|URBAN VIOLENCE AND STREET GANGS Annual Review of Anthropology 32: Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 2003.
copied from "streetgangs.com magazine"
By James Diego Vigil
URBAN VIOLENCE AND STREET GANGS
What causes urban street gang violence and how can we better understand the forces that shape this type of adolescent and youth behavior? For close to a century, social researchers have taken many different paths in attempting to unravel this complex question, especially in the context of large-scale immigrant adaptation to the city. In recent decades these researchers have relied primarily on data gathered from survey, quantitative approaches. This review traces some of these developments and outlines how frameworks of analysis have become more integrated and multi-dimensional, as ethnographic strategies have come into vogue again. For the last couple of decades, either a subculture of violence (i.e., the values and norms of the street gang embrace aggressive, violent behavior) or a routine activities (i.e., hanging around high crime areas with highly delinquent people) explanation dominated the discussion. To broaden and deepen the picture many other factors need to be considered, such as ecological, socioeconomic, sociocultural, and sociopsychological, particularly in light of the immigrant experience. A multiple marginality framework lends itself to a holistic strategy that examines linkages among the various factors, the actions and interactions between them, and notes the cumulative nature of urban street gang violence. Questions that are addressed in this more integrated framework are: Where did they settle? What jobs did they fill? How and why did their social practices and cultural values undergo transformations? When and in what ways did the social environment affect them? Finally, with whom did they interact? In sum, in highlighting the key themes and features of what constitutes urban street gang violence, the review suggests that the qualitative style that relies on holistic information adds important details to traditional quantitative data.
Urban gang violence has been examined from various sociological and psychological perspectives (Covey et al. 1992; Decker 1996). Though the violence includes an array of crimes (Zimring 1998), it is the gang conflicts that concern us here, the turf and drug wars and battles over resources, and the drivebys and .counting coup. escapades. Prior to the 1970s, gang violence was still popularly associated with white ethnic enclaves in the cities of the Midwest and East and gang incidents were typically brawls involving fists, sticks, and knives. Today, the gangs are made up largely of darker hued ethnic groups, especially African Americans and Latino Americans, and handguns and other military hardware are the typical vehicles for the acts of aggression and violent rampages so common in large cities, West and East (Cook and Laub 1998; Sanders 1994; McNulty 1995).
Gangs are now made up, as they were in earlier days, primarily of groups of male adolescents and youths who have grown up together as children, usually as cohorts in a low-income neighborhood of a city. Yet, only about 10 percent of youth in most low-income neighborhoods join gangs (Vigil 1988; Short 1996; Esbensen and Winfree 2001). Those who do so participate together in both conventional and anti-social behavior (Thornberry 2001). It is the anti-social behavior, however, that attracts the attention of authorities as well as the general public (Decker and Van Winkle 1996, Curry, Richard, & Fox 1994, Bursik and Grasmick 1995)).
John Hagedorn (1998) has made a distinction between the periods before and since the 1970s, respectively labeling them industrial and postindustrial. He maintains that the latter period has brought more violence because of several factors: "the adoption of economic functions by some urban gangs, the use of violence to regulate illicit commerce, the proliferation of firearms, the effect of prison on neighborhood gangs, and the effect of mainstream cultural values of money and success on gang youth with limited opportunities" (Hagedorn 1998: 369-370).
Access to sophisticated weaponry has made violence easier to carry out, as Canada (1995) has illustrated in his Fist, Stick, Knife, Gun. Indeed, in 1968 there were about 80 million guns in the United States, and by 1978 the figure had grown to 120 million; it was 200 million by 1990 (Reiss & Roth 1993). There were 50 million handguns, including those inexpensive pistols often referred to as "Saturday Night Specials", in 1991 (Hagedorn 1998). The historical importance of guns in United States culture and the strong political support from groups such as the National Rifle Association (NRA) for continued manufacturing and relatively unrestricted sales of firearms have worked to facilitate gang acts of aggression and violence (Lott & Mustard 1997). Meanwhile, drug use and abuse have blurred the thinking of, and in a limited way drug sales have increased motives for, the street youth who perpetrate most of the violence (Blumstein 1995; Klein & Maxson 1994). However, there are also other factors that need to be considered in comprehending gang violence (Spergel and Curry 1998).
