“A combination of extortion and civic duty”: Reconsidering gangs in ‘weak state’ communities

Richard Evans1
1Deakin University, Geelong, Australia

Gang Studies is an emerging field in criminology. Most scholarship on gang-like groups focus on the local and the particular, and the complex and nuanced nature of gangs does demand this approach. However, it is also true that there are strong patterns of structure, function, origin, and behaviour in gangs which seem to hold despite otherwise large differences in ethnicity, language and culture. In this paper, I attempt to sketch a universal model of gangs — the circumstances in which they will arise, and the forms that they will take.

Drawing on comparative examples, including the Mungiki movement of Kenya and the ormas groups of post-Suharto Bali, I explore implications for how criminologists think about gangs, crime and policing in ‘weak state’ urban communities, where the formal institutions of government are ineffective. I argue that many assumptions about gangs distort understanding and need to be challenged.

Richard Evans is a Lecturer in Criminology at Deakin University. His research interests include gang studies, policing, violence prevention, mental health and crime and media.


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