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Deviance and Gang Culture

Research QuestionHow does gang culture in the United States contribute to deviant behavior among its members, and how can this behavior be curbed?

Deviance is a behavior that violates social norms, which are established rules of conduct within a society. Gang culture is an example of deviance, where members of a group adhere to a specific code of conduct that is viewed as unacceptable by mainstream society. Gang members often engage in criminal activities, such as drug trafficking and violent acts, which can harm their members and the entire community.

In the US, the presence of gang culture can lead to a variety of deviant behaviors among its members. This is because gangs often operate outside of the law and therefore have little regard for traditional social norms. Gangs are typically formed by individuals who feel excluded from mainstream society, and their culture often revolves around violence, crime, and drug use (Akrivos & Antoniou, 2019). While gangs may provide a sense of belonging and security for their members, they often lead to various negative consequences, including deviant behaviors. One of the key ways in which gang culture contributes to deviant behavior is by encouraging members to participate in criminal activities. Gangs often require members to engage in criminal activity to prove their loyalty and earn respect within the group. This type of behavior is often seen as a way to gain status and power within the gang, and as a result, members may become more likely to engage in criminal activities to gain status. This can lead to increased criminal behavior, such as robbery, assault, and drug trafficking, among gang members.

Another way in which gang culture contributes to deviant behavior is through the influence of peer pressure. Gangs rely heavily on conformity and peer pressure to maintain their structure and enforce their rules. This can lead to members feeling pressured to engage in activities that are seen as socially unacceptable, such as drug use or violence. This can lead to a cycle of deviant behavior that can be hard to break without external intervention. Gangs also play a role in the normalization of deviant behavior. The presence of gangs can often lead to the acceptance of certain behaviors as standard, such as drug use or violence, by community members (Ziyanak, 2022). This can make it easier for gang members to engage in such activities without fear of repercussions, as they may be seen as an accepted part of the gang culture. Gang culture can also lead to deviant behavior by promoting a culture of violence. Gangs often promote violence as a way to resolve conflicts and can even use violence as a tool to intimidate other gangs or individuals. This type of behavior can lead to severe consequences and can result in an increase in violent crime in the surrounding area.

The social construction of deviance in Gang Culture is complex and multifaceted. Deviance is generally understood to refer to behaviors and activities that society or particular groups deem to be unacceptable or wrong. In the context of Gang Culture, deviance is often framed by the over-representation of members in crime and other forms of illegal activity. This framing of deviance is further complicated by the fact that there are wide variations in the perceptions of what is considered to be deviant and what is not. The social construction of deviance in Gang Culture is often shaped and influenced by the media, which portrays gang members negatively and highlights their involvement in criminal activities. This has resulted in ‘moral panic’ in which the public perceives gang members as a threat to society and in need of control. This has led to certain forms of deviance, such as drug use and violence, being seen as a ‘necessary evil’ and a means of maintaining order in the gang.

In addition to the media, public policy has also contributed to the social construction of deviance in Gang Culture. The introduction of ‘zero-tolerance’ approaches to crime and criminalizing certain behaviors has resulted in a situation where gang members are often seen as ‘the bad guys and treated differently from other groups in society. This has resulted in ‘exclusion’ in which gang members are seen as ‘outsiders’ and excluded from mainstream society. Finally, the social construction of deviance in Gang Culture is also affected by how gang members interact. The norms of behavior within the gang can often be different from those of society as a whole, with certain activities being viewed as acceptable, which would otherwise be seen as deviant. This can lead to an ‘in-group’ mentality in which gang members have different standards of behavior and values to those of the wider society.

The Social Control Theory proposed by Travis Hirschi is a valuable tool for understanding deviance and gang culture. This theory states that a lack of attachment, commitment, involvement, and belief in societal values causes deviance. In other words, the theory suggests that when individuals reject the values of their society, they are more likely to engage in deviant behavior. In the context of deviance and gang culture, the Social Control Theory can help explain why some individuals join gangs and engage in criminal activities. For example, when individuals lack meaningful connections to family, school, or other authority figures, they may be more likely to seek out other individuals with similar values and interests. This could lead to gang formation, which provides members with a sense of belonging, identity, and purpose. Gangs may also provide rewards for engaging in deviant behavior, such as money and status.