Sociologists and social psychologists have extensively examined youth violence. Many, like Farrington (1996, 1998), have generally alluded to violence as an aspect of human aggression (Huesmann & Moise 1999). More recently, others, Messerschmidt (1995), for example, have seen it as an expression of masculinity in working class culture. In concurrence with anthropological evidence, most agree that males are more physically aggressive than females (Rohner 1976; Ember 1996). However, in recent years female gang members or females affiliated with male gangs have begun to get involved in and participate in gang violence (Chesney-Lind 1999). Female gang members are many fewer in number--from 4 to 10 percent of all gang members (Campbell 1991, 1990, Curry 1995, Miller 2002, 2001), but studies show that a high percentage of all incarcerated females in the United States belong to gangs (Giordano 1978). Indeed, the arrest rates of young women recently have increased at a faster pace than for nongang males (OJJDP 1995) and the offenses they are being charged with increasingly involve violence. Of course, some of that increase is probably due to the fact that the criminal justice system is less gender-biased in recent years: females who engage in deviant gang behavior are more apt today to be treated like their male counterparts rather than being shuttled into counseling sessions as was likely in the past.
Girls and young women in gangs (usually in auxiliaries of male gangs, but sometimes in autonomous groups or even, rarely, in mixed gender groups) are especially severely impacted by street socialization. Like males they must struggle with the same forces that generated their street experience but in addition must contend with their own homeboys, who typically have little respect for them. As gender roles continue to change, however, violence is becoming a more salient aspect of the role of females in gangs (Campbell 1990).
Like young males, many female youths are subjected to: culture conflict, poverty, and associated family and school problems. In addition, they are apt to undergo personal devaluation, stricter child-rearing experiences, tension-filled gender role expectations, and problems with self-esteem stemming from all these forces. Sexual abuse and exploitation experiences, initially with male relatives and later male street peers, can lead to pent-up rage. Not surprisingly, some young females are now channeling that rage into holding their own in the violence of the street gang world. Thus, some females may take on the persona of a crazy person, as for instance the Chicanas who call themselves Loca and do their best to live up to it (Dietrich 1998). Male gang members are generally dismissive of .gang girls;. but around these extremely violence-prone young women the males show much more respect.
Nevertheless, most aggressive gang behavior is committed by male youths between 14 and 18 years of age (Hirschi and Gottfredson 1983; Gottfredson & Hirschi 1990; Zimring 1996; Oliver [in press]). Eric Erikson (1968) has singled out the psychosocial moratorium in that age span as a status crisis in the transition from childhood to adulthood. Ambivalence and unpredictability characterize that period of human development, as teens face their new social and sexual identities and roles with uncertainty. As a result, they increasingly rely on peers and slightly older male role models as guides. Some teenagers, especially those living in highly stressful conditions, find it particularly difficult to work through this stage of human development. Many gang members, who characteristically have been raised in marginalized, highly stressful families, have their social development arrested and remain peer-dependent well into their thirties and even forties. Importantly, sociologists have quantitatively charted a noted increase, high point, and decrease in aggressive, violent actions in that same 14 to 18 age span (Hirschi and Gottfredson 1983; Gottfredson & Hirschi 1990). Because gang members often are organized hierarchical by age, older gang members are able to goad younger members (the 14- to 18-year olds) to carry out acts of violence against rival gangs (Vigil 1988a, 1988b).
Violence can be defined as a conscious physical act aimed at causing injury, which often includes bodily and psychological trauma and usually is identified with certain neighborhoods (Tonry and Moore 1998; Oliver [in press]). Most current theories are framed to explain delinquency or aggression and not youth violence (Farrington 1998). While there is considerable research still in its infancy focused on biological determinants of youth violence, such as low heart rate, the majority of the investigations and evidence support social and psychological factors (Raine et al. 1997). Indeed, when biological factors are invoked they are usually associated with social and psychological explanations.
