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doi:10.

1093/bjc/azu085

BRIT. J. CRIMINOL. (2015) 55, 556577


Advance Access publication 12 November 2014

SOCIAL STRUCTURE AND BONHOMIE: EMOTIONS IN THE


YOUTH STREETGANG
KevinMoran*

Keywords: gangs, cultural criminology, subculture, emotions, relative deprivation


Introduction
In the opening chapter of In Search of Respect, anthropologist Philippe Bourgois recounts
a faux pas where he inadvertently disrespects a prominent but illiterate drug dealer,
Ray, by handing him a newspaper before a crowd of onlookers. After several stumbling
reading attempts, Ray responds to this indignity first with recomposure, then anger.
He regains his deadpan street scowl, throws the paper down, swears and screams at
Felipe, before making a blustering exit from the scene. As Bourgois adroitly notes,
Rays shame emerges not only situationally from the public exposure of his illiteracy
but also biographically from his long buriedchildhood wound of institutional failure (2003: 21)against which he invested in an affirming street persona of an implacable, formidable drug dealer and local impresario.
Criminological theory has more typically articulated deviant adaptations to relative
deprivation with the language of economism not emotion (Merton 1938; Cloward and
Ohlin 1966). British subcultural theory provided a structuralist semiotics of youth subcultures, largely foreign, as critics have noted, from the immediate emotional tone
and satisfaction of the actions themselves (Cohen 1980: 161; see also Muggleton 2000).
American problem-solving variantsalthough granting a causal role to emotions
regarded deviant subcultures as negativistic inversions of conventional mores (see
Cohen 1956), when the relationship between youth culture, the more proximate parent
culture and wider social values is perhaps more of intercourse and ambivalence than
radical rejection (Matza 1964). More specifically, gangsa highly conspicuous youth
subcultureare only tangentially analysed in emotional terms, with research more
frequently approaching the entity in pathological (Krohn etal. 2011), entrepreneurial
*Kevin Moran, The Graduate Center, CUNY, 365 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10016, USA; kmoran@gc.cuny.edu.

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Scholars have overlooked the significance of emotion in motivating participation in deviant subcultures. Youth subcultures, particularly those of lower or working class provenance, emerge as an
ongoing attempt to manage and mitigate structurally produced feelings of shame, by converting
this sense of devaluation into pride. Using the youth street gang as a case study, this article gives
greater precision to this emotional conversionary process, arguing that gangs transpose ambient
parent culture of solidarity into subcultural emphasis on self and group affirming loyalty. Thus,
espirit de corps, a central and vivifying value within youth street gangs, is magnified and maintained via group symbolic praxis and expressive violence. Moreover, youth street gang culture
protects this emotional conversionary process from iatrogenic threats, i.e. injury, prison, the death
of others, by subsuming potentially negative consequences within this subcultural system.

SOCIAL STRUCTURE AND BONHOMIE

(1) Youth street gangs, in drawing upon ambient parent culture of solidarity (existing
alongside anomic, predatory cultures within poor neighbourhoods), deepen and
displace their inherited cultural datum on to youth peer group, whose central value
is espirit de corps and more broadly speaking, place attachment, values magnified and
maintained through subcultural praxis. Thus, within the youth street gang, loyalty
to peers and place, symbolically consecrated and ritually cultivated, is recurrently
mined for its moral properties, implying virtue, self-sacrifice and interactively calling forth mutual affirmations of worth.
(2) Youth street gang subculture not only metamorphoses shame into pride but also usefully insulates gang members from the potentially shameful repercussions of violent
acts punctuating gang life: death, injury or prison. In one sense, this is why this particular subcultural contentemphasizing moral properties of loyaltyis so suitable for
youth street gang members because not only does it dissipate negative emotions issuing
from experience of relative deprivation but also neutralizes, la an appeal to loyalty in
turn (see Matza 1969), the threats to self, generated by the violent acts it itself calls forth.
In sum, this article begins with sociological conceptions of the self-conscious emotions of shame and pride, noting individuals tend to avoid or actively displace shame by
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(Snchez-Jankowski 1991; Padilla 1992) or political (Brotherton and Barrios 2004;


Duran 2013)terms.
This article gives evidence for and elaboration to an emotions-based understanding
of the costs of marginalization, and similarly, the returns of deviance, arguing oppositional street identities generally, and youth street gangs specifically, emerge as an ongoing attempt to manage and mitigate an abiding and structurally produced feeling of
shame experienced by lower-class youth across various domains. A close reading of a
range of prominent ethnographies of the urban poor (Willis 1981; Nightingale 1993;
Anderson 1999; Bourgois 2003; Liebow 2003) revealscouched in varying degrees of
scholarly circumlocution and imprecisionan underlying grammar of emotions in which
street subcultures variously serve to convert a sense of shame into self-worth, dignity,
respeto or expressed affectively pride. Thus, shirking work, drug dealing, flouting school
authority or violent terrorization represent pride generating folk adaptations to the
phenomenological content of relative deprivationfeelings of devaluationand less
immediately to marginalization itself (Young 2003). This autonomous logic and motivational leverage of more experientially proximate affective demands are evidenced
when pride generating behaviour is ceded to even when it frustrates longer-term
upward mobility (i.e. shame exiting)when entry costs to legal employment and education in emotional terms are high and the side bet (see Becker 1960) of future pride
pay-off seem remote and uncertain (especially in light of past experiences of failure).
A distinctive solution to the problem of shame, thus arguedthough not the only
subcultural oneis the youth street gang. The gangs cultural featuresthe veneration
of group loyalty, iteratively communicated and renewed via rich symbolic praxis and
expressive violencefunction primarily as means of metamorphosing shame into pride,
easily understood once an affective vocabulary lacking in current subcultural conceptual lexica is applied. Drawing upon gang scholarship (Cohen 1956; Conquergood
1991; 1993; 1994; Vigil 1994; Brotherton and Barrios 2004; Duran 2013), this article
more specifically outlines the mechanism by which this subcultural process of emotional conversion is brought about and sustained:

MORAN

other more pleasing and self-affirming emotions such as anger or pride (see Katz 2001).
Moreover, shame states arise more recurrently for subordinate groups in hierarchical
social relationships. It then argues, drawing on a range of urban ethnographies, that
street subcultures primary function is to restore feelings of pride among marginalized groups. Youth street gangs, thus understood, represent one subcultural means of
generating pride, one which draws upon values of solidarity found in lower or working
classcommunities, transposed as an ennobling commitment to peers and place.

