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Presentation to the British Society of Criminology, Cardiff, June 2009 Researching Gangs in Glasgow: A Critical Dialogue of Method, Subject and Object Alistair Fraser and Colin Atkinson Department of Sociology and Anthropology University of Glasgow
Overview Ethnographic exploration of a community in the east end of Glasgow; young people’s understandings and experiences of gang behaviour. East end of Glasgow: history of deindustrialisation, re-housing, regeneration; construction of gangs, violence and alcoholism. Gang literature fixated on narrow definitions of gangs; removed from lives of children and young people (Hallsworth 2008, Hagedorn 2008). Gangs in east end loose collections of young people; divergent from stereotype of organised, cohesive criminal groups.
Overview Qualitative study of police officers and civilian police staff involved in the (intelligence-led) policing of young people in the east end. Police research overly fixated on ‘visible’ policing (Foster 2003, Cope 2004). Creative, critical dialogue between two independent, overlapping research projects by two separate PhD students. (Gouldner 1968, O’Brien 2005).
The Critical Dialogue: Key Points 1.Official definitions of ‘gangs’ are divergent from street understandings. 2. The power to define, however, rests with police intelligence workers. 3. Police intelligence fails to capture the fluidity of young people’s gang identities. 4. The consequences of this process may be harmful to young people and the police.
1. Official definitions of ‘gangs’ are divergent from street understandings “We are part of a gang; Strathclyde Police is a massive gang.” Senior police officer, VRU “I’m part of a gang; a gang of police officers and analysts and managers and professionals and administration officers, a whole pile of people. A gang is a collective group of people. I don’t think it matters whether it’s in a gang culture [or] a policing culture.” Senior police officer, CIRV “A relatively durable, predominantly street-based group of young people who: (1) see themselves (and are seen by others) as a discernible group, (2) engage in a range of criminal activity and violence, (3) identify with or lay claim over territory, (4) have some form of identifying structural feature, and (5) are in conflict with other, similar, gangs.” Police definitions
1. Official definitions of ‘gangs’ are divergent from street understandings For some young people, the gang is ‘jist a name fir a place’ – representative of area identity. Rather than being fixed, static and criminal, gang identities may be fluid, fleeting and age-specific. Official definitions involving ‘structure’ are divergent from these complexities. AF: What do you understand a gang to be? Julie (17): Jist pals really. It is. Jist people that stay in the same scheme that talk. Pamela (17): An that back each other up. Young people’s definitions AF: What’s a gang then? Dylan (15): Group ae friends. James (14) : Group ae boys. Fighting.
2. The power to define, however, rests with police intelligence workers. “The cops most of the time tend to put this information into the [intelligence] database and then we use our judgement maybe to put them in [a gang] or not….” Intelligence analyst, east end of Glasgow “We actually know whose doing what and who’s there for whatever reason because they’re actually organising stuff through the bebo sites, and myspace and profileheaven where they’ve organised what they are going to do so it’s the intelligence-led policing side of it.” Police campus officer, east end of Glasgow Intelligence source Police officer, informant, open source, communications, member of public Intelligence officer Process of sanitisation, assessment and dissemination Done by police officer Analysis Intelligence selected and synthesised into new product Done by civilian staff Dissemination Adds meaning to data, intelligence selected and synthesised into new product
3. Police intelligence fails to capture the fluidity of young people’s gang identities. ‘Gang’ signs and symbols used in play by young children (<12), and group identity by younger teenagers (12-16). Likely to be used by younger teenagers to communicate an area identity and cultural capital, locally or on-line. Police intelligence fails to capture this fluidity, and crystallises gang identities through interpretation of these symbols. AF: How do you know about all these different gangs? Gary (15): Profile Heaven, Yahoo an aw that. They write aw their names. AF: Why do you write YLF1 after your name? Kev (16) : Cos that’s where ye’re fae. Young people’s gang identities
4. The consequences of this process may be harmful to young people and the police 1)Police misidentify and mislabel some young people as ‘gang-members’. 2)Adds to media image of ‘gang problem’ in the east end. 3)More intensive (intelligence-led) policing on young people in the east end. 4)Fosters ‘gang complex’ in academic, policy, and popular discourse.
Concluding Comments Moving ‘beyond the gang’: understanding complexities of young people’s gang identities, and the wider machinery of the ‘gang complex’. Moving ‘beyond cop culture’: exploring the diverse range of actors and structures involved in intelligence-led policing in Scotland. Towards a ‘critical ethnography’: use of dialogue in research.