At the latter half of the 20th century, there was a paradigm shift in urban sociology. While classical urban sociology focuses on such subjects as urban/rural differentials, income disparity per population, and social construction of the city, modern or postmodern urban sociology focuses on the ‘microcosmic’ city life – the gangs, criminal organizations, and some types of deviance. Several studies confirm that intergroup conflict and identity construction reinforce group membership.
In the life-histories of well-known gangs in major US cities, identity formation and the existence of ‘rival’ gangs reinforce the notion of a ‘unique’ gang. Before tackling the different types of gangs, it is essential to offer a constructivist definition of a ‘gang. ’ According to Short, Gangs are groups whose members meet together with some regularity, over time, on the basis of group-defined criteria of membership and group-defined organizational characteristics; that is, gangs are non-adult-sponsored, self-determining groups that demonstrate continuity over time (3).
The problem with the definition above is its relative ambiguity. Some groups share almost all the characteristics of a gang, as mentioned above. Indeed, some gangs do not conform to the above-mentioned characteristics. The conceptual confusion inherent in the definition is not entirely without use. As Ball and Curry noted: The confusion is so great that some advocate abandoning the term, maintaining that it can never be standardized because it is not a term used by youth themselves to reflect the actual empirical reality of their involvements but rather a meaningless label thrown about by the adult community.
Others insist that everyone should be allowed to define it according to personal preferences to avoid closing off exploration of a rich possibility of alternatives (226). Regardless of the ostensive definitional conflict, sociologists recognize gangs as a legitimate field of study. Jerome Skolnick identified two types of gangs, entrepreneurial and cultural gangs. Cultural gangs are the so-called ‘traditional gangs. According to Skolnick, These gangs have strong values of loyalty to the gang and the neighborhood; the gang is considered a tightly knit group or an extended family. This is in contrast with entrepreneurial gangs.
Opportunistic gangs are organized primarily for the purpose of distributing drugs. They are considered organizations and operate as business organizations primarily to engage in criminal activities. Now, the opportunistic gangs are also called ‘instrumental’ gangs because loyalty of membership depends on opportunities offered by leaders, such as a drug source connection (38). Cultural gangs are formed on the basis of ethnicity or race (and even religious and political association). Instrumental or entrepreneurial gangs are created on the basis of profits and market control on a specific area.
Cultural gangs usually operate on the neighborhood that it ‘controls’ whereas entrepreneurial gangs operate on a larger area (the area where its businesses operate). To fully differentiate entrepreneurial gangs from cultural gangs, there is a need to utilize several criteria. The criteria are as follows: 1) degree of violence, 2) group organization with functional role division and to some extent, a chain of command, 3) an identifiable structure or leadership, 4) interaction among members, 5) identification over ‘controlled’ territory or neighborhood, and 6) power differentials.
Cultural gangs such as Latino and Black gangs are usually overtly violent in the streets. A cultural gang usually clashes with another cultural gang for control over a specific community or territory. Cultural gangs lack functional role divisions and, of course, a ‘chain’ of command. Every cultural gang, however, has recognizable leaders. Leaders are important for two distinct reasons. First, they are essential for defining group goals and objectives.
Second, they are essential in group member formation. Interaction among members is usually personal and intimate (because they belong to the same ethnic and racial groups). Cultural gangs have strong affiliation over a controlled or ‘claimed’ territory. Except for the leader, power is evenly distributed among the members. Distribution of workload or tasks is usually done by sporadic selection of members. Cultural gangs have to be differentiated from ‘street gangs. ’ As short noted:
To summarize, street gangs (unsupervised youth groups) appear to become violent as a result of one or more of the following processes: (1) escalation of the natural rough-and-tumble punching and wrestling that occurs among most male groups and the association of status with fighting prowess; (2) competition with rival gangs, often leading to conflict over status-enhancing behaviors, such as graffiti, dancing, or athletic contests; (3) the imposition of definitions by others, and the behavior of others toward the gang, that push a violent identity on the gang; and (4) group processes that create or reinforce group cohesion based on violent or otherwise delinquent behavior, often involving individual and group status considerations (7-8). Entrepreneurial groups such as drug cartels and organized syndicates are as violent as cultural gangs. Unlike cultural gangs, entrepreneurial gangs possess functional role divisions and a recognizable chain of command.
They also possess an identifiable leadership structure. Interaction among members tends to be discrete and impersonal. Identification over ‘controlled’ territory also tends to be sporadic and discontinuous (where the businesses operate, whether illegal or legal). Power is not evenly distributed among members. Members who occupy an important position usually possess more power than members at the bottom of the organization. The Gangster Disciples In the 1960s, David Barksdale and Larry Hoover established the ‘Black Gangster Disciple Nation’ in Chicago. To legitimize their organization, many members dropped the word ‘Black’ from the organizational name. A pitch fork symbolized the organization.
The Gangster graffiti also contains: 1) heart with recognizable wings which symbolize love for members and the larger organization, 2) a shepard’s cane which symbolized the power and influence of the organization, 3) an inverted pyramid which symbolized the occult origins of the organization, and 4) an inverted cross which symbolized respect for the leaders. In its inception, the organization lacked functional role divisions – indeed, a bureaucratic structure. In the 1980s and 1990s, the organization adopted a stiff and impersonal approach to politics and development. The organization assumed a bureaucratic structure in order to effectively tackle important issues.