Shame and Pride: The Self-Conscious Emotions

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Self-conscious emotions such as shame and pride arise from a socially acquired and
developmentally sequenced capacity to view and evaluate oneself from the imagined
perspective of others (Tangney 1999). Cooleys concept of the looking glass self captures the ongoing and reflexive self-conscious nature of our experiencenoting the
imputed judgment, whether positive or negative, elicits self-feelings of pride or mortification, respectively (1902). This more catholic conception of shame, and by extension
pride, differs from vernacular usage of the term denoting moments of acute shame
(Scheff 2003) or Christian connotations of idolatrous pride. Emotions scholar Thomas
Scheff advocates viewing the term shame as a class name for a family of emotions that
arise from seeing self negatively, if even only slightly negatively (2003: n/a, emphasis
in original) or conversely positively, in terms of pride. This includes a range of feelings: embarrassment, guilt, shyness and humiliation on one hand and self-satisfaction,
self-confidence, smugness and arrogance on the other. In terms of the feelings phenomenological content, shame emotions involve a sense of unhappy exposure (Katz
2001)whether to ones self, or an imagined or encountered otherone which places
the subject as an inferior outside a relevant community (the literate world in Rays
casewhich would also, shamefully so, include small children). By contrast, phenomenologically speaking, pride is an outward and inflating emotionwe feel pleasurably
puffed up or solidsensations that can be expressed corporally by an expanded
posture, raised head and arms akimbo (Tracy and Robins 2007).
Aside from this inherently social and evaluative aspects of shame, sociologists have
noted its existentially insufferable nature, which, dynamically so, lends the emotion to
ready substitution for and submergence by other transcendent affective logics, anger
and pride being the primary feeling families. Shame, thus, is particularly engendering, existentially speaking, of not only its avoidance and escape, but its reconversion,
its metamorphosis into to the expressive corporeality of some other emotion (Katz
2001: 147). Pride too is dynamic, but to varying degrees depending on the reliability
of its source. For example, high-achieving students reporting high self-esteem tend to
attribute their success to internal, stable, uncontrollable factors such as ability (Weiner
1984). On the other hand, unstable sources of pride derive from external, less controllable sourcesthe approval of others, accomplishments, possessions, etc., necessitating a
more pressing and iterative maintenance. Self-esteem, thus understood, concerns a balance of shamepride states in a persons life, with a quasi-universal want for the pendulum to sway towards the latter (whether in self-appraisal or via interactive confirmation
or both). This is especially true when social relations of subordinacy exert a downward
pressure or at least incline towards negative self-assessments.

SOCIAL STRUCTURE AND BONHOMIE

Deviance as Emotion Management


One response to social structural exclusionmore typically termed relative deprivation or strain in criminological literature (Young 1999, Figure1)is criminal or deviant innovation (see Merton 1938). The emotional content of such strained states and
their deviant adaptations has been an un-theorized subtext of criminological theory.
Phenomenologically speaking, what is strain but feelings of dissatisfaction, resentment
or shame leading to action intending to assuage these feelings? Is neutralization theory
not a theory of nagging guilt or self-doubt insofar as neutralization techniques function to shield the delinquent from feelings of guilt and shame (Sykes and Matza 1957)?

Fig.1 Relative deprivation.

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Although shame and pride, perhaps even more so than other emotions, are latent
in virtually all social interaction (as noted humans continually self-monitor, Goffman
1990), it emerges in greater regularity under certain social systems as a result of their
cultural premises and ways of organizing daily experience (Chancer 1992). Such shaming and shameful cultural contexts are often the object of social movements to alter
societal conceptions of stigmatized groups, e.g. Civil Rights and LGBTQ movements
(Britt and Heise 1997). Stratified societiesamong the many other possible rankings
of humans shared by more egalitarian communitiesare composed of regularized
hierarchal social relationsteachersstudents, bossesworkers, parentschildren and
richpoorwhich due to superiorsubordinate role interactions habituate the potential for shamepride self-feelings. Scheff comments on the relationship between shame
and social structure in terms of social classin his reading of Sennett and Cobbs classic
The Hidden Injuries of Class. The hidden injuryshameaccording to Scheff, felt by
Sennett and Cobbs research subjects, mainly Italian and Jewish working class men,
resulted from their subordinate occupational position, in that they felt disrespected
(looked down on) by teachers, bosses and even their own children. This was exacerbated, ideologically speaking, by American idiom of individualism, in the sense that the
men regarded their social position as, at least partly, their own fault (2001). Consistent
with sociological predilection to discuss emotions euphemistically (for a discussion of
this in relation to the unconscious in classical sociological theory, see Chancer 2013),
Sennett and Cobb, ironically, themselves hide the hidden injury, employing the mens
vernacularwhich in part stems from shame at admitting shamein which shame
feelings were verbally externalized as a lack of respect, i.e. a property of others (2001).

