David Brotherton: Globalization and the gang

Uploaded by verainst on 16.03.2011

Text on screen: Vera Institute of Justice
Vera Voices Podcast Series
Neil A. Weiner, Research Speaker Series, presents: David C. Brotherton PhD, Professor and Chair, Department of Sociology, John Jay College of Criminology
Globalization and the Gang with David C. Brotherton PhD
American criminology in particular is generally focused on local geographical areas, coming from the Chicago School.
So, they've studied the ghettos and barrios and marginalized areas, but they've failed to do a couple of things.
And basically, they've failed to do this for about 80 or 90 years.
One thing is that they do very little comparative work. So, they look at American gangs but they don't look at gangs anywhere else.
In fact, they don't even compare gangs between, say, Los Angeles, Chicago, New York City.
They don't even look within the country at different comparative forms of gangs.
So, it really limits, when you draw some conclusions about describing the gang,
it really limits your whole view and perspective of the gang,
and it fits in a nice, kind of hermetic pattern of social ecology that comes out of the Chicago School.
The second thing, and the second problem with a lot of mainstream American criminology,
is they don't read anything that's not in English.
So, you have tons of studies coming out of Latin America, or even from Europe: Germany and France,
that might not fit the mold of the Chicago School, and obviously written in a different language,
and we never (mainstream criminology), never incorporate any of these other studies, historically, into our world.
And then the third thing is, they're kind of stuck within a kind of modernist framework, still, of what is a gang.
For so much of the lexicon and the vocabulary of gangs is still tied to society as if it was still industrializing, right?
We live in a post-industrial society. And many of our youth live in a de-industrial society.
That's why they call it the Dust Belt in the Midwest and so on and so forth.
So, for them, the old notion that Chicago School was that gangs were kind of a symptom of social disorganization and anomie
caused by people immigrating from rural Europe and were sort of thrust up against the changes of industrialized society,
but over time, over generations, one or two generations, they would learn to acculturate and adapt and assimilate
and the gang would wither away. This, of course, is not the case.
We see, in fact, you know, more black gangs and Latino gangs now than we've ever seen in our lifetime
despite all the repression from law enforcement.
So, what's all that about?
We have to really, then, rethink where we're coming from in terms of gang criminology
and bring it up into a kind of a framework, or couch it in a framework,
which is basically about late modernity, or even post-modernity, but certainly not the modernity that we've been using or thinking about,
which was the old, kind of, gang imaginary, if you like, of old criminology.
We need a new criminology, a much more critical criminology, to bring us up to; to take into account the new kinds of gangs
which now occur on the global arena and not simply at the local level.
Gangs are fundamentally cultural phenomenon, right? Some of them have a whole economic basis or drug basis.
Some of them are very social. Some of them are about fighting and defending territory.
They have a range of forms.
But according to law enforcement, a gang is only a group of youth.
Usually, actually, a definition is two or three people, right, in a group, minimum, that commits criminal acts repetitively, right?
There's tons of gangs that create, you know, that don't create that kind of havoc and don't create that kind of threats to society.
So we have to go back to sociology. You don't bring into the definition, crime, if you don't know that's what they're actually involved in.
That's the role of social science, and that's what makes; it's the big difference
between social science and cop science, or police science.
Because the police science is tautological. It goes out to find what it wants to find. It's kind of a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Our notion of social science is that we have to go out and prove what is out there in social reality.
And many times what is out there in social reality, it contradicts our assumptions about what should be out there.
But the great thing about sociology or criminology is once we find the different kind of evidence, once you find different data,
then we change our theory, or we extend our theory, or we develop our theory and we think about it differently.
Police never do that; they never change in that sense.
And especially in the last 20 or 30 years, in the new kind of "punishing" society,
the security state is kind of one criminogenic generalization upon another, right?
We see gangs consistently as not just criminals, or putative criminals. We now see gangs as terrorists.
We have absolutely no evidence at all. We simply have this hearsay from police talk and police talking to others,
going around giving seminar after seminar about the new threat without any kind of comparing it to the data and the evidence.
There's a complete divide between what social science finds and what police or policing science finds.
Gangs emerge, historically, when young people are trying to make sense of the contradictions of daily life
but they don't have the power, right, to change those contractions to really affect those contradictions, right?
They don't have the power, they don't have the class power, they don't have the wealth, they don't have the resources.
So what they do is they form cultural organizations, or subcultures,
to address these extraordinary contradictions that they face in everyday life.
It's a culture that makes sense to them. It gives them a sense of who they are, a sense of being, a sense of identity, a sense of place.
The role of culture now, especially for many upon millions of surplus youth around the world, is fundamental to everyday life.
If you go out today, in most of the world cities, and you're poor, you really don't have a future.
You live, by birth, in a parallel society. And so in these parallel societies, cultural becomes absolutely fundamental.
Your identity; who you are becomes absolutely fundamental.
And the gang culture is enhanced in those cutoff societies, in those excluded societies, and the gang actually becomes institutionalized.
It becomes a cultural way of life that goes on from generation to generation to generation.
The Latin Kings in this country didn't start in the 1980s or '90s. It started in the 1940s.
White Fence gang in Los Angeles started in 1930s.
So you've got multiple generations of gangs that are now fundamentally part of these cutoff societies
in which the culture is perpetuated; the myths of the gang are handed down from one generation to the other.
And these kids are living in these myths.
This role of culture is enhanced, of course, by the internet.
Kids can go online, become part of what one research called "a virtual street corner society." Right?
That's why you have Bloods and Crips, you know, in the Philippines.
Again, they've become symbols, right? They've become symbols of evil, which is a cultural issue,
and they've become symbols of clothing, symbols of style, symbols of music within hip-hop; gangster rap. Right?
This is all part of; so there's this very complex cultural kind of set of dynamics which are in place all around, hovering around, the axis of the gang.
Now that is a big difference in the last several decades.
So, gangs have become prolific as part of global culture, as part of global urbanization, as part of global poverty,
and, terribly importantly, as part of global policing.
Because what we're doing now, around the world, is that we're adopting the American notion of zero tolerance and security policing,
and we're adopting it to every; almost every society.
We're seeing this extraordinary level of incarceration and inclusion of the gang, and yet what's the end result?
The gang expands exponentially.
All over the place: Latin America, in the Middle East, right?
And if you look at the movements in Tunisia, right, the people on the street; many of those people on the street
are the most socially excluded linking with middle class students who have an education and nowhere to go with it.
We have this; this is what's going on in the new post-industrial capitalist society.
You're getting gangs now beginning to develop a political rhetoric; a political set of goals, right?
Because they have, in their kind of cultural milieu, a uniting with other leftist movements; anarchist movements
and they're beginning to develop new imaginations, new visions of what that society could be.
Vera Institute of Justice, Vera Voices Podcast Series
Neil A. Weiner, Research Speaker Series, presents: David C. Brotherton PhD, Professor and Chair, Department of Sociology, John Jay College of Criminology
www.vera.org, Research Department, www.vera.org/research