A World of Gangs by John M. Hagedorn
A World of Gangs by John M. Hagedorn
John M. Hagedorn’s A World of Gangs: Armed Young Men and Gangsta Culture (hereafter referred to as “A World of Gangs”) looks at the proliferation of urban criminal gangs due to the negative effects of globalization. For the billions of people living in urban slum areas, gangs are an ever-present element of routine life. Although gangs are still closely linked to American city life, this trend has slowly become a global phenomenon that plays an integral role in a number of activities, such as armed robberies, drug and human trafficking, political violence, and extortion, among others. Examining gang formation and gang activity in the three cities of Chicago, Cape Town, and Rio de Janeiro, Hagedorn discovers the institutionalization of gangs as an elaborate and systematic scheme to confront the issues of racism, severe poverty, and despondency. The author provides very important insights into the philosophies and ideologies of gangs operating in various parts of the world. A World of Gangs brings together the scrupulous tools and skills of social research to illuminate the cultures, tragedies, and aspirations of rebellious youths in different countries around the world. It is a novel and vital attempt at understanding street gangs and the gang culture, with the main thesis being that urban gangs arose due to the failure of social movements to create meaningful change.
Hagedorn’s analysis deviates from the typical discourse on urban gangs, which usually portrays them as hopeless sociopaths. Instead of a sociological polemic, he delves into the globalization of gangs and the proliferation of the gang culture. The author argues that widespread poverty, unceasing inequality, as well as racial and ethnic discrimination in certain parts of the world have served as catalysts for gang formation and proliferation. According to Hagedorn, globalization has occasioned the withdrawal of the state from its role of providing employment, security, as well as other welfare services. This situation has resulted in appalling conditions and the decline of faith in the ability of governments to protect its citizens from the ravages of the global economy. Dejection and a pervasive lack of morality have replaced this faith, which has led many young people to engage in gang activity. Hagedorn contends that dejection leads to desperation, a lack of hope for social and economic mobility, and the acceptance of the permanence of repression and racial prejudice. In such conditions of desperation and mistrust of the state, individuals are likely to form gangs along religious, racial, and ethnic identities as a way of protecting themselves and their communities from what Hagedorn terms the “injustices of globalization.”
Hagedorn emphasizes the point that the gang culture is not the outcome of globalization, and that their extraordinary growth has been the result of a combination of unprecedented urbanization, widespread immigration, and weakened states. Nevertheless, he draws attention to how the global era has occasioned social and economic polarization of the world. It is against this backdrop that Hagedorn looks at gangs and the gang culture from a different perspective by overstepping the traditional theories of criminology and employing rigorous frameworks. He challenges the existing perspectives on gangs and sheds light on a new way of perceiving how this social phenomenon develops and thrives. A World of Gangs details how gangs have replaced the state in certain areas in fulfilling the economic and security needs of the respective communities while offering their members with traditions and rituals. Hagedorn further notes that some gangs have often developed intricate organizational structures as a response to coercive attempts by governments to smother their evolution into social movements, which permit them to adjust to ever-changing environments.
Three premises are dominant in Hagedorn’s book. The first is that gangs do not constitute a unique type of armed group but are one among the many types that inhabit the lawless and ungoverned spaces in the slums. The second premise is that poverty and ethnic and racial oppression shape gang life, and that the gang culture is a reaction of hopelessness and despair to enduring inequality. The last premise in Hagedorn’s book suggests that gang life offers its membership the power of identity, and that it is the positive aspects, such as the more affirming affinity to the hip-hop culture and lifestyle, that can be employed in nurturing a cultural force capable of countering misogyny and the nihilistic delusions of the youth. A World of Gangs offers empirical evidence, thereby enabling the reader to grasp the complexity of applying social theories to a given context. In highlighting the point that gangs do not constitute a unique type of armed group, Hagedorn poses the question concerning why gangs are transient and short-lived in some cities such as Buenos Aires, New York, or even London while they seem to be a permanent feature in other cities, including Cape Town, Chicago, and Rio de Janeiro. He proceeds to clarify the world of slums, and points out a global trend in which people, particularly in the developing world, are increasingly migrating to urban areas in search of better life prospects.
Increased migration to cities, coupled with rapid urbanization, globalization, and weakened states, have resulted in the polarization and social exclusion. Therefore, Hagedorn argues that globalization has urbanized the earth’s population and subsequently polarized the poor and the rich. This situation has led to the creation of spaces of social exclusion (also known as slums) in cities and other urban areas. The author states that this situation has brought about “unfettered markets” comparable to wild societies, and that such desperate conditions engender hopeless situations that lead to the emergence of armed groups seeking to survive and understand their situation. In many of the world’s cities, conditions are developing for the emergence and institutionalization of gangs and a variety of other armed groups. A World of Gangs sets in motion policy suggestions that concentrate on integrating gang members into social groups and facilitating them to work for the benefit of the community. The insightful case study of the city of Chicago, which the book does through a comparison of the developments and consequences of various ethnic and racial gangs, offers researchers with an important historical framework for studying and understanding gang activity. All through the book, Hagedorn endeavors to avoid past theoretical approaches to explaining and understanding the gang culture and gang activities. In this manner, he challenges researchers to look beyond such theoretical perspectives and to investigate thoroughly the theoretical works beyond the field of criminology while revisiting past understandings to evaluate the possibility of inclusion and integration. The book concludes on a buoyant note by proposing ways that gangs may be persuaded to rise above their violent ways.
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