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Who You Claim

Who You Claim: Performing Gang Identity in School and on the Streets

Robert Garot
Copyright Date: 2010
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 272
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  • Book Info
    Who You Claim
    Book Description:

    The color of clothing, the width of shoe laces, a pierced ear, certain brands of sneakers, the braiding of hair and many other features have long been seen as indicators of gang involvement. But it's not just what is worn, it's how: a hat tilted to the left or right, creases in pants, an ironed shirt not tucked in, baggy pants. For those who live in inner cities with a heavy gang presence, such highly stylized rules are not simply about fashion, but markers of "who you claim," that is, who one affiliates with, and how one wishes to be seen. In this carefully researched ethnographic account, Robert Garot provides rich descriptions and compelling stories to demonstrate that gang identity is a carefully coordinated performance with many nuanced rules of style and presentation, and that gangs, like any other group or institution, must be constantly performed into being. Garot spent four years in and around one inner city alternative school in Southern California, conducting interviews and hanging out with students, teachers, and administrators. He shows that these young people are not simply scary thugs who always have been and always will be violent criminals, but that they constantly modulate ways of talking, walking, dressing, writing graffiti, wearing make-up, and hiding or revealing tattoos as ways to play with markers of identity. They obscure, reveal, and provide contradictory signals on a continuum, moving into, through, and out of gang affiliations as they mature, drop out, or graduate. Who You Claim provides a rare look into young people's understandings of the meanings and contexts in which the magic of such identity work is made manifest.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-3314-1
    Subjects: 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. Preface: Emily’s Tale
    (pp. ix-xii)
  5. 1 Gang Identity as Performance
    (pp. 1-20)

    Over the past fifty years, social scientists have increasingly turned from essentializing identity as a fixed characteristic to understanding identity as fluid, contextual, and shifting. Through dress, mannerisms, and language, individuals make and dispute claims to identity based in socially recognized categories, and such claims and contestations become the bases for sustaining interaction. Prominent, one might even say the dominant, literatures in grappling with the complexity of such topics as gender, race, ethnicity, and nationalism all recognize the importance of understanding that these categories are not fixed, but strategically molded in the ways we present ourselves, and that they are...


    • 2 Moral Dramas at School
      (pp. 23-44)

      A chicken and egg question haunts studies of school achievement and, by extension, criminology: Is it the behavior of students or that of schools that seals certain students’ subordination? Paul Willis classically demonstrated how the students themselves, acting out of an awareness of their limited class position and their threatened masculinity, contributed most to their continued oppression; the actions of teachers and administrators were but a shadowy backdrop to the lads’ antics.¹ John Ogbu did not overlook discrimination in the school to the same extent as Willis, yet his work, like Willis’s, emphasized how those from historically oppressed communities, especially...

    • 3 The Contradictions of Controlling Student Dress
      (pp. 45-66)

      This book shows how students’ resistance in school, as well as their experiences with gangs and fights, arises out of an environment replete with deeply alienating experiences. Others have focused on the alienation experienced in repetitive, low-wage service jobs, at home watching TV, or “doing nothing.”¹ While the last chapter looked at how alienation can result from being in counterfeit classrooms where insults to students’ intelligence, potential, and dignity are commonplace, this chapter examines how alienation can also spring from the enforcement of arbitrary, inconsistent, and meaningless rules, and explores some of the intricacies and nuances by which students find...


    • 4 Claims
      (pp. 69-91)

      Part I of this book showed how young people, subject to a disorganized curriculum, lackadaisical and accusatory teachers, and arbitrarily imposed dress codes that are based on a systematic misunderstanding of the meanings of their clothing choices, were not recognized for their humanity or potential. Part II now focuses on the creation of lively experiential possibilities that marginalized young people ingeniously develop to compensate for the lack of opportunities and the dehumanization and degradation they experience in their current social structures.

      Seeing oneself as a victim is neither comfortable nor sustainable. The sense of being a victim gnaws at one’s...

    • 5 Affiliations
      (pp. 92-118)

      There are many different aspects of identity and situated ways to present them. Chapter 4 probed the variable, contingent ways in which young people may perform gang identity by hitting up. The skills and dangers involved in this situated interaction ritual provide a lively means to escape the oppressive, alienating institutional routines found in many innercity environments, such as the school and classrooms of chapters 2 and 3. This chapter explores some of the many types of affiliations that ostensibly provide a basis for hitting up.

      In the area around CAA, young people have many different options for the types...

    • 6 Violence and Nonviolence
      (pp. 119-142)

      The most powerful challenge another can make is toone’s face—how one sees oneself in relation to community.1 Especially when one’s identity is vulnerable, one may be prone to defend it physically. In an ecology where everyone’s identity is vulnerable because of the marginalization and alienation discussed in prior chapters, not fighting to defend identity may pose a great risk, as Doogan states above. Indeed, if we feel we have been “deprived of our rightful place in the world,” it is hard for most of us not to consider fighting to regain it.²

      Specific skills that are useful for...

    • 7 Avoiding Retaliation
      (pp. 143-160)

      In the moment of righteous indignation experienced when one has been wronged, one faces a crucial moment of choice, to decide to accept and live with the wrong that has been done (to “lump it”) or to retaliate.¹ It is worthwhile to appreciate this gap between cause and effect, at least to recognize the myriad possible outcomes, as the consideration of how to respond after perceiving a wrong is far from academic.²

      While a focus on individuals who abstain from retaliation may be rare in the criminological literature, scholars of law and society have found that the modal response to...

    • 8 Streetwork
      (pp. 161-174)

      Writing is a shallow reflection of experience. Up to this point, the narrative has moved from case to case in order to build or contradict an analysis. Fortunately, life doesn’t work this way. To understand the central theme of this book, that gang or street identity is a strategic resource, we need a more in-depth view of a single individual, following him over time to get a feel for what the variable performance of identity might mean in context.

      Joe Figeuroa was a nineteen-year-old hired to help enlist and keep track of youth for a federal employment program, and he...

  8. Conclusion
    (pp. 175-184)

    The morality of ethnographic representation continually haunts ethnographic practice. From the travelers’ and missionaries’ accounts ofsavagesthat provided the troubling foundation for anthropology to contemporary studies of the near and the far, there is no escaping the moral, political context of observations. The foremost question for the would-be criminologist is that posed by Howard Becker more than forty years ago: “Whose side are we on?”¹ The question may seem a bit impolite and even Manichean, but it is inevitable and inescapable. Becker did not mince words. In studying any type of “criminal” activity, one sides with either the moral...

  9. Appendix: Getting Schooled
    (pp. 185-200)
  10. Notes
    (pp. 201-228)
  11. References
    (pp. 229-248)
  12. Index
    (pp. 249-259)
  13. About the Author
    (pp. 260-260)