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Note that in an television interview with one of the mods involved in the 1972 Clapton riots, when asked why did you do
it? the young man replies, emphatically, boredom.
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Or, in more orthodox criminology, what is the basis of self-control theory but a hedonic
orientation to what feelsgood?
Recent efforts by cultural criminologists have foregrounded the role of emotions in
both crime and crime control arguing the motivation for much deviant behaviour lies
in its capacity to generate pleasurable emotional states, a sensual riposte to experiences
of boredom and denigration within late-modernity (Ferrell 1997; 2004). Jeff Ferrells
work (2004), e.g., explores the relationship between boredom and crime, juxtaposing
the monotony of modern bureaucratic rationalization with the titillating imperatives of
consumer culture, a contradiction finding resolution in illicit excitements of deviance.
From this perspective, much delinquency seems like free-form solutions to collective
ennui.1 Drawing on Bakhtins concept of the carnivalesque, Mike Presdee argues the
second life of the peopletransgressive moments of abandon and destructionare the
first life of youth: raving, fighting, binge drinking, arson, joyriding and so on. Disorder
is, in itself, a delight to be sought and savoured (2000). Similarly, Stephen Lyng posits
the seductive character of edgeworkvoluntary risk-takingof many criminal enterprises, whose appeal may derive from the particular sensations and emotions generated by the high-risk character of these activities (2004:360).
The logics of emotional conversion in relation to the shamepride dyad are perhaps
most clearly theoretically articulated in Jock Youngs now famous article, Merton with
Energy, Katz with Structure (2003). Young argues that criminologists of a Mertonian
bent have overlooked the affective dimensions of relative deprivation, misrecognizing deviant responses as driven by primarily economic goals. On the contrary, Young
asserts: The predicament of the ghetto poor is not simply a deficit of goodsas Merton
would have had itit is a state of humiliation (408). As Young continues, deviance is at
base rational (utilitarian), but is driven by marginalizations derivative humiliation,
obviated via a frequent delight in excess, a glee in breaking the rules, a reassertion of
dignity and identity (2003:408).
Jack Katz teases out what is perhaps implicit in these cultural criminological accounts
of emotions and crime: namely the sensual attraction to actions that generate transcendent emotional states. If we abstract from specific emotionsexcitement from boredom,
abandon from restraint and rage from humiliationwe can theoretically conceive this
movement as one through which actors are drawn to actions that transport them from
negative to positive emotional states, i.e. a grammar of emotional conversion.
The pursuit or fulfilment of these emotional needs often, contra Maslow, come at the
expense of safety and economic security, under conditions where the means of escaping marginalization, education and legal employment, work to, at least in an immediate sense, compound rather than countervail nagging feelings of devaluation (i.e.
shame). Such conditions prevail in exclusive societies of late modernity (Young 1999),
where unlike previous Fordist economies, entry-level jobs for those without high school
or college are menial, underpaid, with scant promotional opportunity. Adopting an
affective analytic helps resolve an ongoing paradox whereby marginalized groups, in
part, auto-reproduce their social position, self-demote or even self-destructeducation is resisted (Willis 1981), employment is refused (Liebow 2003), prosecution risked
(Bourgois 2003)and violence pursued (Anderson 1999)seemingly irrationally, but

SOCIAL STRUCTURE AND BONHOMIE

not so once the underlying affective grammarthe shorter term generation of pride,
i.e. a sense of self-worth (in contexts where there is justifiable scepticism that longerterm strategies would not pay off) is theoretically grasped, elucidated and generalized
across its local empirical manifestations.
Urban Ethnography and the ShamePrideDyad

Bill: The teachers think theyre everybody. They are more, theyre higher than us, but they think they
are a lot higher than and theyrenot.
Spanksy: [they]think theyre God (11).

The lads primary of means of reasserting their status is their affiliation with adulthood
in the form of smoking, drinking and flaunting their precocious (by the schools standards) sexual prowess(20).
Yet, paradoxically the ladsand this is Willis path-breaking insightresistance to
their insubordination within the school is a form of self-induction, in that pyrrhicly
it serves to reproduce their insubordinate class position. Willis explanation for this
seeming self-damnation is to retrieve a class rationale for the lads behaviour, implicit
in their subculture is a reaching in (penetration in Willis terms) of more objective
class position and prospects. There is an air of implausibility to Willis argument that
counter-school culture is a proxy assertion of classconditions, demonstrated by Willis
The term earole as Willis notes, connotes passivity, the ear being one of the least expressive organs of the human body, not
animated by internal life but formless in rigid reception.
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This section examines a series of key urban ethnographies of various deviant, oppositional responses to relative deprivation across a variety of domains: education, work
and familial relations. On the one hand, feelings of shame (i.e. a sense of inferiority)
derive, in part, from marginalized individuals shared and/or imputed understanding of their relative statuses, a self-assessment emerging in contact with each of these
conventional arenas. Concomitantly, deviant responses, whether group based; counter-school codes, street corner cultures or individual; drug dealing and violent terrorizationrestated in terms of their emotional logics are, in part, folk means of converting
shame into pride. Such emotional sequences are present in rarefied form in the urban
ethnographies examined below but expressed obliquely amidst the movement between
abstract (i.e. respect) and affective (i.e. pride) conceptual registers. Giving greater precision to this underlying emotional grammar helps understand why subcultures are
adhered to even when they frustrate longer-term shame exiting strategies (i.e. upward
mobility). But more importantly, that such responses hinder longer-term self-interest
exemplifies how central more proximate affectual demands are to subculturallife.
Paul Willis classic Learning To Labour (1981) details the interaction between subjective
notions of dignity (i.e. pride), social marginalization and an important institution of
conventional society: the school. Willis argument is that working-class youths (the lads)
develop a group counter-school culture in almost continual subversion of teachers and
school management and in distinction with conforming peers, pejoratively termed the
ear oles.2 The oppositional subculture is expressed in countless small ways as an almost
ritualistic part of the fabric of daily life in the school (12), and emerges from the shaming context of school relations, as suggested in the books opening dialogue:

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Hes no better off than you, Tally. You make more than he does.
Its not the money. [Pause] Its position, Iguess. Hes got position. When he finish school he gonna
be a supervisor. People respect himThinking about people with position and education gives me
feeling right here [pressing his fingers into the pit of his stomach]. (38)

Tally further recalls, when he and Liebow meet a lawyer at the courthouse, he stood in
embarrassed silence, as I didnt even know what you was talking about, concluding this
comment with an additional admission: this happens to him alot.
Phillipe Bourgois In Search of Respect: Selling Crack in El Barrio, as is well known, examines the world of illicit drug dealing in Hispanic East Harlem during the 1990s. This
adaptation relies less on group affirmation of worth, but in the advantages of participation in the sub rosa economy whether pursued alone or in loose concert with others.
Bourgoiss description of the dealers and other crack house habitus relationship to
the legal economy is interesting, as he details the complex role pride maintenance
plays in the process of rejecting legal employment and becoming a dealer. In a section Getting Dissed in the office, Bourgois recounts how Both Primo and Caesar
experienced deep humiliation and insecurity in their attempts to penetrate the world
of legal employment in New Yorks F.I.R.E.economy (2003: 143). As a case in point,
Primo who acquires a job as a mail room clerk, but is fired after eight months due to an
admixture of racially charged miscommunication and the conflict between his sense
of stature and the submissionparticularly costly in terms of his mainly female supervisorsrequired for his entry-level position. Primos need for a sense of pride trumps
and thus threatens his employment, despite the fact that his job, as Bourgois admits,
affords some opportunity for promotion (153). By contrast, in spite of the inconsistent and meager crack income (92) and potential for violence, the underground economy affords a sense of pride. Whatever the risks involved, drug dealing never serves to
threaten Primos sense of personal worth (144). As observed in terms of shame-aboutshame, Primos feelings are buried deeply: Only after repeated badgering on my part
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frequent and laboured assertions that such dynamics of mediated resistance occur without specific or even euphemistic articulation by the lads. Class relations are present in
the school, but they are felt and resisted at the level of emotions manifested in constant
status jostling between teachers and students. The lads resist their social demotion and
resulting negative self-feeling, emerging more so from the mismatch between workingclass habitus and the middle-class habitus valorized in the school, a point raised in
Willis brief reference to Bourdieu and Passeron, but whose theoretical implications are
obscured, inter alia, by Willis commitment to a Marxist analytic.
A similar group response to shamenow in the context of workis documented
in Elliot Liebows seminal ethnography Tallys Corner. Tallys companions remain tenuously attached to, indeed frequently refuse, employment on the legal labour market,
preferring the security and self-esteem found in street corner relationships (2003:
114)over the degradation of low-paid, low-status employment. As Liebow writes, the
men are acutely aware of the low-status of their work (wryly noting of the street-corner
man that: He cannot draw from a job those social values which other people do not
put into it 37), such that to even talk about their jobs can trigger a flush of shame and
a deep, almost physical ache to change places, which is almost too painful to express,
but poignantly captured in the following dialogue:

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did he finally express the deep sense of shame and vulnerability he felt whenever he
attempted to venture into the legal labor market(160).
Elijah Andersons now canonical Code of the Street (1999) too recounts an individually pursued adaptation to marginalization. According to the study, a subculture of
violence centred on the gaining and maintaining of respect or pride (Anderson shuttles back and forth between subcultural and emotional lexica in his analysis of ghetto
violence)primarily among the poorest of ghetto youthdominates public spaces of
the community. Violent terrorization, reflecting the more anomic tendencies within
Philadelphias black ghetto, is a continually available means of achieving pride. Such
violent status contestswhich extend to possessions: clothing, footwear, jewellery and
even sexual partnersbear a zero-sum quality: In this violent give-and-take, raising
oneself up largely depends on putting someone else down (1999: 75). Resulting shows
of deference by others can be highly soothing, contributing to a sense of security,
comfort, self-confidence, and self-respect (75). Correlatively, transgressions diminish
these feelings, for ghetto youth losing face would likely leave ones self-esteem in tatters (76), to the extent that some would rather forfeit their lives than countenance
social, read psychological, demotion.
Interestingly, Andersons discussion on Campaigning for Respect via violent means
is followed by section entitled I Got Yo Back recounting the story of two young men
where violence serves to warmly consummate, rather than, anomically sever social
bonds between the two ghetto youth. Although deriving from a valuation of violent
prowess and nerve, the young mens fist-fight, recounted in the book, which occasions
several instances of gentlemanly deference, actually results in their reconciliation, and
having established their mutual esteem (i.e. fighting prowess as a proxy of worth), occasions their agreement to watch each others backs. As Anderson notes, When this very
strongexpectation is met, powerful bonds of trust are formed, and with repeated
supportive exchanges, ever more firmly established (91). Whereas one means of earning deference among peers consists of individual campaigns for respect, another group
solution persists (alongside other alternatives), one that regularizes the repeated supportive exchanges, which indicate the solidification of friendship and mutual respect.
Carl Husemoller Nightingales work, On the Edge: AHistory of Poor Black Children and
their American Dreams (1993), is most explicit in highlighting a shamepride dyad at
the heart of relative deprivationsubculture dialectic, and like Anderson, documents
individual, but also hints at forms of small group pride generation. Nightingales brilliant ethnographic account asserts that the rise in crime in American black ghettos
resulted from the increasing integration of black communities into American cultural
circuits, primarily those valorizing conspicuous consumption and violence alongside
their growing exclusion from economic and political life. Poor black youth drink CocaCola, eat McDonalds, obsess over the latest sneakers, watch television 11 hours a day,
love action-adventure movies and revere the army while enthusiastically embracing
Cold War enmities(2).
As Nightingale demonstrates, poor black youth, especially young men, feel their
exclusion acutely, manifesting in feelings of shame, humiliation and frustration, involving a series of painful emotional experiences of macro, meso and personal provenance:
the humiliation of poverty (roach infested homes, welfare dependency, inconsistent
mealtimes) is exacerbated by consumer socialization, educational failure and a host of
racial micro-aggressions (see Pierce 1970)involving negative interactions with police,

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Youth Street Gangs: Emotion Management


Argued thus far is that deviant behaviourwhether shirking work, drug dealing,
flouting school authority, violent terrorization or becoming a bad niggaseems to
bear out at least in the short term, emotional over pecuniary logics. In particular, the
need to reassert ones pride (dignity, worth, self-respect) in the immediate term can
take precedence over opportunities for social advancement, thus in a pyrrhic sense,
individuals and groups often reproduce, indeed deepen, their marginalization in the
various forms in which they search for respect, the abstract equivalent of pride. Such
affective conversionary dynamics are exampled in the youth street gang, this article
now provides an analysis of subcultural content and sequencing which provides for this
emotion work (Hochschild 1979).
This understanding of youth street gangs, however forgotten or submerged in contemporary gang research, is longstanding. Early researchers like Riis portrayed gangs
as the slums counterfeit of self-esteem (Riis 2005: 237). In his book Barrio Gangs,
Diego Vigil comes to a similar conclusion in discussing the psychodynamics of gang
members (1994). For some Chicano youth acquisition of self-identity is beset with difficulties and the gang becomes a type of coping strategy; strivings for self-identity are
integrated with, and find fulfilment through, gang channels especially in adolescence
A similar analysis is made in Major and Macini Billsons excellent Cool Pose where the adoption of a cool pose of masculine
self-command by young black men serves to ease the worry and pain of second class status (1992: 5).
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roving and suspicious eyes of store owners and gruff attitudes of security guards. To this
is added the aggressive status competition of peer street culture where, as in Anderson,
(self)respect resides in the ability to wield violence and to trade insults (made more
potent by racial pejoratives and the stigma of poverty). On the other hand, for ghetto
youth, home life is a combination of didactic violence, resentment and filial alienation
punctuated by periods of neglect and abandonment.
To repress this pain, adolescents invest in compensatory identities of masculine selfaffirmation,3 conspicuous consumption and violence; these too a hyper-realization of
the materialism, self-absorption, hedonism and violence immanent to American popular culture. Reacting to sorely felt indignities of economic and racial exclusion they
aspire to be bad motherfuckersto flaunt aggressive values, boastful posturing and
ownership of status-redeeming commodities. Similar affective returns can be found in
social milieus, peer groups providing interpersonal affirmation of the adopted bad
ass role so key to a sense of adequacy: he [Chauntey] also could expect much from
his boyz in the ways of moral approval for his ways of repressing and protecting his
deep-seated pain (44). In shortlike other lower-class subjects discussed abovethey
develop alchemical formulas to convert the shame, frustration, resentment and loneliness they feel into a sense of personal adequacy and emotional well-being.
The need for shamepride conversion is ongoing; resolutions via forms of compensatory activities are temporary and superficial, only tenuously providing for positive prideful states. Intelligibly, given the fragile nature of their individual subcultural remedies,
young men such as Primo, Caesar and Nightingales Chauntey create or are attracted
to spaces of culturally regularized interactions affirming a sense of well-being. Enter
the gang.

