In sociology, deviance refers to any action or conduct that violates societal norms. It also refers to a state or condition noticeably different from the norm (Dotter, 2004, p.26). Sociologists examine how society forms its norms, imposes them, as well as how they transform over time.
Norms refer to rules and regulations in a society that guide the behavior of people. Social norms vary because of the different cultures in the society (Dotter, 2004, p.29). This means that a deviant act in one society can have a different explanation and meaning in another society. Sociologists have identified various explanations of deviance in the context of social norms.
The first explanation identifies deviance as anything that members of a social group consider being against their values (Dotter, 2004, p.34). The second explanation identifies deviance as a contradiction of standards set by a group or society. The third explanation describes deviance as behavior that contradicts the agreed meaning of allowed and disallowed behavior followed by members of a group (Dotter, 2004, p.39).
The fourth explanation identifies deviance as any behavior that ceases to apply in norms of a social unit due to losses of any kind. The final explanation argues that deviance is any conduct intolerable by a social unit beyond certain limits (Dotter, 2004, p.44). Deviance occurs in the form of behaviors such as crime, discrimination such as racism and conditions such as dwarfism.
A youth gang refers to a group of young people who engage in illegal activities and as a result, collide with law enforcement institutions (Covey, 2010, p.45). Gangs establish themselves in vacuums identified in the society and the economy. Youth gangs are usually large, organized in a complicated manner, have access to weapons and most members fall below the legal age (Covey, 2010, p.50).
Young people join gangs due to various reasons that mostly relate to social and economic factors. Some of the factors that influence young people to join gangs include lack of cohesiveness in their families, peer pressure, economic needs, need for friendship and the psychological needs (Chaskin, 2010, p.30).
Natural role models like parents, grandparents and older siblings are usually absent from the lives of these youths who end up with no one to guide them (Covey, 2010, p.54). Factors such as poor social skills and unfriendly attitudes influence significantly on the emergence and development of youth gangs. Most young people who find solace in gangs have a history of unfulfilling relationships prior to joining the gangs (Covey, 2010, p.57).
Youth gangs have three diverse divisions. The first division is the corporate gangs whose main aim is to make money (Chaskin, 2010, p.42). The main features of corporate gangs are division of labor, a vertical hierarchy of command and group violence.
The second division is territorial gangs that focus on possessing territories (Chaskin, 2010, p.45). The main features of this gang include good organization and a flat hierarchy of command that has limited control over individual members in the gang. The third division is the scavenger gangs with little organization (Chaskin, 2010, p.49).
They engage in unprecedented crimes since the desire to have an identity is their only motivation. This means that the gang operates with no clearly defined leadership and objectives. Gang membership entails commitment, trust, secrecy and the spirit of unity (Chaskin, 2010, p.53). Youth gangs are usually targets of terror groups that recruit and use them to perpetuate social injustice in the society.
Gangs operate mostly in urban areas due to high number of people and harsh economic conditions (Short and Hughes, 2006, p.34). However, due to pressure from law enforcement forces, gangs are also developing in rural and semi urban areas. Another factor that encourages gangs to move their operations to rural and semi urban areas is expanding markets for drugs and other illegal substances (Short and Hughes, 2006, p.39).
Street gangs are slowly introducing their operations in colleges and universities as they target students in need of quick money. Gangs usually target each other when expanding their territories and distribution channels. Gangs apply violence to ensure that all members in the gang adhere to their rules and code of conduct (Short and Hughes, 2006, p.43). This makes it hard for any member to leave the gang. Most gangs lose members in line of duty through shooting or arrests by police.
Social Problems of Youth Gangs
Social problems caused by youth gangs have attracted the attention of many people in the society. Many strategies apply towards getting solutions to this problem. Youth gangs are causing congestion in prisons (Spergel, 1995, p.103). This results in the government apportioning more resources to prisons and security services in the country.
Another problem is lack of respect for humanity as shown in their violent activities (Spergel, 1995, p.108). Gang crime has led to disruption of cohesion in families and society. Families break up every time through deaths and migration due to security threats from gangs (Spergel, 1995, p.114). Youth gangs have influenced culture in societies in a negative manner. Some youth gangs form and operate within racial lines.
This influences the culture of their society negatively because members from different races despise each other. Another problem associated with youth gangs is loss of potential (Spergel, 1995, p.116). Some of the young people who involve themselves with youth gangs have potential to achieve enormous things in the corporate world. However, due to numerous challenges in the society, they fail to fulfill their potential.
Youth gangs also instill fear of experiencing crime among citizens (Spergel, 1995, p.120). This affects the working environment in the country, and as a result, many investors fail to implement their projects. Gang violence has ripple effects on a country’s economic prosperity.
Youth gangs deny people their right to freedom of movement. Most neighborhoods experience gang violence, and people find it hard going to some areas for fear of victimization by the gangs. People who witness crime experience psychological problems that affect them throughout their lives (Spergel, 1995, p.129).
Youth gangs pose a serious threat to development in societies and countries that accommodate their activities. Crime is one of the deviant activities in a society that affects collective harmony and social development.
Gangs establish themselves in vacuums that they identify in the society and the economy. Some of the factors that influence young people to join gangs include lack of family unity, pressure to fit in, economic needs, social needs and the psychological needs. Solving the problem of youth gangs is extremely challenging due to the manner of their operations and organization.
However, the most effective way of handling the social problems caused by youth gangs is to counter the strategies that they apply to recruit new members. This is possible if young people receive good guidance and mentorship from a young age. This will give them more options to succeed in life and fulfilling their potentials. Helping the youth to identify and develop their talents can effectively solve the problem of youth gangs.
Covey, H. (2010). Street Gangs throughout the World. New York: Charles C Thomas Publisher.
Chaskin, R. (2010). Youth Gangs and Community Intervention: Research, Practice, and Evidence. New York: Columbia University Press.
Dotter, D. (2004). Creating Deviance: An Interactionist Approach. New York: Rowman Altamira.
Short, J., and Hughes, L. (2006). Studying Youth Gangs. New York: Rowman Altamira.
Spergel, I. (1995). The Youth Gang Problem: A Community Approach. California: Oxford University Press.