1st Edition

Youth Street Gangs A critical appraisal

By David Brotherton Copyright 2015
    264 Pages 21 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    264 Pages 21 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    Gangs have been heavily pathologized in the last several decades. In comparison to the pioneering Chicago School's work on gangs in the 1920s we have moved away from a humanistic appraisal of and sensitivity toward the phenomenon and have allowed the gang to become a highly plastic folk devil outside of history. This pathologization of the gang has particularly negative consequences for democracy in an age of punishment, cruelty and coercive social control.

    This is the central thesis of David Brotherton’s new and highly contentious book on street gangs. Drawing on a wealth of highly acclaimed original research, Brotherton explores the socially layered practices of street gangs, including community movements, cultural projects and sites of social resistance. The book also critically reviews gang theory and the geographical trajectories of streets gangs from New York and Puerto Rico to Europe, the Caribbean and South America, as well as state-sponsored reactions and the enabling role of orthodox criminology.

    In opposition to the dominant gang discourses, Brotherton proposes the development of a critical studies approach to gangs and concludes by making a plea for researchers to engage the gang reflexively, paying attention to the contradictory agency of the gang and what gang members actually tell us. The book is essential reading for academics and students involved in the study of juvenile delinquency, youth studies, deviance, gang studies and cultural criminology.

    Introduction  1. Gangs and the Community – History From Below  2. Divergent Gazes: From Humanism to Hobbesian Positivism and Social Reproduction  3. Gangs and Situated Resistance: Agency, Structure, Culture and Politics  4. Studying the Gang Critically  5. Imagining Gangs: From Folk Devils to Objects of Desire  6. Reflections From the Field  7. The Need For A Critical Gang Studies  8. Conclusion  Appendix: Cultural Criminology and its Practices: a Dialogue Between the Theorist and the Street Researcher, Jock Young and David C. Brotherton.


    David C. Brotherton grew up in the East End of London, England. Dr Brotherton gained his doctorate in Sociology in 1992 and began work on street gang subcultures at UC Berkeley in the same year. In 1994, Dr Brotherton came to John Jay College of Criminal Justice at CUNY, where his research on youth resistance, marginalization and gangs led to the Street Organization Project in 1997. He has received research grants from both private and public agencies and has published widely in journals, books, newspapers and magazines. Dr Brotherton edits the Public Criminology book series at Columbia University Press and was named Critical Criminologist of the Year in 2011. He is currently Professor of Sociology at John Jay College and the Graduate Center, The City University of New York.

    ‘This book offers a critical and perceptive account of the street gang. Defying conventional academic boundaries and constraints, David Brotherton, an acknowledged leading expert on this issue, takes us both theoretically and practically into the worlds of gang subcultures and offers a range of compelling insights into the lives of those involved in gang subcultures. He challenges conventional views of the gang and provides a new set of methodological tools that are designed to help him and the reader unpack the significance of this important global phenomena.’ - Roger Matthews, Professor of Criminology, University of Kent, UK

    ‘David Brotherton has spent decades of global involvement, activism and research earning the right to write this book – and now he’s written it. As morally courageous as it is methodologically and theoretically innovative, Youth Street Gangs illuminates what others wilfully ignore: youthful street organizations in all their human and political complexity.’ - Jeff Ferrell, Visiting Professor of Criminology, University of Kent, UK

    ‘Brotherton weaves two powerful narratives through this book; the first is a theoretical and political history of gang studies, with a culminating vision for how to locate the gang within the folds of late modernity, post-colonialism, and global neoliberalism. The second is an eloquently written and passionate treatise on the necessity of a critical paradigm that will help students negotiate the epistemological and methodological borders of 21st Century academia. It is superb!’ - Tim Black, Associate Professor of Sociology, Case Western Reserve University, USA

    ‘Based on more than two decades of intensive fieldwork with street gangs, Brotherton’s new work is a call to arms for criminologists to move beyond the pointless and pathologizing "risk factor" approach to understanding youth gangs and to engage with our subject matter in a proper historical and sociological fashion. I hope the field is listening, the message could hardly be more important or compelling.’ - Shadd Maruna, Dean, School of Criminal Justice, Rutgers University Newark, USA

    'Brotherton writes with a degree of knowledge, clarity, honesty and integrity that can be mercifully rare in much of mainstream criminology... Youth Street Gangs is essential reading to anyone with an interest in the past, present and future of gangs and the new directions and developments in criminology.'— Colin Atkinson, University of Glasgow, Global Crime

    'This is an invaluable addition to either a library of gang research literature or a methodology book collection, particularly with grounded theory, qualitative leanings.  Better yet, it offers a history of gang research methodology.  One does not have to be a critical theory scholar or methodologist to appreciate Brotherton's contribution to the field. Summing up: Highly Recommended'L. L. Hansen, Western New England University, CHOICE Reviews

    "In Youth Street Gangs, Brotherton has provided an important alternative perspective to what traditional criminology has portrayed of gangs and gang members. It is an important book that should not be ignored." - Scott H. Decker, Arizona State University, Theoretical Criminology

    "In Youth Street Gangs, David Brotherton provides a concise yet critical overview of the gang literature, while at the same time providing recommendations for how researchers, both new and experienced, can broaden their understanding of street organizations. Few gang researchers possess a similar breadth of knowledge of gangs by years of attention (more than 20 years), geographic comparison (Barcelona, London, New York City, Quito, San Francisco, and Santo Domingo), and direct interaction with gang members of various backgrounds. Collaboratively, Brotherton seeks to highlight other existing counter narratives in the gang literature toward this overall call for researchers to develop a more critical examination of street organizations. In this review, I will provide an overview of three key themes presented in the book’s seven chapters, in order to outline why I think this book is essential reading for the study of gangs. " - Robert J. Durán, Criminal Law and Criminal Justice Books, May 2016