Gangs occupy a key position in the global imaginary of violence, widely perceived and represented as primary sources of brutality and insecurity. This can be related to the fact that they are one of a small number of truly global phenomena, found in almost every society across both time and space. At the same time, however, as almost 100 years of gang research have highlighted, the phenomenon can vary significantly in form, dynamics, and consequences.
While there have been many insightful studies of gangs, the overwhelming majority has focused on a single group or location, and we still lack a proper sense of what kinds of gang dynamics might be general, and which ones are specific to particular times and places. The GANGS project will develop a systematic comparative investigation of global gang dynamics, to better understand why they emerge, how they evolve over time, whether they are associated with particular urban configurations, how and why individuals join gangs, and what impact this has on their potential futures.
The project will draw on original ethnographic research carried out in multiple locations, adopting an explicitly tripartite focus on “Gangs”, “Gangsters”, and “Ganglands” in order to better explore the interplay between group, individual, and contextual factors. The first will consider the organisational dynamics of gangs, the second will focus on individual gang members and their trajectories before, during, and after their involvement in a gang, while the third will reflect on the contexts within which gangs emerge and evolve.
Research will combine innovative collaborative ethnography in Nicaragua, South Africa, and France, a ground-breaking comparison of 35 individual gang member life histories from across Africa, Asia, Europe, North and South American, and unique joint ethnographic investigations into the political economy of three gang-affected cities in Nicaragua, South Africa, and France.
The five-year project, starting in January 2019, has received funding from the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (grant agreement No. 787935).
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