This paper tackles the issue of what should be considered the foremost contributing factors to the formation of gangs in the U.S. Based on the conducted literature-review; the paper’s analytical insights expose the economic, psychological, and cultural forces of influence, in this regard. The provided recommendations, as to what should be done to reduce the rate of gang-related violence in America, call for the reassessment of the punitive approach to dealing with gangsters.
One of the main aspects of a contemporary living in the U.S. is concerned with the fact that, as time goes on, more and more people grow to perceive the issue of gang-related crime utterly pressing, in the social sense of this word. After all, the factor of gangsta sub-culture is now affecting the qualitative essence of the ‘street realities’ in just about every American city. Therefore, there is nothing incidental about the fact that up to this date, there have been applied a number of scientific inquiries into trying to identify the main cause behind the formation of gangs, as we know them. The following is a brief description of five discursively relevant articles/studies, the authors of which assess the phenomena of gangs/gang-subculture from a number of different critical angles.
According to Dupéré et al. (2007), a person’s likelihood to join a gang should be discussed within the context of what accounted for the economic aspects of his or her upbringing as a child. The authors have succeeded in compiling much evidence as to the fact that one’s early years, spent in poverty, are the strongest predictor of the concerned individual’s would-be tendency to become a gang-member eventually. The study concludes with assigning certain blame for the rise of gang-related violence in the U.S. to the fact that a gap between the rich and poor in this country continues to widen.
The article by Tonkonoff (2014) assesses the issue within the socio-cultural context. According to the author, gang-members strive for nothing less than overthrowing the hegemony of Euro-centrism, as a quasi-ideology that oppresses the representatives of racial minorities in Western countries. Tonkonoff believes that this, in turn, helps to explain the phenomenon of ‘ethnic gangs’ – the latter sublimate the economically underprivileged/ethnically visible citizens’ will to cease being considered inferior by the country’s self-proclaimed ‘rightful owners’ – White Anglo-Saxon Protestants (WASPs).
In his article, Barker (2011) informs readers about the history and current activities of America’s most notorious biker-gangs, such as the Hells Angels, Bandidos, Outlaws, Mongols, Warlocks, Sons of Silence and Vagos. The author also promotes the idea that these gangs’ association with motorcycles is merely a legal cover for the affiliated gang-members to indulge in a variety of illegal activities, such as drug-trafficking. According to Barker, the American-based biker-gangs apply much effort into trying to expand internationally, which in turn represents much danger to people in the would-be affected countries.
Simon’s (2006) article provides a positivist insight into the subject matter in question, in the sense of arguing that the actual reasons behind the formation of gangs are biological (genetic). That is, individuals join gangs due to being ‘criminally minded’, which in turn explains why the workings of America’s penal system continue to remain strongly reflective of many Lombrosian ideas about the nature of criminality – although the country’s top-officials proclaim that this has effectively stopped being the case a long time ago.
In their study, Lahey et al. (1999) come up with the empirically collected statistical data, with respect to what should be considered the actual predictors of one’s likelihood to become a gangster. According to the author, the factor of race plays a crucial role. After all, as it appears from the study, it is twenty times more likely for an African-American male to end up affiliated with the gangsta – culture before he reaches the age of 19, as compared to what it is being the case with his White counterpart.
After having familiarized myself with the above-outlined articles/studies, I was able to identify three methodological frameworks, within which different authors tend to discuss the proliferation of gangs in the U.S. – economic, psychological, and cultural. The economic perspective on the issue is concerned with the assumption that the primary reason why people join gangs, in the first place, is that due to being socially disfranchised there is simply no other way for them to go about trying to achieve social prominence. The adherents of the psychological outlook on the emergence of gangs promote the idea that one’s willingness to become a gang-member should be seen indicative of the concerned person’s endowment with ‘criminal mindedness’. The cultural (which can also be referred to as the evolutionary) paradigm of gang-membership presupposes that the social phenomenon at stake should be evaluated in terms of how some of the currently suppressed sub-cultures in America strive to attain the mainstream status. In the next part of this paper, I will synthesize the findings of the outlined articles and propose the discussion-topics for gang-related research in the future.