Let us summarize the anthropological, ethnographic tradition on the subject. Members of the Chicago School conducted some of the first studies on gangs in the 1920s. These researchers were a group of sociologists and anthropologists who advocated and regularly practiced urban community studies that involved fieldwork observation and intensive interviewing. Thrasher (1927) is the initial researcher credited with studying gangs (and also Ashbury in New York, 1927, but his work was more anecdotal) in detail and establishing the baseline information from which all subsequent studies followed, including those of today (Hagedorn 1988, 1998). Later, Whyte (1943), Yablonsky (1966), Keiser (1969), Suttles 1968), Dawley 1972, Miller (1973, 1975) added to this ethnographic tradition. Soon after, a renewed interest in gangs emerged among ethnographically-oriented researchers such as Moore (1978, 1991) and Horowitz (1983), and by the late 1980s and 1990s qualitative, anthropological investigations were underway across the nation (Alonso 1999). Anthropologists (e.g., Vigil 1988a, 2002a; Sullivan 1988; Bourgois 1995; Fleischer 1995, 1998) have reworked and reconfigured these perspectives. Frameworks of analyses are now more holistic (Bronfenbrenner 1979) and methods of research have been broadened as ethnographic approaches have become more popular, even among sociologists (Hagedorn 1988; Padilla 1992; Anderson 1994, 1997, 1998).
In the more recent past, major explanations of gang violence can be fitted into one (usually) of two frameworks: Subculture of violence (e.g., especially Wolfgang and Ferracuti 1967) and routine activities (e.g., Felson 1987) explanations.In view of recent emphases on multi-dimensional ways of looking at the subject, I will underscore that neither becoming a member of a "subculture of violence" nor being present where "routine activities" of a violent nature occur is sufficient, by itself, to explain youth participation in gang violence. Let us take each of these two explanations and describe them in more detail.
The subculture of violence construct posits that it is the normative behavioral systems of groups that support, encourage, and condone violence (Wolgang & Ferracuti 1967). These norms help guide gang members in how and when they react to real or imagined slights and threats to themselves or fellow gang members, such as hostile stares (called .mad dogging. by street youths in Los Angeles), a chance encounter with known gang enemies (e.g., when cruising or walking in non-gang territories), or paybacks (i.e., retaliation by consciously seeking gang enemies to attack). Violence is expected or required under these and other conditions and situations, otherwise the gang member risks being disrespected (.dissed.) by other gang members. Failure to live up to these norms brings a loss of honor, and as Horowitz (1983) has stated, ones self-image is tarnished for either not promoting or defending these norms.
Many other researchers have relied on one form or another of the subculture of violence explanation. Some of the most knowledgeable of gang writers have focused on heart and courage in fighting (Cohen & Short 1958), the lower-class value of confronting trouble and exhibiting toughness (Miller 1958), or the emphasis on violent behavior in a .conflict subculture. (Cloward & Ohlin 1960). Focusing on disputes between individuals, Luckenbill and Doyle (1989) have underscored that challenges to the notion of self result in a series of events (i.e., naming, claiming, and aggressiveness) leading to the use of force or violence by members of the subculture.
In contrast to a subculture of violence perspective, a routine activities explanation (Felson 1987) relies on space/time dimensions (e.g., at the wrong place at the wrong time) to substantiate a pattern of violence. The potential for violence is a product of opportunity where one spends more time with criminal offenders who are more likely to participate in offending activities. In short, motivated offenders, suitable targets, and an absence of capable guardians converge in certain times and places to increase the possibility of a crime (Kennedy & Baron 1993; Felson & Cohen 1980). Risky lifestyles of young males on the streets increase contacts with similarly adventurous males and thus such associations and interactions heighten the potential for crime and victimization (Sampson & Lauritzen 1991).
A number of other writings reflect the routine activities approach, stressing that it is the ..criminogenic potential. of certain routines that accounts for their .victimization potential... (Kennedy & Baron 1993: 92). Most assaults take place in contexts such as bars, parties, and other gatherings. Although ecological factors are paramount in a routine activities explanation, some writers suggest that rational choice is involved even when certain areas or neighborhoods are known as high-risk places (Seigal & Senna 1991; Cornish & Clarke 1986). A whole set of spatial and human factors are reflected in violent episodes.