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(150). Before the problem-solving paradigm gave way to structural semiotics, Albert
Cohens Delinquent Boys: The Culture of the Gang (1956) analogously depicted delinquent
subcultures as an ongoing series of efforts to solve intractable emotional problems: tensions, frustrations, resentments, guilt, bitterness, anxiety or hopelessness. Although not
explicitly adopting an affective analytic, Brotherton and Barrios (2004) importantly
define gangs as protective, empowering and immanently (and in the case of ALKQN,
explicitly) political: formed by marginalized youth and adults, the gang aims to provide its members with a resistant identity, an opportunity to be individually and collectively empowered, a voice to speak back to and challenge the dominant cultureand
a spiritual enclave within which its own sacred rituals can be generated and practiced
(23). Another US researcher, Robert Duran, evokes a kindred understanding contending youth street gangs emerge in prideful opposition to inveterate social and economic
exclusion and increasing criminalization of Barrioyouth.
Beyond such accounts, there are good empirical reasons to suggest that this understanding is superior, i.e. integrates various empirical features of the youth street gang
that conflict with existing paradigms when taken wholly. Existing approaches hold
youth street gangs arise, pathologically speaking, from urban disorganization or alternatively from economistic adaptations to social exclusion. Pathology-focused approaches,
however, tend to be agnostic as to the motivations for youth gang membership, comporting a trite bad people come from bad places logic (Matza 1964). Rational actor
models (see Sullivan 1989; Snchez-Jankowski 1991; Padilla 1992; Venkatesh 1997) on
the other hand posit an economic basis for gang membership difficult to sustain in the
face of evidence for the persistence of gangs despite meagre economic returns (see
Levitt and Venkatesh 2000) nor typically resemble entrepreneurial criminal organizations (Fagan 1989; Hagedorn 1994; Curtis 2003; Decker et al. 2008). Neither perspective can account for a constitutive, but yet decidedly non-instrumental, feature of
youth street gangs: their expressive, culturally spectacular character. But although
economic activity is peripheral to most youth street gang life, in Bourgois In Search of
Respect (2003), the acquisition of self-respect, autonomy and pleasure found in his subjects drug dealing behaviourthe commerce of choice for youth street gangsis consistent with, but not the mainstay of, the entities pride generating subcultural praxis.
Modal gang economic activity, low-level drug dealing, is thus perhaps experienced as
an admixture of mild utility augmentation and emotional gratification, accounting
for the degree of economism captured in studies cited above. Youth street gangs can
evolve into complex entrepreneurial organizations or political movements, they are,
after all, open-ended dynamic entitiesbut in doing so depart from gangness and
move towards other criminal/deviant social phenomenon.
A distinctive solution to the problem of shame, thus arguedthough not the only
subcultural oneis the youth street gang. This section seeks to explain how this collective conversionary process culturally originates and subculturally occurs. In the previous discussion, relative deprivation is experienced when generalized (as in partially
accepted by most individuals deviant or no) cultural values of success or status contradict available means, whether involving an objectively low supply of opportunity and/
or subjective unavailability. As argued, the phenomenological content of this experience is shame (i.e. a sense of devaluation), produced across various domains (legal
employment, education and interaction with those of a higher social status). In Part
1: ShamePride Conversion (Figure2), youth street gangs, reflecting their socialization,

MORAN

Parent culture
To understand youth street gangs, as the subcultural tradition suggests, one has to
grasp how they shape and transform the material of their inherited parent culture.
Argued here is that gang culture tailors the communitas (a feeling of social belonging
and togetherness) existing in poor neighbourhoods and extends it to peer interactions
to create distinct and tightly bonded street fraternities that better, and more immediately, serve as sources of affirmationand, hence, pride feeling. The role of parent
culture in this respect is less to transmit historical contradiction to youth subculture
la Willis, and more to as a traditional agent of cultural socializationdisposition formation (leading to a stress on communitarian rather individualistic ethics, i.e. those
expressed in middle classculture of self-realization).
The disintegration of social collectives in poor urban communities may be less widespread than sociological accounts indicate (Wilson 1987; Wacquant 1999). Other urban
research is evocative of an ambient solidarity persisting in low-income neighbourhoods,

Fig.2 Shamepride subcultural conversion: youth street gangs.

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draw upon the ambient values of solidarity and place attachment of their parent culture but transpose these values in their subcultural emphasis on group loyalty. This
communitarian ethic is expressed and iteratively renewed via the gangs symbolic life
and group-affirming conflict. Such mechanisms allow youth to mine allegiance to both
peers and place for its honorific qualities, implying virtue and self-sacrifice, hence producing pride. However, in Part 2: Neutralization, most immediate negative consequences
of gang involvementdeath, injury or prisonwhich may serve to reintroduce shame
and thus undermine the sequence, are additionally neutralized and transmuted by
their interpretation in the solemn, ennobling terms of self-sacrifice, personal fortitude
and group commitment. Thus, the affective schedule of shamepride conversion is
maintained (at least temporarily) against iatrogenic tendencies.
To understand how the youth street gangs subcultural content provides for such
pride generation, we need to begin with the parent culture from which itdraws.