Table of contents
Based on the provided literature-review, the main analytical insights into the issue and the topics for future research can be formulated as follows:
- The inadequate quality of one’s living conditions, which reflects the person’s low social status, has a strong effect on his or her willingness to join a gang. After all, due to being in essence ‘hairless apes’, the basic existential agenda of the representatives of the Homo Sapiens species is simple – it is all about food, sex, and domination. Those Americans who were fortunate enough to be born in the well-off families go about exploring such their agenda in a socially appropriate manner. That is, they enroll to study at prestigious universities, secure a highly paid job, and consequently – they are able to attain a social prominence, without having to risk their lives. The not so lucky compatriots if these people, on the other hand, are simply in no position to be able to afford to do the same. This, however, does not make them any less human, in the sense of being endowed with the resolution to aspire to win their ‘room under the Sun’ – even if this can only be accomplished at the expense of joining a gang (Barker, 2011). Therefore, the proliferation of gangs in America can be seen as the direct consequence of the government’s unwillingness to provide equal access to national wealth to all the citizens, regardless of what happened to be their social status or racial affiliation. (Dupéré et al., 2007). Hence, the sub-topics for further research:
- What are the specific ‘economic’ triggers of the formation of a gang?
- Is there much rationale to the suggestion that the government is interested in maintaining the status quo, with respect to how it addresses the problem of gang-related violence?
- What is the role of street-gangs in strengthening the legitimacy of the idiom ‘American dream’, as such that presupposes that the actual value of every individual citizen positively relates to the amount of money that he or she happened to have in the bank?
- Those that join gangs are predetermined to do so psychologically (genetically), which in turn confirms the validity of the politically incorrect notion of a ‘natural born criminal’. Because one’s membership in a particular gang presupposes that he or she is emotionally comfortable with being exposed to violence on a continuous basis, this can be taken as the indication that the measure of this individual’s social adaptability is utterly low. Consequently, it will be thoroughly logical to hypothesize that most gang-members are underdeveloped, in the evolutionary sense of this word. The validity of this suggestion can be partially proven, in relation to the well-established fact that there is indeed a positive correlation between the strength of one’s commitment to leading the lifestyle of a gangster, on one hand, and the likelihood for the person’s physical appearance to exhibit the signs of anthropological atavism, on the other. These signs include sloping foreheads, overdeveloped jaws, lessened sensitivity to physical pain, bodily hairiness, etc. Simply put – gangsters are nothing but the derelict of the prehistoric era when a person’s ability to ensure its physical survival used to directly depend on the size of his biceps. This, in turn, implies that gangsters cannot be ‘corrected’, by definition. The idea’s validity is partially substantiated by the process of the American penal system becoming less punitive and more rehabilitative (Simon, 2006). After all, this particular development is thoroughly consistent with two of the main provisions of Positive Criminology (founded by Cesare Lombroso): a). For as long as the government prefers to refrain from sterilizing ‘natural born criminals’, its crime-combating policies are doomed to remain utterly ineffective. b). It is morally inappropriate to apply harsh punishments to such criminals since the latter are in no position to be able to control the unconscious workings of their evolutionary underdeveloped psyche. The affiliated sub-topics are as follows:
- Can it be considered fully justified that gang-members are usually subjected to racial profiling, even if informally?
- How can it be explained that most gangsters do live up to the stereotype of an utterly violent and physically strong, but not excessively bright individual?
- Will the government be able to reduce the rate of gang-related violence in this country by allowing police officers to overlook some of the provisions of the U.S. Constitution when dealing with gangsters?