In sum, both the subculture of violence and routine activities approaches can play a role in broadening our understanding of the issue of gang violence. Some of the shortcomings in the subculture of violence approach are quite obvious. Little empirical evidence has been offered on how violent norms are transmitted, and much of its inferences on values are derived from the behavior. Moreover, the approach tends to suggest a level of organization in gangs that is not present in the street gangs that others and I have studied, which are more loosely affiliated (Vigil 1988a, 2002a; Fleischer 1998; Klein & Crawford 1967; Short & Strodtbeck 1965; Suttles 1968). On the other hand, a routine activities explanation also has its limitations. For example, this perspective typically provides very little ethnographic evidence, relying mostly on official crime statistics, demographic variables, and victim surveys. Though time/space are crucial, an anthropological perspective suggests that this type of data must be combined with other factors. Thus, other situations and conditions need to be considered in the equation.
Two important considerations will provide examples for why a broader picture must be drawn if we are to better understand gang violence. Embedded in both the subculture of violence and routine activities frameworks are the issues of street realities and the state of mind of the individual. In previous research (Vigil 1987), I have outlined the importance of street socialization and a street state of mind known as .locura. (from loco, crazy, and defined as a spectrum of behavior reflected in a type of quasi-controlled insanity) among Mexican American gangs and .crazy niggah. among black gang members. A short elaboration of street socialization will be followed by the meaning and import of locura.
Street realities insure that a street subculture emerges among children that are bereft of social control from families, schools, and law enforcement, which have all failed to maintain or even gain a guiding influence on their lives. Street socialization is important because some individuals with particularly tarnished, traumatic family and personal backgrounds have had to spend most of their lives in the streets. This begins in early childhood and reaches a high point when an age/gender identity crisis erupts during adolescence. It is then that the more group-oriented pre-teen activities coalesce and merge into that of the street gang, and in most instances it is a continuous process. As a result, youth who are street socialized dictate the behavioral and attitudinal traits of the streets. The streets have become the arena for what is learned and expected by others to gain recognition and approval. Friendship and counsel, protection from street predators, and a wild, adventurous lifestyle become crucial to street survival. This type of survival through safety in numbers and reliance on friends to .watch your back. can lead to reckless behavior and an early adoption of locura as a way to negotiate the streets, and especially to gain the support of street peers.
The culmination of all the street experiences is the shaping of a mind-set of locura. It is an attitude that is deeply internalized by some gang members, especially the regular ones who have had particularly traumatic lives and are .crazy-like,. but is equally instrumental as an attitude that can be adopted as circumstance dictate. Thinking and acting loco is like playing with insanity, moving in and out of crazy, wild events and adventures, showing fearlessness, toughness, daring and especially unpredictable forms of destructive behavior. This psychosocial mind-set has become a requisite for street survival and a behavioral standard for identification and emulation. Gang members collectively value locura for it helps assuage fear and the anxiety associated with the fight-flight (and even the middle ground of fright) dilemma that street realities impose on one.
Thus, a complex problem such as gang violence necessitates examining many factors, such as neighborhood effects, poverty, culture conflict and sociocultural marginalization, social control, among other gang dynamics. Such a combinative approach has been defined and described in other works either as multiple marginality [Vigil 1988a, 2002a; Vigil & Yun 2002] or integrated systems [Elliot 1994; Farrington 1996] or multivariate analysis [Cartwright and Howard 1966]). But as we will note, it also allows for the inclusion of street socialization (Vigil 1996; Bourgois 1995) and locura (the psychological state of quasi-controlled insanity [Vigil 1988b; Yablonsky 1966]). In short, an eclectic approach (Bronfenbrenner 1979) is warranted to address the array of facets central to gang violence, and they must be integrated in ways that show the actions and reactions among them.