SOCIAL STRUCTURE AND BONHOMIE

Gang subculturalvalues
Just as a cultures of solidarity form in poor neighbourhoods, the constitutive principle
of youth street gang culture is the cultivation of a sense of we-ness as a group ethic
expressed and strengthened through symbolic life and integrative conflictan intensified form of parent culture applied to peer relationships. While the need to belong is
a powerful, fundamental and extremely pervasive motivation (Baumeister and Leary
1995) for all individuals, deviant or no, it is more intensely created and mined for emotional succour and self-conception by those for whom other sources of positive affect,
educational and occupational success and affluence are both limited, as noted above,
nor provide for proximal gains in self-worth. In other youth subcultures such as goth
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enduring beside more anomic and predatory cultures emergent in the wake of social
disorganization. In his The Projects: Gang and Non-gang Families in East Los Angeles, Vigil
describes the sentiment or ethosa sense of neighbourly we-nessthat suffuses relationships within Los Angeles projects (2007). Conquergood portrays life in a poor
Chicago neighbourhood, his ethnographic site, in similar terms: the culture of Big
Red was characterized by an intimacy of interactions across apartments expressing
the various networks that laced together these households (2013: 196). Bourgois briefly
comments on the contrast between the warm social relations in El Barrio and the stuffy
upper-classcommunity in which he grew up: I always appreciated the shared sense of
public space that echoes through Spanish HarlemIn the safe building where Igrew
up downtown, neighbours do not have nicknamesthey usually do not even say hello or
nod an acknowledgement of existence (2003: 35). Similar habits of resilience and solidarity are discussed in Carol Stacks All Our Kin (1974) and Martin Snchez-Jankowskis
excellent Cracks in the Pavement: Social Change and Resilience in Poor Neighborhoods (2008).
The sense of we-ness, long noted as a feature of working-classcommunities (Hoggart
2009), develops in poor urban neighbourhoods for several reasons. The primary is poverty management whereby communities rely on local social capital from which small
portions of economic or in kind support can be gleamed. Such exchanges of tangible
care-giving in turn rely on less tangible but extremely important mutual offerings of
respect and esteem: handshakes, inquires, forms of phatic communion in Malinowskis
sense. Secondly, the sheer density of poor urban living gives a quasi-public character
to private life, resulting in enduring place attachment. Class differences in parenting
styles and leisure play a significant role: with little resources, poor families favour the
accomplishment of natural growth (Lareau 2011), whereby poor children spend more
time than their middle classcounterparts in the public spaces of the neighbourhood,
seeking the amusements afforded by the features of the physical landscape and the local
characters and peers co-inhabiting the area. Such affective bonds to physical and social
setting explain why so many gangs are named after neighbourhood blocks, but never
schools. Finally, we-ness is generated in contrast with the more affluent world beyond
the margins of the neighbourhood and heightened by awareness of relegated socialplacement and a shared experience of scarcity, hardship and dilapidation. This finds
expression in the caged resentment observed by Paul Willis, occasionally produced in
working classcontact with middle classinstitutions (1981). Adistinction between us
and them is all the starker given the daily acknowledgements and courtesies of the
hood and the gruff, frequently fearful, treatment in world outside.

MORAN

(Hodkinson 2002), similar conversionary logics are born out in opposition to parent
culture via rejection of its values and aesthetics, namely stolid suburban conformity
(see Gaines 1998). For lower-class youth, group loyalty is pridefully asserted in contradistinction to middle class values of individualism, an assertion of moral superiority
against recognized status inferiority, as expressed in this dialogue among working-class
youth in MacLeods Aint No Makin It (1995:34):
SLICK: What it is, its a brotherhood down here. Were all fucking brotherswere always here for
each otherwere not like them up there rich little boys from the suburbs or whatever. Theres a
line there. On this side of the line we dont fuck with each other; were tight.

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As Conquergood asserts in a different context, youth street gangs are bonded communitarians where espirit de corps is an overarching goal and a much celebrated achievement of all communication praxis (1993: 24). To enter the gang is to adopt a modus
vivendi of in-group solidarity; much gang behaviour expresses and sustains this communitarian ethic. Similarly, Duran asserts the core ideal of gang life to display loyalty,
an I got your back ethic requisite of membership and whose regular, communicative
iteration creates entrenched solidarity between members (2013: 154). As Brotherton
and Barrios research on the Latin Kings documents, respondents speech is littered
with references to love: Love is everything without love you have nothing. You are
alone, you have no sense of being (2004: 170). A universal salutation among Latin
Kings, Amor de ReyKing Love denotes the love between members in interaction but
also their co-commitment to the broader gang and itsethic.
It is not surprising, then, that most gangs consider themselves a kind of family
(Morales 1992). While some literature treats gangs as surrogate kin, they are not necessarily in conflict with the family; rather, gangs are embedded in familial and community networks that they extend (Conquergood 1993). The preponderance of gang terms
rooted in nurturance and domestic tenderness express these familial-like bonds binding members: they name themselves homeboys, homeys, homz, bloods (1993). For every
menacing nickname (Hit Man, Pit Bull), another expresses affection: Spanky, Teddy
Bear, Baby Face, Little Man, Pee Wee and other such diminutives. The preferred term
of address is bro a term of endearment, communitasand an expression of we-feeling
(Conquergood 1993: 40). As an outsider, it took Conquergood six months of fieldwork
to earn the relation marker of bro, from which it was then used liberally to lend emotional warmth as well as stylistic rhythm to verbal exchanges.
Youth street gangs are a nurturing, familial space, but one which is rooted in the
locality and familiarity of a hood. Loyalty or love is also expressed in terms of gang
members relationship to their neighbourhood. Gang members often see themselves
as symbolically representing their neighbourhood (Papachristos 2013), frequently tattooing its name on their skin. As one youth gang respondent characterized her tattoo:
When youre in your hood, you love your hood. So you love it enough to put it on you.
(Harris 1994: 299). In Los Angeles Chicano gangs, the word mi barrio refers equally
to my gang and my neighbourhood (Moore etal. 1978). In New York City, the ritual
interrogation, Where you from? may serve as a precursor for violent encounter where
it is taken that each side is representing the honour of their neighbourhood (Garot
2007).
Such urban gemeinschaft forms a counterpoint for youth humiliated by their relegated
social position by providing them with a sense of community, identity and prestigethe

