Youth gang identification: learning and social development in restricted geographies

Published: October 2010

Delinquent youth groups, or gangs, have held a longstanding presence in Scotland as elsewhere in the United Kingdom.  The behaviours of youth gangs, inclusive of violent conflict, are known to lead to a series of negative outcomes for participants (Bennett and Holloway, 2004; Bradshaw, 2005) and provoke anxiety in the wider community (Wood, 2004).  Less well documented has been the impact of youth gangs on the majority of children and young people who do not directly participate in their behaviours, though there is some evidence that youth gangs provoke anxiety amongst this group also (Mori Scotland, 2003).  It is hardly surprising, therefore, that youth gangs
have prompted a concerted endeavour designed to eradicate their existence.  The longevity of youth gangs provokes a series of questions.  What factors serve to influence children’s identification with, and participation in, youth gangs? Specifically, to what extent are young people aware of the negative outcomes associated with participation in youth gangs?  And, what factors
serve to downplay the significance of these risks? Crucially, how do the majority of children and young people (who do not participate in youth gangs) identify with youth gangs? And, how do youth gangs impact upon their lives?
This paper, drawing on data gathered in Glasgow and generated in a wider study of young people and territoriality in British cities (Kintrea et al, 2008), offers some tentative insights into these questions.  We observe that youth gang identification is learned.  Moreover, that the nature and interpretation of this learning is framed by the young person’s social development, and
by their progression from childhood to adolescence.  In Glasgow, youth gangs have strong territorial identities that are closely tied to particular neighbourhoods. The consequent restricted geographies (of movement and resource) experienced by both gang members and non-gang members alike, further serve to shape the qualities of youth gang identification.

Authors / Editors

Professor Alistair Fraser

University of Glasgow

Research Themes

Young People and Youth Justice