Multiple marginality (Vigil 2002a, 1988a; Vigil & Yun 1998, 2002) is an integrated framework that allows for the inclusion of the subculture of violence, routine activities, street socialization, locura, and other factors; in short, it combines sociogenic and psychogenic elements and actions (see Figure 1 at end). Malcolm Klein (1995), Delbert Elliot (1994), and Farrington (1996) utilize multidimensional frameworks, too, but interpret the phenomena more from a sociological perspective (Covey et al. 1992). Multiple marginality addresses the questions of What? Where? How? Why? With Whom?, and aids in explanations that show dynamic exchanges and interrelationships. As brief examples of how multiple marginality might shed light on these questions, let us take each question in turn to examine how they relate to violence. What? is a query that is easily answered by defining and describing what constitutes a youth gang, including its violent proclivities. Where? places the gang in a certain locale in sections of urban areas that are usually visually distinct and spatially separate from more upscale neighborhoods and where violence is more likely. How? requires an explanation of the social mechanisms and psychological predispositions of gang members in carrying out its most salient activities, violent acts among them. Why? is answered when we describe the situations and motivations that shape the thinking and actions of gang members towards either other gang members or unsuspecting targets for violence. When? is simply the time and place that is more likely to trigger gang actions that end in violence. Finally, With Whom? carefully outlines the characteristics of gangs and gang members from different neighborhoods and cohorts who are likely to participate in the violent street rituals that often lead to injury or death. A more detailed analysis follows with examples from various research enterprises and theoretical persuasions.
This review on urban violence and gangs will emphasize a multiple marginality framework as a way to integrate the concepts of subculture of violence, routine activities, street socialization, and locura, while noting other significant factors where appropriate. There are gangs in many ethnic communities to which this more holistic framework applies (Vigil 2002), and some of the assessments may have limited application to other regions of the world (Klein et al. 2001; Hazlehurst & Hazlehurst 1998; LeBlanc 1996).
Most important for the purposes of this review is that multiple marginality is more than a laundry list of factors but a model showing sequential, cumulative linkages among factors. For anthropologists particularly, but also the early gang researchers, the quest for an understanding of urban gangs began when researchers started following peasants and sharecroppers into cities. Thus, immigration and the experiences of immigrants adapting and adjusting to city life form the basis for all else that follows, including and especially the maladaptation that so often occurs among them (Martinez 2000). In this vein, there are multiple areas in which immigrants and especially their children find themselves betwixt-and-between, beginning with where they settle, what jobs they fill, and how and why their social and cultural values and practices are challenged and typically undermined and revamped. It also takes into account when the social environment shapes personal identities with whom the individuals interact. As noted above, no more than 10% of the youths become gang members in most affected neighborhoods, and the most marginalized families and children in each of these neighborhoods tend to fall into this category.
On a theoretical plane multiple marginality is in an essential way similar to the integrative framework that Farrington(1996, 1998) and Bronfenbrenner (1979) suggest is needed for increased explanatory power. As such, it accounts for the reciprocal actions and reactions among factors, taking stock of sources and modes of human aggression, and all the while identifying the interrelationships of social and personal development in the context of rapid urbanization and uneven culture change.
One of the first things to contemplate is that the populations of mostly young ethnic minority populations that contain most of the gang members in the United States do not live in the more comfortable areas of the cities. They did not fall from grace and then settle in the worst, most marginal places of the cities. The overwhelming fact is that they started their city lives in places they could afford, usually rundown, dilapidated, worn-out residences in the East coast where a criminal life style was already in vogue (Venkatesh 1996). In the West, the Los Angeles area primarily, often inferior empty spaces were all that remained for the newcomers and thus squatter-like settlements arose. Here is where the ecological factor takes center stage.
