| John Hagedorn
UIC Criminal Justice Department
Hagedorn's Working Definition
Here's what I mean when I use the word "gang."
Gangs are organizations of the
street composed of either
1. the socially excluded or 2. alienated, demoralized, or
bigoted elements of a dominant racial, ethnic, or religious
While most gangs begin as unsupervised adolescent
peer groups and remain so, some institutionalize in barrios,
favelas, ghettoes, and prisons. Often these institutionalized
gangs become business enterprises within the informal economy
and a few are linked to international criminal cartels. Others
institutionalize as violent supporters of dominant groups
and may devolve from political or conventional organizations.
Most gangs are characterized by a racialized or ethno-religious
identity as well as being influenced by global culture. Gangs
have variable ties to conventional institutions and, in given
conditions, assume social, economic, political, cultural,
religious, or military roles.
definition supports the group process perspective for most gangs,
but also looks at what has changed in the postmodern era. It streses
the role of gangs in the informal economy, the continuity of the
prison experience, admits the presence of the international drug
economy, accepts many gangs self-characterization as "organizations,"
and posits a variable role for gangs in economics and politics.
definition represents a clear break from the Chicago School notion
of gangs as "unreflective" organization.
Click here for references
to social science definitions of gangs.