In addition to the Social Control Theory, other theories can be applied to deviance and gang culture. For example, the Social Learning Theory proposed by Albert Bandura suggests that deviant behavior can be learned through observation and imitation. This could explain why gang members are often exposed to criminal behavior through family or peers and learn to engage in similar activities. Similarly, the Strain Theory developed by Robert Merton suggests that individuals may engage in deviant behavior due to the inability to achieve socially accepted goals. This could explain why some individuals join gangs to access resources or status they would otherwise not have access to.

The impact of deviant behavior on gang members can be seen in their personal and social lives. They are likely to suffer from mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress disorder, which can lead to other criminal behavior. Additionally, they may experience social isolation, leading to a lack of meaningful relationships and a sense of disconnectedness from the rest of society.

The effects of gang culture on society are also significant. Communities affected by gang activity often experience higher crime rates and decreased quality of life. Furthermore, the presence of gangs can create an atmosphere of fear and mistrust, which can lead to a breakdown in community cohesion (Lauger & Rivera, 2022). Additionally, these communities may be more prone to poverty and social inequality due to the illegal activities of the gangs. The economic costs of deviant behavior can be immense. The costs of law enforcement, court proceedings, and incarceration, as well as the potential loss of revenue due to decreased tourism, can all contribute to a major financial burden for the affected communities. Furthermore, businesses may be affected due to the presence of gangs, as their activities can lead to a decrease in consumer spending.

Deviance and gang culture can be a source of both fear and danger in society (Pyrooz & Moule Jr, 2019). It can lead to the proliferation of criminal activities and put people’s lives at risk. Therefore, it is important to address how deviance and gang culture can be effectively curbed. One way to tackle deviance and gang culture is through enforcement of the law. In order to prevent the spread of criminal activities, it is necessary to impose strict regulations and laws to deter people from participating in deviant and gang-related behavior. It is also important to ensure that these laws are properly enforced, as this will serve as a deterrent for those considering engaging in illegal activities. Furthermore, law enforcement should be proactive in targeting known gangs and their members, as this can help to reduce the presence of such criminal organizations.

Another way to address the issue of deviance and gang culture is to invest in preventative measures. It is necessary to provide educational and recreational opportunities to young people in order to give them alternatives to joining gangs. This could include job training programs, mentorship programs, and other activities that can help to engage young people in positive activities. Additionally, providing resources to at-risk communities, such as access to healthcare and mental health services, can help to create a more stable environment and reduce the appeal of gang participation. Thirdly, it is important to create a sense of community and belonging among members of these at-risk communities. Often, gang involvement is driven by a need for belonging and an environment of acceptance. Therefore, it is necessary to create meaningful opportunities for people to engage with each other and build strong relationships. This could be through community events or initiatives, or by providing support services that facilitate strong connections between members of the community.

Finally, there must be an emphasis placed on the rehabilitation of those who have already become involved in deviance and gang culture (Sánchez-Jankowski, 2018). This could involve providing resources for those looking to transition out of these activities, as well as providing access to education and job training opportunities. It is also important to provide support to those who have been affected by gang-related violence, such as victims and their families. By providing these resources, it is possible to reduce the risk of re-offending and help those affected by gang-related activity to rebuild their lives.


Akrivos, D., & Antoniou, A. K. (2019). Crime, deviance and popular culture: international and multidisciplinary perspectives. Palgrave Macmillan.

Ziyanak, S. (2022). Understanding deviance, crime, social control, and mass media: the construction of social order. Hamilton Books.

Sánchez-Jankowski, M. (2018). Gangs, culture, and society in the United States. In Outlaw motorcycle clubs and street gangs (pp. 25-43). Palgrave Macmillan, Cham.

Pyrooz, D. C., & Moule Jr, R. K. (2019). Gangs and social media. In Oxford research encyclopedia of criminology and criminal justice.

Lauger, T. R., & Rivera, C. J. (2022). Banging while Believing: The Intersection of Religiosity, Gang Membership, and Violence. Social Problems.


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