Place, in this instance, breeds certain human traits and adaptations. It is this factor which gave us the concentric circle explanation of the Chicago School in the early crime and gang research days, a theory that singled out the second circle of the bulls-eye as where immigrants settled and crime and vice were highly prevalent as compared to the other inner and outer circles of the model (Parks et al. 1925; Shaw & McKay 1942). Indeed, as noted previously, it is in place that the routine activities theory builds its case (Felson 1987; Kennedy and Baron 1993). Other writers have also relied on place to explain the propensity for violence or violent incidents (Kornhauser 1978, Covey et al. 1992, Block & Block 1995). Generally, immigrants reside in neighborhoods of cities, which are visually distinct (e.g., rundown, inferior) and spatially separate (e.g., across the tracks, freeway, river). In sum, being new to the city and separate from mainstream people and institutions limits the access, exposure, and identification that one has with the dominant culture and life ways, thus blocking avenues for integration. Being thwarted and bottled up in this manner, along with residential overcrowding, which I will discuss shortly, engenders frustration and aggression among ethnic minorities. Space becomes a premium among them; places to congregate, shop, and cultivate romantic liaisons, among other social outlets and activities, become contentious issues, potential battlegrounds for conflicts.
Is it an accident that most gang violence, drug sales and turf wars, among other rivalrous issues, occurs between gangs from similar marginal areas? Place alone seems to have an explanatory power beyond most of the other factors because so many other human habits and adjustments emanate from the demands of place. However, let us turn to some of the other elements that frame gang violence.
Socioeconomic status has received as much, perhaps more, attention than ecology in explanations for violence, but certainly, both in tandem show the cumulative build-up suggested by multiple marginality. Again, the discussion on status focuses on youth from various ethnic minority populations, and as with place, it is the marginality of their status that often is the source for aggression and violence. For example, they know that they live on the other side of the tracks, have limited access to entry level jobs, receive harsh, uneven treatment from authorities, including especially law enforcement, and are faulted for their own problems (Vigil 1988a, 2002a).
Competition over resources often sparks aggressive behavior and actions that occasionally flare up and get out of control, with very violent, unplanned incidents resulting. In recent years, much has been written about how industries and jobs have vacated the inner city, the places we have mentioned, and set up business in distant suburban environs or foreign nations (Wilson 1987; Hagedorn 1988; Johnson & Oliver 1991). This development has led many residents of the abandoned neighborhoods to participate in illicit, illegal, and informal substitute economic arrangements, of which drug trafficking and competition over markets was a major one (Beckett 1997). Drug trafficking and the conflicts for markets, for a time and in some cities but not all (Howell 1996, Maxson 1998), accelerated and heightened gang violence, leading to economic explanations for gang violence to be suddenly in vogue.
Within a multiple marginality framework, however, the drug connection just added to an already dismal status dissonance. In fact, quite early in gang research, several social scientists built strong cases for economic theories. The most well known, of course, was Merton's strain theory, which simply refers to the mismatch between low-income peoples means to reach the status goals established by dominant society. With such structural barriers in place, differential opportunity paths were sought, such as illicit or illegal ventures that often entailed violence (Merton 1949; Cloward and Ohlin 1960; Kornhauser 1978; Covey et al. 1992; Moore 1978).
Yet, it should be obvious that not everybody in such places or statuses becomes a violent gang member because of where they are and what they do. Indeed, as noted earlier, the great majority of youths in these situations avoid involving themselves in gang activities. Nonetheless, they have to learn how to negotiate and navigate their ways through the aura of aggressiveness and violence that pervades certain places. This variation among low-income peoples in the same neighborhood can involve a number of things. What, then, leads the minority into gangs and violence? Can one live in the poorest house among poor houses? Can he have a much bigger family than other families in the area? Can his family be materially poorer than the others, and also have less social capital? And as Anderson (1998) puts it, can poor people be "decent. or .street" irrespective of what demands are made of them? Finally, because of what is present in these marginal places and the strains inherent in a marginal status, can these forces lead youth to spend more time in the street?
The discussion to this point has addressed the questions, Where? and What?. Let us turn to How?, Why?, and With whom? It is in these gang research areas that much has been written, but often with such a diffused impact, because what the authors have to say is dependent on place and status as a basis for their explanations. Social and cultural marginality are often intertwined, but for our purposes let us separate them for now. Socialization routines are definitely transformed when immigrants or migrants of low socioeconomic status must adapt to a place in the city. This is particularly the case with social control institutions, such as family, schools, and law enforcement.
