In deep: the sociology of gang culture

The Freakanomics blog has an insightful interview with sociologist Prof Sudhir Venkatesh who spends time with US street gangs studying gang culture and organised crime.

Q: What role do women play in gangs?

A: In the 1970s and 1980s, female gangs were independent organizations in places like New York, Chicago, Cleveland, and Milwaukee. They tended to be non-criminal, and usually distributed common funds to their members for day care, rent, groceries, and other needs of single mothers. On occasion, they might have engaged in petty fighting, but not often. They were largely political outfits and functioned like social service agencies in ghetto communities that lacked services.

But toward the end of the ’80s, they became wrapped up in drug trafficking ‚Äî and, just like gender subordination in corporate America, they were under the thumbs of males in the gang who controlled the economy. They were indeed “peons” who were given the lowest level jobs by men ‚Äî e.g., watching out for cops, holding drugs, cleaning up after gang parties, prostitution ‚Äî and they had no power at all. No surprise that the female gangs dissolved over time.

Link to Prof Venkatesh interview (via BoingBoing).

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