With 225 gangs currently reported to be operating in London, gang culture is a burning issue in the capital. Yet, despite a wealth of literature on the matter, the outdated notion of gangs as rigidly ordered groups with drug dealing activities at their core, still prevails today. But perceptions are about to change, as a new study from Routledge takes a fresh look at the increasingly concerning matter of British street crime and reveals gang structure is more 'fluid' than we think.
Published in the Journal of Youth Studies (Taylor & Francis), the research examines the organisation as well as drug trafficking of Red Gang, a clan operating in the highly deprived area of Rose Borough in London. Following David Cameron's crackdown on organised street crime, social concerns have increased in recent years; yet, 'there is [still] a lack of empirical research on how gangs are structured in the British context' reveal the academics leading the study. Determined to rectify this situation, between June 2012 and January 2013, the researchers carried out a series of interviews on a sample of 12 young individuals -- current as well as ex-Red Gang members -- aged between 12 and 18 years. Alongside this group, seven practitioners from the Youth Offending Team (YOT) in Rose Borough were also involved in the study. Questions were specifically designed to elicit information on drug dealing activities and organisation of crime and, as the study progressed, a number of key issues started to emerge.
Contrary to current beliefs viewing gang structure as hierarchical and clan recruiting processes as rigorous, Red Gang members described their gang structure as a loose social network into which individuals drifted through friendships with current associates; similarly, gang leadership was said to be the result of personal dexterity -- individuals ascended to command status because of their personal traits -- rather than the outcome of a selective system imposed from above.
Surprisingly, drug dealing activities were also described as loose; virtually subjected to no supervision from the clan, narcotic trafficking was left to the entrepreneurial skills of individual members. Therefore, because of the freedom of trade enjoyed by its associates, Red Gang could hardly be defined as a drug dealing association. Curiously, the picture painted by the Red Gang's members didn't match the one provided by the interviewed practitioners, who described the clan as a hierarchical organisation driven by a strict code of conduct and set on recruiting vulnerable youths in its ranks.
In showing the fluctuating nature of gang structure -- which is very much dependent on individual members as well social factors -- this interesting study calls obsolete views into questions and provides invaluable new insights into the diverse and shifting face of London street gangs. What's more, in exposing a discrepancy between how members and practitioners view Red Gang, not only it uncovers a crucial gap in the knowledge base, but warns researchers and policy makers it is now time to really get to grips with the matter of gangland London.
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