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Islands in the Street

Islands in the Street: Gangs and American Urban Society

Copyright Date: 1991
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  • Book Info
    Islands in the Street
    Book Description:

    "Vivid, lively, and yet theoretically informed, a triumph of patient and sustained fieldwork. . . . Jankowski presents the gang and its members not as pathological departures from social norms, but as shrewd and resourceful operators."-Michael Lipsky, Massachusetts Institute of Technology "Islands in the Streetfills a wide gap in the literature on gangs. Jankowski's innovative model of gang participation and organization is important and elegant, guaranteeing that this will bethebook on gangs for the next ten years, if not longer."-Ruth Horowitz, University of Delaware

    eISBN: 978-0-520-91131-4
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Preface
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-20)

    Gangs. The word has meant a number of things throughout history, but inevitably most people have used it with a negative connotation. Looking at the history of the wordgangin the United States, one finds that the term has perennially been used of certain social groups considered to be major social problems of the time. The social science academy’s research on gangs has had its own history, and the focus of this research has in turn been influenced largely by what society has considered the major social problems of the period.

    In the United States, the history of applying...

  5. Chapter One A Theory of Gang Behavior and Persistence
    (pp. 21-34)

    The behavior and persistence of gangs in American society remains a perplexing problem. It is especially so given the great resources that law enforcement officials have used in their efforts to control gangs, not to mention the number of social programs that have been developed to assist youth in poor and lower-class communities. The sociological literature on gangs offers a number of theories, but a close look at each of these indicates that they are really theories about delinquency and not theories about gangs per se. They are therefore sociological theories of crime rather than sociological theories of the gang....

  6. Part One: The Gang and Its Environment

    • Chapter Two Gang Involvement
      (pp. 37-62)

      In chapter 1, I argued that one of the most important features of gang members was their defiant individualist character. I explained the development of defiant individualism by locating its origins in the material conditions—the competition and conflict over resource scarcity—of the low-income neighborhoods of most large American cities. These conditions exist for everyone who lives in such neighborhoods, yet not every young person joins a gang. Although I have found that nearly all those who belong to gangs do exhibit defiant individualist traits to some degree, not all those who possess such traits join gangs. This chapter...

    • Chapter Three In the Organization
      (pp. 63-100)

      Chapter 2 identified many reasons why both young and adult males join gangs. This chapter addresses the question of what the gang does with this group of disparate individuals to transform them into cooperative members, and ultimately into a working organizational unit. This question has attracted considerable attention among sociologists interested in gang behavior and has generated two basic schools of thought concerning gang organization. The dominant body of research concludes that gangs are not cohesive units. These studies argue that gangs are loose associations of individuals that have little in the way of a defined leadership and a shifting...

    • Chapter Four Gang Business: Making Ends Meet
      (pp. 101-136)

      As we have seen, gangs must meet many of the needs and desires of their members. Thus gangs, like other organizations, undertake a number of economic activities. These, like other gang activities, can only be understood within the context of the interrelationship between the needs, goals, and opportunities of the defiant individualist, those of the organization, and those of the community in which a gang operates.

      If there is one theme that dominates most studies of gangs, it is that gangs are collectives of individuals who are social parasites, and that they are parasitic not only because they lack the...

    • Chapter Five The Anatomy of Gang Violence
      (pp. 137-177)

      Of all the topics associated with gangs, it is likely that none is more important to the general public in the United States than violence. Gang violence has received the most attention from the police, community and political leaders, and the media. Despite all this attention, however, gang violence is also the least understood of gang activities. Recently on national television, interviewer Geraldo Rivera asked a teenage member of one of Los Angeles’s African-American gangs (the Bloods) whether he felt badly that innocent people were killed as a result of his gang’s driveby shootings. With little expression and no apparent...

    • Chapter Six The Gang and the Community
      (pp. 178-212)

      Anyone who wants to understand gangs must examine the question of how low-income communities interrelate with the gangs that operate in their midst. Past research has described this relationship as either antagonistic or apathetic. Those who argue that the relationship is antagonistic believe that the gang usually assumes a parasitic role vis-à-vis the community, preying on the vulnerable and forcing “good young boys” to join its ranks, thereby ruining their lives.¹ According to these studies, this causes communities to assume a hostile demeanor toward gangs active in their areas.

      On the other hand, other studies describe the relationship between community...

  7. Part Two: The Gang and the Outside World

    • Chapter Seven Gangs and Governments
      (pp. 215-251)

      Few studies have dealt with the relationship between the political structure of cities and the gangs that operate within them. The studies that have treated this relationship have tended to describe two quite different associations. The early study by Thrasher described the relationship of gangs to the political structure as consisting of the gang being incorporated into the local political machine and performing a number of small campaign tasks. In this scenario, the gang is simply a local organization that is manipulated by the local political boss.¹ Later studies, however, either have described the relationship of gangs to politics as...

    • Chapter Eight Gangs, Criminal Justice, and Public Order
      (pp. 252-283)

      When most people in society think of gangs, they think of crime and crime control. For example, at a public forum on crime in the United States, a man got up and asked the panel of law enforcement officials: “How come the authorities cannot wipe out gangs?” The members of the panel each took a turn answering the question, most describing what they had done to combat crime and what they intended to do in the future. Only one answered the question directly. He said that the answer was simple: there was a general lack of resources for police departments...

    • Chapter Nine The Media and Gangs: Image Construction and Myth Management
      (pp. 284-310)

      Throughout various periods in American history, gangs have received a great deal of attention from the media. This was especially true during the 1970s and 1980s, when there was not one branch of the media that did not devote a significant amount of time and resources to the topic of gangs. During this period, one could find stories of gangs in newspapers, magazines, radio news shows, television news shows, television documentaries, radio and television talk shows, docu-dramas, and, finally, the movies. In short, the media became the general public’s primary source of information about gangs and, as a result, became...

  8. Conclusion
    (pp. 311-322)

    There has been a continual interest on the part of the general public and social scientists alike in understanding the gang phenomenon in the United States. For the most part, this interest stems from a desire to control the crime associated with gangs. Yet despite all the research that has been done and all the programs that have been instituted to combat their growth and activity, gangs have vigorously persisted. As the evidence and analysis presented in this study show, gangs persist in part because the gangs themselves make concerted organizational efforts to ensure their own survival, and in part...

  9. Appendix: Summary of Gangs Studied
    (pp. 323-324)
  10. Notes
    (pp. 325-362)
  11. Bibliography
    (pp. 363-372)
  12. Index
    (pp. 373-383)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 384-384)