Social control theory accounts for how these dynamic changes unfold, and there are many variations of this explanation (Hirschi 1969; Goffredson & Hirschi 1990; Vigil 2002a; Covey et al. 1992). Families become stressed when their structure and function change as they undergo urbanization, but the stress is greatly increased and intensified under the marginal situations and conditions outlined above (Sampson & Laub 1990; Loeber & Stouthamer-Loeber 1987). For example, in the face of job discrimination, both parents may have to work. In the absence of affordable childcare, without close friends or relatives to care for them, children become .latch-keyed. and have to fend for themselves during the day. Moreover, cultural strains on rules and duties between first generation parents and second generation children, and attenuated father presence and/or single parent (mostly female) households often add to a family.s stress (Vigil 1988a, 2002a).
Schools generally have a poor record with poor, ethnic minority populations and especially so if there is a sharp cultural contrast between the majority and minority cultures. This becomes painfully obvious when little or no communication or ties between school and home occurs. This void is exacerbated in the classroom when cultural and language differences interfere with learning. More importantly, the current school practices for students who are experiencing learning difficulties due to poverty and/or cultural differences are narrow and poorly funded. Thus, for the most marginalized segments of the minority populations, the social control mechanisms commonly inculcated by family and school are all but absent. The cumulative effects, as an example, become overwhelming at this point: Small dilapidated home, large family under crowded conditions, precarious family structure with attenuated functions, sometimes marked by violence, unaccomodative schools, hostile and aggressive law enforcement, and in the absence of home and school socialization, street socialization emerges and a multiple-aged peer group becomes a substitute (Vigil 1999).
Already, the sources of aggression and violence become obvious, sometimes starting out with domestic violence to go along with what the streets have to offer. In short, street socialization leads to a street subculture and this is where and how the "subculture of violence" is learned and practiced (Wolfgang & Ferruti 1967). This concept is a variation of Sutherland's much earlier work (1934), and essentially maintains that a violent way of life dominates the streets and a subcultural group of youth are the carriers that instruct newcomers in the art of street violence. Street socialization combines elements from social control theory (i.e., family, schools, and so on) and the subculture of violence concept; it explains how a person becomes exposed to the streets and then learns the gang subculture to participate in violent acts.
Closely linked to this alteration of the socialization process is the cultural facet of multiple marginality. Enculturation is a process of learning a culture one belongs to, and acculturation is another process of learning a new culture. What we have with many gang members from a different cultural background is erring acculturation in their adaptation to the city and all that that entails (i.e., place, status, social control and socialization, and so on). It is a core part of marginalization in that fragmented family values and beliefs, uneven schooling and Anglicization, and culture contact and conflict changes lead many youth to a street identification. What I have referred to as "choloization" for Mexican Americans is simply a form of the cultural marginalization that many other ethnic groups encounter. African Americans, for example, undertook different waves of migration from the mostly rural South to American cities, north, east, and west throughout the twentieth century. The creation of a street gang subculture itself is made up of bits and pieces, fragments, of their past culture as they acculturate to the new, present culture. Walter Miller's theory of "lower-class culture as a generating milieu" (1958) for street violence addresses some aspects of the results of cultural marginality. The new street values and beliefs that stem from these changes can work very well on the streets when surviving violent confrontations is required; oftentimes the threat of violence is used by street youth as a deterrent for having violence used against them. Thus, while street youth aggression and violence stem from various sources and motives, it is the street gang subculture and the complexities of its formation and spread, that best explains the level of gang violence today, with drivebys, wanton shootings of innocent bystanders, and other physical harm as the gang takes on a life of its own (Sanders 1994).
As noted earlier, the most aggressive and violent behavior among gang members occurs is during that adolescent status crisis, between childhood and adulthood. The social psychology of human development, especially the redefinition of masculinity, is filled with real and symbolic messages. Earlier marginal experiences in these youths. lives lead to a social identity that, not coincidentally, shapes a personal identity during what Erikson referred to as the "psychosocial moratorium." (Erikson 1968). This is a time in human development when ambiguity and conflict reign in the clarification and affirmation of one.s age and gender identity. Bloch & Neiderhoffer (1958) underscored in their gang study that "becoming a man" was a strong generator of aggressive and violent behavior. Part of their evidence to this theory was a reference to a cross-cultural study (Burton & Whiting 1961) which assessed male initiation rites that helped youth begin to think of themselves as men, particularly in those societies where young males are raised almost exclusively by women but must abruptly leave the apron strings and become male warriors. It should not escape our attention that most modern day gangs have an initiation ordeal that helps tests and screens novitiates (Vigil 1988a, 1996); and equally important, many of the gang males come from single-parent families, usually female-headed, and then must adjust to street socialization dominated by experienced gang males.