- The emergence of criminal gangs in the U.S. should be discussed in close conjunction with what appears to be the essence of ethnocultural dynamics in America. The logic behind this suggestion is quite apparent – statistically speaking; the overwhelming majority of criminal gangs in this country are ethnic (Lahey et al., 1999). However, contrary to the politically correct outlook on the significance of this phenomenon, there is nothing accidental about it. The described state of affairs implies that the members of ethnic gangs do not simply try making some ‘easy money’, as their main priority – they strive for building their own societies within the society (Tonkonoff, 2014). One of the possible explanations to this is that, even if they were born in the U.S., most ‘ethnic gangsters’ adhere to the principles of traditional (rural) living – solidarity, ritualistic religiousness, and irrational greed. Apart from indulging in illegal activities, these individuals apply much effort into establishing ‘horizontal’ (networking) links among themselves – something that helps them to withstand the ‘vertical’ pressure of the impartial U.S. law. To strengthen these links even further, gang-members invest in increasing the emotional appeal of their way of life – something that prompts many social scientists to discuss gangs within the sub-cultural context. The above-suggestion helps us to come up with the following sub-topics:
- Does the proliferation of ethnic gangs in the U.S. signify the fundamental fallaciousness of the currently enacted immigration policies?
- What are the socio-cultural preconditions for the continual ‘gangstanization’ of American society?
- Is it fully appropriate, on the part of social scientists, to apply a positivist approach when it comes to discussing the future prospects of the gangsta – culture in America?
Summation and recommendations
The earlier obtained insights into the subject of this paper’s analytical inquiry can be synthesized into the following conclusion: The initial emergence and sub-sequential proliferation of criminal gangs in the U.S. have the subtleties of a phenomenological issue, in the sense that there is more than just one cause-effect dimension to it. What it means is that to be able to combat gangs effectively, the representatives of law-enforcement agencies must be capable of assessing the task’s implications through the lenses of psychology, biology, and political economy. In its turn, this implies that the science of criminology can no longer be referred to in terms of a narrowly focused professional pursuit.
Apparently, people join gangs because there are strong motivations for them to act in such a manner, and one can hardly expect to be able to find an effective strategy for addressing gang-violence, unless he or she understands the actual quintessence of motivational incentives that cause individuals to choose in favor of becoming gangsters, in the first place. Hence, the applicable recommendations:
- Policy-makers must reconsider the validity of the assumption that people join gangs due to being ‘morally wicked’. After all, as it was shown earlier, the motivational forces at play appear to be much deeper, in the discursive sense of this word. This, in turn, should result in the country’s judicial system parting away with the idea that gangsters can be ‘corrected’ by the mean of being sentenced to serve lengthy terms in jail.
- The government should readjust the currently enacted immigration policy to be more consistent with the notion of sanity. The reason for this is that, as practice indicates, it is specifically the ethnically visible immigrants to the U.S. (and their second-generation descendants), who contribute to the proliferation of gangs in this country more than any other groups of people do. This simply could not be otherwise – the very fact that these individuals are naturally inclined to cherish the virtue of ethnic solidarity, causes them to strive to take practical advantage of such their psychological trait – even if it comes at the expense of undermining the integrity of American society from within.
- The U.S. legislators must come up with the all-national plan for making it possible for the economically disadvantaged American citizens to have a chance of social advancement, without needing to consider the prospect of joining a gang, as the only way for them to be able to get out of poverty. This could be done with ease. Given, of course, that the U.S. government ceases to prioritize its obsession with trying to maintain America’s geopolitical dominance on the planet – something that costs hundreds of billions of dollars on an annual basis.
I believe that these recommendations do correlate rather well with the earlier articulated analytical insights and with the paper’s synthesized conclusion.
Barker, T. (2011). American based biker gangs: International organized crime. American Journal of Criminal Justice: AJCJ, 36(3), 207-215. Dupéré, V., Lacourse, É., Willms, J., Vitaro, F., & Tremblay, R. (2007).
Affiliation to youth gangs during adolescence: The interaction between childhood psychopathic tendencies and neighborhood disadvantage. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 35(6), 1035-1045.
Lahey, B., Gordon, R., Loeber, R., Stouthamer-Loeber, M., & Farrington, D. P. (1999). Boys who join gangs: A prospective study of predictors of first gang entry. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 27(4), 261-276.
Simon, J. (2006). Positively punitive: How the inventor of scientific criminology who died at the beginning of the twentieth century continues to haunt American crime control at the beginning of the twenty-first. Texas Law Review, 84(7), 2135-2172.
Tonkonoff, S. (2014). Crime as the limit of culture. Human Studies, 37(4), 529-544.