SOCIAL STRUCTURE AND BONHOMIE

Part 1: Conversion
Symbol
Criminal enterprises, such as the Mafia or Camorrah, are known for secrecy and oaths
of silence, communicating through a private language of codes and symbols (Gambetta
2011). Gang members, by contrast, publicly declare their gang identities proudly displaying graffiti, symbolic mixes of clothing, verbal cues, hand gestures, bodily comportment and markings and ever-expanding systems of argot. This signification is generally
referred to as reppin or representing which works to subculturally inscribe Part 1
processes of shamepride conversion in regularized cultural patterns. Reppin is the
performance of two acts: one, to publicly communicate and project the gang to others
and, two, as rituals of integration and boundary maintenance, a studied camaraderie
that functions as presentation of self as one with the group. Indeed street gangs often
adopt a distinguishing colour in the same way that sports teams and nations deploy
totemic colours in their flags and insignias (Conquergood 1994). Gangs refer to their
colours in ennobling referents: for instance, Latin Kings say black stands for the strong
dominant colour of the earth and gold for the shining, glowing radiance of thesun.
Although publically communicated, gang reppin is often deliberately opaque,
densely layered evolving semiotics dividing the literate insider from the uninitiated, a
web of symbols and meanings pulled together all the more tightly against an outside
world that was emphatically other (201). Conquergood describes reppin as a form of
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components of psychic well-being (Furman 1998). But why is this so? First, understanding why loyalty generates positive affect requires grasping the moral dimensions of
commitment, the I got you ethic. Moral philosophers have speculated that intimate
relationships carry a positive moral valence, The deeper and stronger concern for the
friendthe greater degree of moral worth (Blum 2009: 48). Exhibitions of appropriate
loyalty reflect virtuous character and moral integrity that are sources of self-pride and
esteem. Social parallels of the strong moral quality of solidarity can be found in other
deviant subcultures such as the convict code or the stop snitching movement (Smiley
2014: 1), which aside from instrumental purposes (i.e. keeping information from the
police), steadfast faithfulness simultaneously confers an honorific quality to the bearer
(especially if this involves sacrificing their own interests, etc.). Conventional examples abound in this loyalty as virtue family: sporting allegiances and religious faith,
neither which, at least for grass-roots adherents, afford any instrumental dividends,
but whose social inveteracy can perhaps be explained by their variegated emotional
returns. Conquergood argues, e.g., youth street gang culture devotion mirrors broader
notions of patriotism (1994). Indeed, as noted by Bourdieu, actors in gift-economies
generate symbolic capital via demonstration of disinterest (1977) also implied in loyalty, whereby cycles of self-less giving confer and reproduce social prestige. Second, in
terms of receiving loyalty, as noted above, belonging, regard and support aid and their
arousal positive feeling are a powerful, fundamental and extremely pervasive motivation (Baumeister and Leary 1995). Through these means, youth street gang members,
to borrow from Garfinkel, engage in successful elevation ceremonies and street apotheosis. How this communitarian ethic is communicated and compounded is the topic of
the next, and last, subsection.

MORAN

Violence
A connection between gangs and violence is difficult to dispute: superficially, this might
seem to contradict the claim that gangs are objects of intense, ritualized communitas.
However, a link between violence and the communitas of gang life can be plausibly made.
As noted by Thrasher, gangs are conflictually constituted and violence is a vital resource
for group construction. Adversity is minded for its integrative and uplifting properties (see
Durkheim 1938; Coser 1956), forming the second element of Part 1 conversionary process.
In his research on the Little Village project in Chicago, Spergel specifies various
forms of gang violence: Drivebys, factional disputes, inter-gang fights, plans and
preparations for fights, graffiti forays, torching of opposing gang members property
(especially vehicles), sporadic non-gang related batteries, robberies and other criminal
occurrences were known to the youth workers (2003: 5.10). Gang conflict is typically
directed at two targets: rival gangs and the police. Elements of parent culture, the
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secular prayer, the coaching of an attitude by the use of mimetic and verbal language:
here, the attitude conveyed through the representational practices of the hood is that
of loving, commitment and bonding. Gangs frequently use elaborate and stylized rites
of greeting, salutation and leave-taking. Most have their own specific and elaborately
choreographed rites of handshaking which performatively enact communal bonding
and are conducted in large crowds despite their time-consuming nature. For example, Latin Kings shake on the crown, a graceful series of co-performed hand gestures
that digitally represent the Latin King crown, a centrepiece of King iconography. This
rite culminates with both partners throwing their fist across their heart kissing their
fingertips, and tapping their hearts with the tips of fingers extended in the shape of a
crown (1993: 41). According to Conquergood, these rituals of phatic communication
texture street life into a tightly knit fabric of familiarity, denoting the special sacred status of their enactors, ritually affirm belonging and worth in counterpoint to the legion
exclusions and relegations visited on poor youth by the outsideworld.
Gangs also extensively use graffiti to inscribe the urban landscape with elaborate,
complex, deeply meaningful symbolism (Conquergood 1993) that discursively transforms a neighbourhood into a distinctly familiar lifeworld (De Certeau 2011). Atranslation of ambient place attachment, gang graffiti marks an ennobled constituency and
identification with a particular space or section of the city (parks, streets, neighbourhoods, public housing projects) (Adams and Winter 1997). Graffiti typically contains supportive inner-directed messages at the core but increasingly hostile and outer-directed
ones towards the boundaries (Ley and Cybriwsky 1974; Romotsky and Romotsky 1974).
While gang names are most often represented, they are often accompanied by a register
of friends (a list of gang affiliates). Perhaps most sacred of all are graffiti that eulogize
dead members (Conquergood 1994). Although gang graffiti expresses alliances, it also
ritually denigrates other gangs, often through forays into rival territory to challenge the
resident gangs respect by penetrating and marking their walls. One commonly deployed
insult is crossing out a rival gangs utterance by drawing a line through or writing over it
with ones own gangs name or initials (Adams and Winter 1997). Other insults come in
varied forms from simple slurs through elaborate play of words on rival gang names to
desecrating their symbols. Such slurring is interactivecross outs, inverting rival gangs
symbolsa form of linguistic, ritually traded one-up manship.

