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Global Gangs

Global Gangs: Street Violence across the World

Jennifer M. Hazen
Dennis Rodgers
Afterword by Sudhir Venkatesh
Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 312
  • Book Info
    Global Gangs
    Book Description:

    Gangs, often associated with brutality and senseless destructive violence, have not always been viewed as inherently antagonistic. The first studies of gangs depicted them as alternative sources of order in urban slums where the state's authority was lacking, and they have subsequently been shown to be important elements in some youth life cycles. Despite their proliferation there is little consensus regarding what constitutes a gang. Used to denote phenomena ranging from organized crime syndicates to groups of youths who gather spontaneously on street corners, even the term "gang" is ambiguous.

    Global Gangsoffers a greater understanding of gangs through essays that investigate gangs spanning across nations, from Brazil to Indonesia, China to Kenya, and from El Salvador to Russia. Volume editors Jennifer M. Hazen and Dennis Rodgers bring together contributors who examine gangs from a comparative perspective, discussing such topics as the role the apartheid regime in South Africa played in the emergence of gangs, the politics behind child vigilante squads in India, the relationship between immigration and gangs in France and the United States, and the complex stigmatization of youths in Mexico caused by the arbitrary deployment of the word "gang."

    Featuring an afterword by renowned U.S. gang researcher Sudhir Venkatesh, this volume provides a comprehensive look into the experience of gangs across the world and in doing so challenges conventional notions of identity.

    Contributors: Enrique Desmond Arias, George Mason U; José Miguel Cruz, Florida International U; Steffen Jensen, DIGNITY-Danish Institute Against Torture; Gareth A. Jones, London School of Economics and Political Science; Marwan Mohammed, École Normale Supérieure, Paris; Jacob Rasmussen, Roskilde U; Loren Ryter, U of Michigan; Rustem R. Safin, National Research Technological U, Russia; Alexander L. Salagaev, National Research Technological U, Russia; Atreyee Sen, U of Manchester; Mats Utas, Nordic Africa Institute; Sudhir Venkatesh, Columbia U; James Diego Vigil, U of California, Irvine; Lening Zhang, Saint Francis U.

    eISBN: 978-1-4529-4180-6
    Subjects: Political Science, Anthropology, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Introduction: Gangs in a Global Comparative Perspective
    (pp. 1-26)

    Frequently depicted as an almost pathological form of brutality, gangs are ubiquitously associated with senselessly destructive violence and have become popular bugbears and scapegoats. This is currently perhaps most obvious in the case of contemporary Central America, where gangs—known aspandillasandmaras—are widely perceived as the most important security threat within a post–Cold War panorama of criminality often characterized by levels of violence that surpass those of the revolutionary conflicts that affected the region during the 1970s and 1980s (Rodgers 2009). This concern, heightened in the post-9/11 context, has Central American gangs commonly portrayed as a...

  5. Part I. Gang Formation and Transformation

    • 1 Intimate Connections: Gangs and the Political Economy of Urbanization in South Africa
      (pp. 29-48)

      Gangs and gang culture have occupied central positions in the imaginaries and anxieties of mainstream society in South Africa for more than a century. In Cape Town, gangs, both yesterday and today, are said to constitute one of the most serious threats to the fabric of society. To some extent, the fears and anxieties are warranted, but the phenomenon of gangs must be explored in more detail to understand both when and how gangs are a problem and when the problems emerge from elsewhere. To sift through these issues, I explore three sets of related questions: first, how and why...

    • 2 Cholo!: The Migratory Origins of Chicano Gangs in Los Angeles
      (pp. 49-64)

      Waves of migration since the 1850s have brought Mexican immigrants to the streets of Los Angeles in large numbers. The limited opportunities available to the new arrivals led to the emergence of segregated neighborhoods and increased poverty and marginalization of the Chicano population. Poverty further reduced traditional social controls on youth and schools, and law enforcement proved incapable of providing external controls on youth behavior. Instead, street socialization provided a guide to those growing up on the streets. Street socialization took over as a form of social control, and conformity to new street gang rules and regulations emerged. Street gang...

    • 3 Capitalizing on Change: Gangs, Ideology, and the Transition to a Liberal Economy in the Russian Federation
      (pp. 65-84)

      During the 1960s and early 1970s, youth crime rates in the Soviet Union were widely reported to be declining, alongside a general decrease in the number of crimes committed by organized delinquent groups. This trend led Soviet officials to formally proclaim the end of “banditry.” This situation did not last, however, and by the late 1970s, youth gangs had become quite widespread in the Soviet Union. Their spread was clearly linked to the gradual transformation that the USSR underwent from the 1970s onward. Most notably, the introduction of elements of a market economy by the Soviet government during this period...

    • 4 Of Marginality and “Little Emperors”: The Changing Reality of Chinese Youth Gangs
      (pp. 85-104)

      Youth gangs and gang-related crime in China were rare and were not considered a social problem during the 1950s and 1960s. The nation had very low crime rates and was even viewed as a “crime-free” society (Fairbank 1987; Rojek 1996). Official statistics indicate that China had only five to six criminal cases per one hundred thousand inhabitants annually during this time period (Dai 2001). However, since the nation implemented economic reform in the late 1970s, the situation has changed dramatically. The crime rate climbed to 356 per 100,000 inhabitants in 2005 (Zhang, Messner, and Liu 2008). As total crime rose...

