Surviving Gangs, Violence and Racism in Cape Town: Ghetto Chameleons, 1st Edition (Hardback) book cover

Surviving Gangs, Violence and Racism in Cape Town

Ghetto Chameleons, 1st Edition

By Marie Rosenkrantz Lindegaard


290 pages | 13 B/W Illus.

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Hardback: 9780415818919
pub: 2017-11-20
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Cape Town has some of the highest figures of violent crime in the world, but how is it that young men avoid and enact physical aggression and navigate stressful and dangerous situations?

Surviving Gangs, Violence and Racism in Cape Town offers an ethnographic study of young men in Cape Town and considers how they stay safe in when growing up in post-apartheid South Africa. Breaking away from previous studies looking at structural inequality and differences, this unique book focuses instead on the practices and interactions between 47 young men, and what they do to become a "ghetto chameleon". Indeed, exploring in detail what young men do to survive conflicts and what is at stake, Lindegaard depicts how they must become flexible in who they are in order to fit in and be safe when they move between "black" or "coloured" township areas and the "white" suburbs of Cape Town.

Opening the reader’s mind to the relational aspect of violence, Surviving Gangs, Violence and Racism in Cape Town will appeal to undergraduate and postgraduate students interested in fields such as African Studies, Qualitative Criminology, Sociology, Gang Violence and Anthropology.


This book provides valuable insights into the minds and motives of South African youth, who, in their attempts to navigate stressful and dangerous environments, employ a number of different strategies to protect life, limb, dignity, and self-respect. Through ethnographically rich descriptions, Lindegaard contextualizes violence and its precursors – poverty, discrimination, inequality, and social status.

T.W.Ward, University of Southern California, Author of Gangsters Without Borders

Lindegaard is able to bring the participants’ worlds to the reader when telling their stories. […] Lindegaard has produced a thoughtful ethnography. It is well suited for those interested in ethnographic studies of crime and those interested in cultural explanations of crime. As such, it is well suited for upper-level methods and criminological theory classes.

Heith Copes, University of Alabama at Birmingham, for Criminal Justice Review

Overall, this is an unusual, unconventional and—at times—uncomfortable book. On one hand, it offers a penetrating insight into the complex negotiations of race, space and identity in post-apartheid Cape Town, and a contribution to a developing global literature on the dynamism of gang identity and street culture. On the other hand, it is a book that is troubling in its depiction of race and racialization. Participants viewed the racialized categories of apartheid not as political constructs but as meaningful ways of classifying Self and Other; tellingly, one group reports their struggles in ‘avoiding thinking in those terms’. […] demonstrate[s] the continuing need for grounded, rigorous and humane accounts of the causes and consequences of the global gang phenomenon to contest official accounts.

Alistair Fraser, University of Glasgow, for The British Journal of Criminology

Every so often a different perspective on current topics emerges on the gang research scene that changes the orientation of scholars for decades to come. A new way of seeing and understanding the current gang discourse emerges in the work of intrepid researcher, Marie Rosenkrantz Lindegaard’s book, Surviving Gangs, Violence and Racism in Cape Town: Ghetto Chameleons. The book answers questions regarding what young men in gangs on the Cape Flats do, how they associate, and how they use mobility to move and change their cultural repertoires in gang and suburban spaces. […] This book is required reading for any scholar addressing this theory and exploring the links between gangs, cultural repertoires and mobility.

Irvin Kinnes, for South African Crime Quarterly

Table of Contents


Photo Introduction

Foreword by Randall Collins

Part one: Introduction

1. Chameleons

2. Mobility

3. Culture

4. Situations

Interlude: Seduction

5. Observations

Part two: Realities

6. Risks

7. Patterns

Part three: Dynamics

8. Positioning

Interlude: Fights

9. Dispositions

10. Horizons

11. Places

12. Passages

Part four: Conclusions

13. Consequences

14. Continuities



About the Author

Marie Rosenkrantz Lindegaard is a senior researcher at the Netherlands Institute for the Study of Crime and Law Enforcement (NSCR) and an associate professor at the department of Sociology of the University of Copenhagen, Denmark.

About the Series

Routledge Advances in Ethnography

Ethnography is a celebrated, if contested, research methodology that offers unprecedented access to people's intimate lives, their often hidden social worlds and the meanings they attach to these.  The intensity of ethnographic fieldwork often makes considerable personal and emotional demands on the researcher, while the final product is a vivid human document with personal resonance impossible to recreate by the application of any other social science methodology.  This series aims to highlight the best, most innovative ethnographic work available from both new and established scholars.

Learn more…

Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
SOCIAL SCIENCE / Criminology