of criminology.

The Contribution to Knowledge

The best way to understand the need for this volume is to review the history of gang research, which has been arrested within an American criminological tradition. The first studies in Chicago in the 1920s found gangs as second generation peer groups, conflicting with both the authorities and traditional culture. Gangs were foundin the "intersticies" of poor communities, a temporary phenomena of the "disorganized" neighborhoods of upwardlymobile immigrant Europeans.

By the 1960s, the ethnicity of gangs had changed, but the concepts used to understand them had not. Shaw and McKay had described the stability of crime rates in Chicago neighborhoods despite changes in ethnicity, and gang research relied on these concepts. But the "ethnic succession" ecological notions of the social reformers of the Chicago School were inadequate to describe the more permanent segregated ghettoes of Chicago's Black Belt (Bernard 1970). They also were never quite up to snuff to capture the Hispanic experience of immigration (Moore 1978). Female gangs seem to have not figured much in research (Campbell 1990: Chesney-Lind and Hagedorn 1999).

But in the 1970s, one thing did change. A criminalizing of the definition of gangs occurred, led by Walter Miller (1975)and Malcolm Klein (1971). The mainly Black and Latino gangs of US cities were now seen primarily as a "crime problem," not a specific type of social organization, responding to urban conditions. A War on Gangs (Fry 1973) was declared in Chicago, shattering past policies of youth development. The Justice Department funded a law enforcement build-up to suppress the gang problem. At this point, gangs were solely an American problem, with few if any reports of gangs overseas and almost no attention to gender.

But the 1980s brought several changes to the nature of American gangs, and the beginnings of gangs as global phenomena.Deindustrialization altered the maturing out process for many minority US gangs, with their members staying in the gang as adults. Drug markets became a major economic force in poor communities, with gangs as key players (Fagan 1996; Hagedorn 1998b). As industrial jobs were lost, the underground or informal economy, well known in Latin America and the Third World (Portes and Sassen-koob 1987; , began to grow in US cities (Hagedorn 1998a). An international drug market helped organize cartels and syndicates with links to gangs and drug sellers within cities across the world. With movies having become the US's chief export (Thurow 1996), cultural diffusion of gang life-style took place (Short 1997). The role of women within economically based male dominated gangs became problematic (Padilla 1993).

By the 1990s, more changes in the world economy added to the transformation of gangs well underway in the United States. The fall of the Soviet Union and the socialist countries found some countries and areas of countries experiencing desperate conditions. "Gangster capitalism" in the former socialist countries was echoed by an underground economy of half GNP, about the same as many Third World countries. This uneven development saw alienation and rebellion in some areas, but less in other more prosperous zones. Immigration flows sought out the advancing areas of the European economy and left behind the war-torn, pre-information era places. Drug networks often follow immigrant "guest workers" as they struggle for a better life. Immigrant flows to the US and other western countries have unique characteristics (Vigil and Yun 1998).

In the Third World, gangs changed in two directions. Some, like in Jamaica (Gunst 1995), moved from politics to the world of international drug sales. They immigrated to the US and captured local drug markets, often violently. Turkish immigrants to Germany and Moroccan immigrants to the Netherlands also became entwined with the drug cartels. At the same time, other gangs became politicized, like those in New Guinea (Dinnen 1998) and emphasized ethnic and national traditions as a way to resist globalization.

Likewise in the US, some cities experienced vast reductions in homicide and crime as their economies boom, while others did not. The traditional spaces of gangs near central business districts became contested by gentrification and development, pushing the gang and drug networks outward toward the suburbs. Gangs appear to be vacating some areas, some moving elsewhere, but others disbanding or fading away.


The Conference and Volume

It is the contention of this volume and conference that gangs are conscious organizations within poor communities responding the conditions of globalization, just as they had responded to the conditions of industrialization. To see gangs as just a form of organized crime is to tear the organization of people in poor communities from its economic and cultural context. Similarly, to see gangs across the globe as all close cousins of the wild peer groups of Thrasher's day, would be mistaken.

What is called for is the attention of gang research to the investigations of urban political economy, and the impact of the new economy on the spaces of the city. The rise of some regions, cities, and areas within cities, and the decline of others, is an uninvestigated, but certainly significant, aspect of the global gang problem. Likewise, the invasion of traditional gang spaces by the middle class in cities like Chicago, as segregated, socially isolated areas shift outward ,needs attention.

The proposed volume would be based on a working conference, funded by sources at UIC in conjunction with the Chicago Seminar. Invitations will be sent to scholars around the world to present formal papers on globalization and gangs. The emphasis of the volume would not be on case studies, but on theory generation, to reconceptualize gangs as responsive to globalization, social organization in the information age. The volume will be selected based on rigourous review of the papers by the conferees during the two day session.






Bernard, Jesse. 1970. The Sociology of Community. Glenview, Illinois: Scott, Foresman and Company.

Campbell, Anne. 1990. "Female Participation in Gangs." Pp. 163-182 in Gangs In America, edited by Ron C. Huff. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.

Castells, Manuel. 1998. The Information Age: Economy, Society and Culture.Volue III: End of Millennium. Malden, Mass: Blackwell.

Chesney-Lind, Meda, and John M. Hagedorn (Eds.). 1999. Female Gangs in America: Essays on Girls, Gangs, and Gender.
Chicago: Lakeview Press.

Dinnen, Sinclair. 1998. "Urban Raskolism and Criminal Groups in Papua New Guinea." Pp. 267-305 in Gangs and Youth Subcultures:
International Explorations
, edited by Kayleen Hazlehurst and Cameron Hazlehurst. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers.

Fagan, Jeffrey. 1996. "Gangs, Drugs, and Neighborhood Change." Pp. 39-74 in Gangs in America: Second Edition, edited by Ronald C. Huff.
Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Fry, John R.. 1973. Locked-Out Americans: A Memoir. New York: Harper & Row.

Gunst, Laurie. 1995. Born Fi' Dead: A Journey Through th Jamaican Posse Underworld. New York: Henry Holt & Company.

Hagedorn, John M. 1998a. People and Folks: Gangs, Crime, and the Underclass in a Rustbelt City: Second Edition
. Chicago: Lakeview Press.

– 1998b. "Post-Industrial Gang Violence." Pp. 457-511 in Youth Violence, edited by Michael Tonry and Mark H. Moore.
Chicago: University of Chicago.

Klein, Malcolm. 1971. Street Gangs and Street Workers. Engelwood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice Hall.

Miller, Walter. 1975. "Violence by Youth Gangs and Youth Groups as a Crime Problem in Major American Cities." .
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Moore, Joan W. 1978. Homeboys: Gangs, Drugs, and Prison in the Barrios of Los Angeles. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.

Padilla, Felix M., and Lourdes Santiago. 1993. Outside the Wall: A Puerto Rican Woman's Struggle. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers.

Portes, Alejandro, and Saskia Sassen-Koob. 1987. "Making it Underground: Material on the Informal Sector in
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Sassen, Saskia. 1991. The Global City: New York, London, Tokyo. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Short, James F. Jr. 1997. Poverty, Ethnicity and Violent Crime. Boulder, CO: Wesstview Press.

Thurow, Lester C. 1997. The Future of Capitalism: How Today's Economic Forces Shae Tomorrow's Wrold. New York: Penguin Books.

Vigil, James Diego, and Steve Chong Yun. 1998. "Vietmanese Youth Gangs in the Context of Multiple Marginality
and the Los Angeles Youth Gang Phenomenon." Pp. 117-139 in Gangs and Youth Subcultures: International Explorations,
edited by Kayleen Hazlehurst and Cameron Hazlehurst. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers.