In society, we often see impoverished communities lacking many of the routine social structures that are present in more affluent communities. Human being have a desire to belong to certain social structures that may be lacking in poorer communities. It is this need —for belonging — that gangs fulfill. Gangs present a dichotomy, offering protection and a sense of belonging to its member; and at other times preying on its members through exploitative practices like gang initiation, prostitution, and drug dealing.
Although gangs offer some benefits to its members, becoming a gang member is usually a choice that is made because of limited alternative and lack of perceived social acceptance. Further influencing the leap into gang life is the common theme of growing up in gang culture, and therefore having the conscience shaped by the echo of gangster code. Emile Durkheim reasoned that “those which survive are those that are functional to the operation of society” ( Kornblum, W 2012).
In societies where gangs are prevalent, people must make themselves functional to the operation of the community they live in on a micro-sociological level. Gangs are not all that much different from being a member of a legitimate enterprise, when viewed from the lens of functionalism. Members of a gang subscribe to a philosophy, and provide the gang with their individual role in the operations. Members pledge loyalty and provide revenue and enforcement for the gang, and in return expect certain benefits — like protection from other gangs.
This is not much different from how a person decides whether or not to take a job with an organization, or join some other social structure, we weigh what we put in versus what we get out. Most people assess what they can provide or put in to an organization, and then determine if what they get in return from that organization is sufficient. Often, it is difficult for individuals that are not exposed to gangs to rationalize the values of gang culture Why would someone join a gang? Don’t people know gangs commit a large percentage of crimes?
Why do people join gangs when they know they will be more likely to be incarcerated? It is difficult to make sense of the logic used to come to a conclusion that joining a gang is beneficial, unless one could immerse themselves in the shaping of the moral conscience of that individual from birth. So, to look at it from a similar view of Durkheim’s “our conscience is an internalized echo of what we are told is right ” (Kornblum, W 2012), it is not unreasonable than to say that the moral code of many gangs may actually seem valid to someone whom grew up around a gang culture.
A gang may actually provide a higher degree of morality based upon that individual’s conscience — albeit that conscience is extraordinarily different than the societal norm. The facts are indisputable, According to the 2011 National Gang Threat Assessment report, gangs are responsible for an average of 48 percent of violent crime in most jurisdictions, and up to 90 percent in others (https://www. fbi. gov/about-us/ investigate/vc_majorthefts/gangs ). These crimes often lead to prison time.
For the outsider, the high likelihood of being incarcerated seems like enough of a negative element of gang life to deter people from joining, but the reality is contrary to that assumption. A possible explanation is that crime and incarceration may be seen as a normal part of life. Just as a child who’s farther goes to work every day would see going to work as being normal, so too would a child see crime and prison as normal whom grew up in a society where people went to prison everyday. Society outside of gang life may be perceived as predatory by gang members and the gang itself might be perceived as having the moral high ground.
Incarceration doesn’t appear to be a strong deterrent in the decision to join a gang. The perception of some must be that with or without gangs, incarceration is an inevitable possibility, and may even be seen as a badge of honor. Under this logic, gangs could provide a conduit for social justice from the perspective of the disadvantaged. Through organized crime efforts, the individual gang member gets to lash out at what they may believe to be an inequitable society — giving them a powerful platform as to inflict more damage through the organized effort of a gang.
It was believed by Abraham Maslow that individuals have a hierarchy of needs that begins with the most basic, and then on to the more complex. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is believed by many in the psychology world to be congruent with what we see play out in society (although it does have some critics as well). The opportunity created by disenfranchised communities — like, parts of Los Angeles, Chicago, and Detroit — within the United States has enabled gang culture to provide many of the 5 needs:1) physiological 2)security 3)social 4) esteem, 5)selfactualization (http://psychology. bout. com/od/ theoriesofpersonality/a/hierarchyneeds. htm).
For instance, even if a few of the most basic needs are already met, a young man or woman could be seeking social needs in the form of love, and affection. If the first three needs are already fulfilled, a gang can still attract members by offering esteem needs — making them of value to the gang, possibly as a soldier or as a source of revenue through earning from crime ventures. Being a gang member is considered deviant behavior as it goes against the normal behavior for most of the broader macro-sociological spectrum.
Durkheim’s view of deviance in his works contends, “Deviant behavior is most likely to occur when the sanctions governing conduct in any setting seem to be contradictory” (Emile Durkheim, The Rules of Sociological Method ). Despite the evident cons of gang life, — drug abuse, incarceration, violence, death — it is the opinion of these governing sanctions being contradictory to the interests of the community that is the most powerful driving force.
If there was no sense of alienation, there would be very little reason for such subculture. Ultimately, gangs can be said to form a force of opposition and resistance for underrepresented communities, and this is often what entices people to partake. In conclusion, if there was no validity to gangs they would cease to exist. Joining a gang is something most in our society would not choose to do, however there are certain communities that are overrun by gangs. It is a matter of the developed conscience that leads to this culture of deviance.
Mass appeal, or normalcy in society is typically not inclusive of all. A person whom believes they are included in society would almost certainly reject gangs, but for the person that feels excluded, the pros of gang membership can often outweigh the cons. Now, if to add to that feeling of exclusion, we were to assume that the subcultural code of ethics was echoed in the conscience from birth, the dangerous leap into gang life begins to become more understandable.