Towards a Pacific criminological theory: Life histories of Sāmoan people’s involvement in gangs in Oceania

Dr Moses Faleolo1

1Massey University, North Shore, New Zealand

This presentation is based on work that is currently being developed and the presenter is interested in your thoughts, suggestions, and recommendations. It has been inspired by a speech John Braithwaite gave in 2013 where he called for a ‘scholarship on crime’ that identifies practices ‘of a more distinctively Pacific character’, which he entitled ‘Pacific criminology’. This recognizes the need for theories developed locally in response to particular social and cultural histories appropriate to a particular country. The vast majority of gang research is conducted in the northern hemisphere with very few references relating to Pacific Island communities. Yet there are distinct cultural factors particular to the experiences of Pacific populations that this existing ‘northern’/’western’ paradigm does not well account for. This study initiates a process of refining existing criminological theory so that it is better equipped to explain or model a Pacific criminological perspective. The primary aim is a study of the gang phenomenon in a particular Pacific subpopulation to illustrate the possibilities and challenges of constructing a ‘Pacific Criminology’. An understanding of criminology through a Sāmoan lens (fa’a Samoa or the Sāmoan worldview) and the traditional Sāmoan jurisprudence framework are explored through Sāmoan female and male perspectives of gang membership. Sixty life histories will be collected from Sāmoan gang involved youth, focusing on male and female gang membership in New Zealand, Sāmoa and Hawaii. Findings will also enhance theoretical understandings of Pacific gang research, with attention to life history perspectives, gender and Pacific voices.


Moses is a NZ-born Sāmoan and his paramount Sāmoan chief title, Gisa, is bestowed on him by the Falelima village, Savai’i Island (Sāmoa); the birth place of his father’s mother. His father, Mose, carries the title, Leaula, an oratory chief title from Saleaula village, Savai’i Island (Sāmoa); his father’s birthplace. He is an active church member having served as Treasurer for over 40 years before standing down. He retired from being a 12-hour night factory machine operator after 38 years. His mother, Pepe, is from the village of Leusoali’i, Upolu Island (Sāmoa), and is also an active church member for over 40 years, holding posts such as President of the Youth Ministry, Choir Master, and Secretary of the Women’s Ministry. She was an early childhood educator for over 20 years, a Justice of the Peace and Lay Advocate for over 10 years.

Moses practised social work for over 10 years before becoming an academic. He worked with youth offenders and young people with behavioural issues both in government and community organisations.  He is currently an Associate Dean Pacific, a lecturer, a registered social worker and oversees the Bachelor of Social Work program at Massey University (Auckland campus). His PhD entitled Hard-Hard-Solid: Life histories of Sāmoans in Bloods Youth Gangs in New Zealand is the first of its kind and features 18 months of engagement and interviews and over 200 hours of recordings of this hard-to-reach-population group. He recommends a multi-faceted approach based on realistic, relevant and resource-based alternative pathways to eliminate the attractiveness of youth gang culture. His research interests and publications include Pacific criminology, unresolved complicated grief, involuntary return migration, critical pedagogies, cultural valid social work education, youth social work, and life history methodology.

His work has been featured in a range of media forums including national television, national and international radio broadcasts, and a host of print media. In May, 2019, he was invited to keynote at the Youth Studies Reader Oceania conference hosted by University of California, Los Angeles on his latest publication entitled, “Still feeling it: Addressing the unresolved grief among the Sāmoan Bloods of Aotearoa New Zealand”. In 2018, he presented a paper, called “Involuntary return migration: NZ urban street gang transfer to Sāmoan village settings”, for the Sāmoa Conference IV hosted by National University of Sāmoa. He presented in Denmark, a paper entitled, “Slanging to blaze and juice up”: Preventing drug consumption in Sāmoan Bloods youth gangs in New Zealand”, for the Ethnic Minority Youth: Drugs, gangs and street life conference, hosted by Aarhus University. He has also presented in Vietnam, Sāmoa, Fiji, and Taiwan on other research interests such as critical pedagogies, indigenous social work, Asian-Pacific worldviews for social work education, youth social work, and life history methodology.

He is currently developing an alternative way of justice theorising based on a Sāmoan case and toward a Pacific criminology.


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