    • 5 From Black Jackets to Zulus: Social Imagination, Myth, and Reality Concerning French Gangs
      (pp. 105-122)

      Youth gangs in France are frequently invoked in public debates but are arguably rarely coherently characterized.¹ On one hand, they are generally seen to constitute a critical social danger, one that inherently threatens the fabric of society owing to their intimate association with violence. At the same time, however, they are also considered to be fundamentally the “other”—spatially excluded social forms that are totally alien to the mainstream. Such a contradictory vision of things is to a certain extent due to a particular imagination of gangs pervading the French collective consciousness, one that owes much to North American movies...

    • 6 Maras and the Politics of Violence in El Salvador
      (pp. 123-144)

      Where does Mara Salvatrucha come from? How did the U.S.-born Eighteenth Street Gang become a powerhouse of the Salvadoran streets? The Mara Salvatrucha, also known as the MS-13, and the Eighteenth Street Gang, branded also as Barrio 18, are the two major youth gangs in El Salvador and Central America. According to different sources (Aguilar and Miranda 2006; USAID 2006), between 2002 and 2006, both gangs comprised more than 87 percent of gang membership in El Salvador. These gangs are known not only because of their control of Salvadoran neighborhoods and most of the prisons nowadays but also because they...

  6. Part II. Problematizing Gangs

    • 7 Youth Gangs and Otherwise in Indonesia
      (pp. 147-170)

      In December 2008, Japto Soerjosoemarno, until today the unchallenged leader of Pemuda Pancasila, or Pancasila Youth,¹ by all accounts the most powerful youth gang in Indonesia during the last decades of Suharto’s rule, denied that his youth gang had ever existed (pers. comm., December 23, 2008).² The reason for his denial, and the outright mendacity of it, says much about the nature of youth gangs in Indonesia. It illustrates the degree to which youth gangs learned to thrive as long as they sought formality and recognition and transformed themselves—or, more precisely, insisted on perpetual efforts to transform themselves—from...

    • 8 “Playing the Game”: Gang–Militia Logics in War-Torn Sierra Leone
      (pp. 171-192)

      When I recently read Sudhir Venkatesh’s (2008)Gang Leader for a Day, I was struck by the feeling of total familiarity. I felt that I knew the setting and the actors to the extent that I could almost guess what would happen on the next page. In particular, the similarities were striking between the lives of the Black Kings, the Chicago Southside gang Venkatesh studied, and the ex-combatant street corner youths with whom I worked in postwar Freetown, Sierra Leone. These similarities, on one hand, likely originated from a shared interest in comparable research questions. Venkatesh (2006, xi), for example,...

    • 9 “For Your Safety”: Child Vigilante Squads and Neo-Gangsterism in Urban India
      (pp. 193-212)

      In December 2003, riots broke out between Hindus and Muslims in the northern quarters of Hyderabad, a communally (religiously) sensitive city in southern India. Arshed, a ten-year-old boy from a slum area that was particularly affected by the rising interreligious tensions, was sent off for safekeeping to his uncle’s house in another part of the city. His brother, a six-year-old, remained behind as his parents were sure that a small child could be hidden in a box or a barrel if communal antagonisms escalated into violence. Arshed returned to the slums after a few weeks and found his mother sitting...

    • 10 “We Are the True Blood of the Mau Mau”: The Mungiki Movement in Kenya
      (pp. 213-236)

      During the past decade, the Mungiki movement in Kenya has gained a reputation as one of East Africa’s most dangerous criminal organizations. For example, following a visit to Nairobi as part of his global tour investigating the world’s “worst gangs,” the British actor turned popular journalist Ross Kemp (2008, 167) described Mungiki as having a reputation for “cutting off people’s heads, arms and other parts of the anatomy” and for being involved in “protection rackets, extortion and extremely violent murder—the stock-in-trade of gangs around the world.” Similarly, the report produced by the Official Commission of Inquiry into Post-election Violence...

    • 11 Gang Politics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
      (pp. 237-254)

      In May 2002, Tim Lopes, a reporter for the Globo media conglomerate, Brazil’s largest television network and the publisher of Rio’s most important newspaper, went to thefavela(shantytown) of Vila Cruzeiro on Rio’s working-class north side to report on rumors that drug dealers paid adolescent girls to perform sexual acts at thefavela’s gang-sponsoredbaile funk(funk dance ball). The reporter had a history of daring undercover investigations, including one a few months earlier, where he had secretly filmed a major open-air drug market in the same neighborhood, leading to heavy police repression in the area. Local gang members...

    • 12 “Hecho en México”: Gangs, Identities, and the Politics of Public Security
      (pp. 255-280)

      As I sit on the pavement with a group of young people passing the time near a bustling market in the city of Puebla, central Mexico, I listen to Ramón as he describes his worries over recent events. He is uncharacteristically nervous, unable to sit still, and his eyes are scanning the street. During our previous meetings, Ramón would take little notice as passers-by shot disapproving glances at his often bare-chested, muscular, although sometimes disheveled appearance—a look that communicated drug use and little consideration for conventional employment. Nor, unlike others in the group, would Ramón approach the police to...

  7. Afterword: The Inevitable Gang
    (pp. 281-288)

    Rodgers and Hazen sum up the motivating spirit behindGlobal Gangssuccinctly when they write that this volume highlights the “socially embedded nature of all gangs, regardless of their location, and how different environments can affect their origins and their transformation.” In the area of gang studies, this is no small accomplishment. Gangs perplex us. All manner of explanation—biological, genetic, psychological, environmental—continues to proliferate in our attempts to answer the question, Why do gangs exist? Collections of research findings often have difficulty sorting through the muck to deliver a tight, polished thesis. This volume breaks that mold.


  8. Contributors
    (pp. 289-292)
  9. Index
    (pp. 293-300)