Humans are so malleable and resilient, that rather than remain lost in this aura of marginality, confused and full of rage, they reconstitute a subculture and identity with bits and pieces of the past mixed with the present but all shaken by the forces of a difficult city reality. Key to this street gang identity is learning to act crazy to survive (i.e., "loco" for Latino gangs, and "crazy nigga" for blacks), to be unpredictable, ready for any action, even killing somebody, to show you are "down" for your homeboys and set or "barrio." Many of the gang members, however, have had particularly traumatic lives and, indeed, are crazy; these are usually known as the most loco among Latinos and "ghetto heroes" among African Americans, according to Monster Kody.s autobiography (Shakur 1993). Suffering a type of "soul death. and sense of worthlessness, leading them to question why anyone else should be worth anything, these crazies can be responsible for most of the gang homicides, or at the least instigating more conflicts and confrontations. Strangely, sharing this aura of aggressiveness bordering on quasi-controlled insanity thinking and behavior makes for a strong street bond. Street gang members look up to one another and show deference and respect for the locos and ghetto heroes. What has happened is that either because of their own soul death, personal traumas, and wish to prove their masculinity during the adolescent passage, or all of these, a street gang member has joined more than a particular gang but a whole troop of suicidal persons who play a type of street Russian roulette. A bullet is meant for you or me, and if you are the one who survives then, expectedly, you amass more stature and respect. In recent years, unfortunately, the bullets that have moved out of the roulette circle in the streets are marked: To whom it may concern!
In its simplest trajectory, multiple marginality can be modeled as: place/status------>street socialization----->street subculture----->street identity. The literature is rich in certain areas, such as social control, subculture of violence, and socioeconomic, but notably lacking is the qualitative information and insights that tell us how and why someone becomes violent if their family is dysfunctional, they join a violent gang, or need money. The dynamic processes are missing in most of these studies, however useful they may be in other regards. Anthropological theorizing and methods can add significantly to the gang violence literature. As this essay has noted, an integrated framework showing actions and reactions among factors is where the research is going, and the multiple marginality framework is merely another step in that direction. Taking a holistic perspective is an essential anthropological enterprise, and talking to and watching people over a long period of time in different settings while they evince different moods and behaviors is also part of that heritage (Bronfenbrenner 1979). In this manner, the actions and reactions are gathered, the reasons and modes for human aggression better understood, and the connections between the street social identity and the personal identity are discerned.
Anthropology and sociology were once one discipline but when they split, sociologists forgot their roots and reached for larger samples to make more general statements about urban issues. Though street gang members are a difficult population to investigate, and as many sociologists already clearly understand, it is not that difficult to integrate intensive, in-depth interviewing of gang members as part of large-scale surveys. Large numbers count, but it is in the details that human complexity is better examined and understood.
The contexts of time, place, and people are also an important part of the equation. For example, some gangs have been around for generations and are found in various large and middle-sized cities in the United States (Klein 1995). Studies in larger cities show a tradition of an age-graded gang structure (Moore 1978; Klein 1971). This cohorting network works to maintain the size of the gang as older members "mature out" and the younger gang members, approximately from the ages of 14 to 18, are more likely to be led into and participate in violent behavior. Attention to female gangs and affiliates has also increased (Miller 2001; Campbell 1991) and helped broaden the discussion of gender roles (Messerschmidt 1995; Moore & Moore & Hagedorn 1996). Newer gangs have emerged in different urban enclaves as a result of large-scale immigration, where increasingly more street youth are opting for this lifestyle (Waters 1999). A few of these less rooted gangs have tried to play catch-up to the older gangs by becoming just as violent, and are succeeding.
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