SOCIAL STRUCTURE AND BONHOMIE

Part 2: Neutralization
As so wonderfully forwarded in Matzas purposeful, but yet open-ended conception of
human behaviour, subcultural solutions do not necessarily permanently or definitively
resolve the problemsshame as analysed herethey are directed to. As has been argued
above in terms of social mobility, they may, in fact, create additional problems for their
bearers. For a further example, take male gaming subcultures (Trekkies, World of
Warcraft or Dungeons and Dragons players), currently understudied by criminologists.
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construction of identity through the production of us versus a myriad thems, manifest in both contexts. Violence serves as a means of upholding neighbourhood honour
vis--vis rival gangs. Then too, as representatives of a hostile and indifferent world outside the hood, the police serve as a means for proxy defiance of the alien codes of the
broader society, which occasionally penetrate the social space of the neighbourhood.
In both instances, violence is a key for the production and maintenance of in-group
solidarity.
But how precisely does this work also generate pride? The majority of cases of gang violence
result from fights over expressive not economic stakes (Hughes and Short 2005). More generally, public violence is a means for individual status enhancement (hence positive affect),
the grist for masculine symbolic capital consistent with lower and working classvaluation of
toughness (Miller 1958). Likewise, observations have shown that gang violence is frequently
initiated in response to status threats, especially about the respect or honour one deserves as a
leader, as a male, as a member of a particular gang, or as an aspiring adult (Short, 1965: 162).
For example, most serious violence conducted by gang members is gun related (Bjereegaard
and Lizotte 1995). Beside instrumental purposes (i.e. self-protection, increased potency), guns
have expressive value (Fagan and Wilkinson 1998), furnishing the means by which otherwise
mundane phenomena are transformed into the stuff of mortal challenge. In one research
study, a gang member said of gun possession: When Ihave a gun, Ifeel like Im on top of it,
like Im Superman or some-thing (Stretesky and Pogrebin 2007: 106). Katz argues that serious
violence is essential so that membership in a gang will have a seductively glorious, rather than a
mundane, significance (1988). Violence has the instrumental value of stimulating metaphors
that make the group a real presence as a force of sovereign rulers(132).
The gang thus encompasses individual status campaigning but endows them with additional expressive significance, hence affective potency. Again, in violent contests, gang
members frequently view themselves as symbolically representing their neighbourhoods
(see Papachristos 2013)whereby their violence, in subcultural transubstantiation,
acquires an altruistic, honorific quality. For Conquergood, gang conflict serves to imbue
the lifeworld of the gang with metaphoric (and affective) valence: street-fighting both
contests and clarifies boundaries and becomes the rhetorical grist for self-defining and
culture-celebrating narratives (1994). In more precise terms, specific instances of gang
conflict, whether as victims or perpetrators, instantiate what Durkheim named public
temper. A milder form of collective effervescence, public temper, emerges from synchronized attention to commonly interpreted events (whether victories or violations), a harmonization and, hence, intensification of affect. Such events mobilize and strengthen the
one for all, all for one ethic invoking collective honour and sentiment. Conflict is thus
the master narrative that mobilizes and uplifts local incidents and particular actors on to
a sacred plane of meaning, memory and motivation (Conquergood 1994: 200).

MORAN

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Although they afford an escape into imaginary and virtual worlds of adventure and
achieved stature (as well as a sense of community and acceptance) against the lowstatus ascription in terms of more worldly standards of looksism (Chancer 1998) and
sporting prowess, they may inhibit adult romantic relationships, conflicting as the obscurata of fantasy worlds do with the manly sociability expected in the sexual market.
So too in the youth street gang. Although grossly inflated by both mediatic depiction
and academic engrossment, violence forms a constituent feature of pride generation in
youth street gangs and is found in diverse demographic and geographic manifestations
of the social phenomenon.
Proposed here is that an additional subcultural mechanism, adjuncting shamepride
sequences, exists within the youth street gang, that of neutralization serving to mitigate
feelings of shame/guilt arising from the costs of gang violence: imprisonment, injury
or the death of others. This mechanism sustains a calculus whereby the affective profits
of violence outweigh (at least in the short term) its affective costs. Gang members ability to countenance negative life consequences of membershipone being a dramatically higher risk of violent victimizationis evidenced in that gang members feel less
anxious about future victimization compared with non-gang peers (Decker etal. 2008;
Taylor etal. 2008). But why is violence so unproblematic for youth street gang members?
Whereas mechanisms of shamepride conversion exemplified above in terms of male
gaming subcultures create problem as they resolve them, youth street gang subculture,
centred on moral properties of loyalty and espirit de corps, in which loyaltys honorific
properties are evoked and expressed through violence, generates potentially conversionary destabilizing behaviours: shame, guilt, physical injury, lossviolences side
effects which in turn neutralized via the same subcultural content. Thus, youth gang
subculture not only sublimates negative shame feelings into positive pride feelings as
described in Part 1Conversion but also, in an analytically separate way, insulates
gang members self from affective repercussions of deviant acts as described in Part
2Neutralization: expressions/acts/ethos of loyalty are emotionally and ontologically
uplifting, but they neutralize negative feelings when a criminal act is undertaken, la
Matza, in their appeal to higher loyalty (1964). Imprisonment, on the other hand, can
simply connect youths with other perhaps more hardened gang members, readymade
allies in the compacted world of the prison (Moore etal. 1983), or as one Detroit gang
member asserted: A lot of dudes like prison because its where all their boys is (Taylor
1990: 52). Another study by Moore and colleagues found a continuity in group values
between neighbourhood and prison, which among other aspects, referred to the allocation of respect (1978). Even when resulting in death violence symbolically transmutes
and affords group renewal. Willingness to face death is an immeasurably potent signifier of group commitment and collective attachment to peer and place. As earlier,
fallen gang members are commemorated in stylized eulogies, embellished with honorific insignia akin to war memorials. At wakes, funerals and gravesites of gang members,
this violence is rhetorically transmuted through the solemnizing, and ennobling, spirit
of sacrifice and communion in collective loss (Conquergood 1994:202).
Thus, the conversionary effect of youth street gang subculture is protected from
threats that it itself creates, perhaps accounting in part for the longevity and pandemic
quality of gangs despite their frequently ruinous effects. In this sense, this is why this
particular subcultural content is so useful for gang members because not only does it
sublimate negative emotions issuing from experience of relative deprivation but also

SOCIAL STRUCTURE AND BONHOMIE

neutralizes the threats to self generated by the deviant acts this sublimation itself calls
forth.
Conclusion

Acknowledgement
The author wishes to thank two people, without whom this article would not have been
written. David C. Brotherton for creating an intellectual space beyond pathological
conceptions of gangs and Lynn S. Chancer, whose unstinting attention and intellectual
acumen help guide this article from draft to draft to its final form.
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