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This essay will refer to the contemporary British gang research, and explore existence of gang problem in Britain. Britain has been seeing a rise in group offending. This essay will review research on group offending in the light of issues of gangs in Britain. It will attempt to understand the nature of gang research by reviewing the activity or structure of the group.

McLean (2019) states that the popular discourse is that British gangs are inclining more towards organising gangs as a means gang business, which in turn aids their proliferation. However, the alternative argument is that this wide belief is driven by media, political bodies, and law enforcement bodies (McLean, 2019). This view is also supported by Harding (2014). He stated that the UK media discussion had produced a highly politicised debate since the late 1990 about the existence of the street gangs. Even reports about the issue started emerging from the local practitioners and youth workers, mostly related to drug markers, street robbery and knife crimes, which led to police operations such operation Crome. He, however, traced the source of such offences and violence not on the youth culture, fashion or music but on deprived opportunities, poverty and other criminal activities like drug dealing (Harding, 2014).

Scepticism of academic community

They are opposed to this belief generated by the media, political bodies, and law enforcement. They is sceptical in regard to the defining a gang and to the issue of whether criminal behaviour should be included as an intrinsic feature of that definition. In this light, academic research is divided into two opposite views. The first group of research goes with the belief that gangs are currently been organised as a means for business and for proliferation running across the country. The second group opposes this view. The existence of the two groups also reflects a view that the public belief and knowledge about gang is based on the representation, agenda, and assumption made by the media and agencies and not on actual empirical research conducted on the ground. This split of view remains and there is no coherent process of determining whether a group of people could be classified a gang and resemble the media or agency representation of being a gang (McLean, 2019). Considering the incoherent nature of the process, this essay explores the debate about whether gang problem exists in Britain or not.

Problem of defining “gang”

The common feature of a gang comprises two or more individuals associated and classified as groups to engage in offending (McLean, 2019). This represents a collective nature of a group of people that could pose risks and dangers. This, however, presents a permissive notion of a “gang”. Hallsworth and Young argue this notion could be evoked in multiple manners that could create problem in defining what a gang is or is not. They state that the concept about the gangs that the general population possess is derived from the gang culture observed in the US. In the US, gangs are considered the main cause of crime in inner city barrios. They are highly organised and ritualised and are ethnically based such as the Latin Kings, Cripps or the Bloods (Hallsworth & Young, 2008). In recent times since the later 1990s, the US saw emergence of hybrid gangs that have a mix of different races and ethnicities, for example the Los Angeles 18th Street gang (Howell, 2012).

Debate about existence of gangs in Britain

Hallsworth and Young (2008) argue that situation in Britain is different than those in the US. Britain is not home to gangs such as those in the US. They explore the issue of whether a collective of young people could be described as a gang or not. They play caution in representing the notion that collectives of youth do not consequently result to crime and anti-social behaviour (Hallsworth & Young, 2008). This view is particularly relevant in context to the recent rise in attention to street gangs given by scholars and criminal justice officials in an attempt to understand and also counteract effects of gang membership. However, despite this increased attention, there is a fundamental issue of coming to an agreed definition of the term “gang”. This calls for a multidisciplinary approach (Wood & Alleyne, 2010). Viewpoints put forth by Hallsworth and Young (2008) would offer some perspective here. They explore the issue of whether a collective of young people could be described as a gang or not. They play caution in representing the notion that collectives of youth do not consequently result to crime and anti-social behaviour. Such collective nature is derived from the social environment they belong. They have a mundane life and in order to escape for it, they reconstruct their street world. In this light, they state that most of the crime perpetrated in inner city areas could not likely be that of the gangs (Hallsworth & Young, 2008).

In reality, the collective actions do not involve violence. This is, at the same time, not to deny fights amongst the groups. They also present another group of young people who are involved in collective violence and other acquisitive crime. For such group, it would be appropriate to describe then as “gangs”, who are identifiable as delinquents and could potential pose problems for others. Even at the level of the form that these groups conduct themselves, it cannot be at characterised as that of the gangs in the US. Hallsworth and Young (2008) identify a problem associated with this group. The macho culture that they identify themselves with cannot be stable, which consequently losses the business imperatives (Hallsworth & Young, 2008). Thus, if gang has to be defined as a means of business, the collective groups existing in Britain cannot be termed gangs at all.

Youth gang exists?

Debate about existence of gangs in Britain could be further extended by referring to the issue of whether youth gang is really a problem. The same observation regarding presentation of the problem by media and other agencies and the sceptical view of the academic community exists. Pitts (2011) states that the contemporary argument around violent youth gangs is similar to the moral panics created around “teddy boys” in 1950s or the punks in 1970s. Such moral panics represent anxiety of adult population and media. It has not much to do with the behaviour of the young people. Criminal justice system creates a drama out of the problem and generates anxiety and panic. Such generation of drama and concerns is to firstly generate resources and political influence. They are generated by media, state and agencies to intrude into and control individual freedom (Pitts, 2011).

One concerned question is whether the anxiety and drama created out of the problem of gang is true and if yes, exaggerated. On one hand, one could stated that considering the various violent events, such as the 2009 conviction of the Gooch Gang for shooting, murders, and serious wounding, the 1997 conviction of the Young Gooch gang for firearm related offences, or the offences of fatal shootings, serious wounding, and other violent crimes by South Manchester gangs, the problem is true and not exaggerated. On the other hand, some academicians, such as Dennis Mares (2001) contended that the above findings have misunderstood and misrepresented the problem in a more tight structure, criminal sophistication and even dangerous than they actually were. The gangs were small and less delinquent (Mares, 2001). The representation was thus superficially emphasised on crime and violence (Pitts, 2011). This debate, thus, presents an unclear concept of the phenomenon of youth crime and it leads back to the question of the incoherent approach to defining the term “gang”. Aldridge, Median and Ralphs explored the problems of gang research in the UK. Their view sum up the current academic debate on whether the research should be carried out or not while determining the main issue of using the term “gang” for collective action of a group of people (Aldridge et al., 2012). One group of researchers object to the research as it would generate moral panic, stigmatise or alienates a particular community, individuals or ethnic groups, or generate undesired punitive policies. The other group calls for research beyond the representation made by the media and other agencies, and critically view any punitive policy. Aldridge, Median and Ralphs state that for better understanding of the problem research has to be socially based without alienating the subject communities (Aldridge et al., 2012).

To conclude, the problem in academically defining the term “gang” exists without which it cannot be appropriate to determine whether gang problem in prevalent in Britain. However, the very existence of the debate around existence of gangs between academic group is also a representation of the existence of the problem. Whether there is difficulty in creating a term to define this problem, if not “gang” could be used, there is no denying the fact of its existence. Going by the popular definition and nature of gang, as seen in the US, the level of activities conducted by a collective group may or may not amount to the problem of gang in Britain. However, its very existence in a loosely knitted, unstructured and unorganised manner is a sure indication to potential creation of gang problems.


Aldridge, J., Medina, J. & Ralps, R., 2012. Dangers and problems of doing 'gang' research in the UK. In F.v. Gemert, D. Peterson & I.-L. Lien, eds. Street Gangs, Migration Ethnicity. Routledge.

Hallsworth, S. & Young, T., 2008. Getting Real About Gangs. Criminal Justice Matters, 55(1), pp.12-13.

Harding, S., 2014. Street Casino: Survival in Violent Street Gangs. Policy Press.

Howell, J., 2012. Gangs in America's communities. SAGE.

Mares, D., 2001. Gangstas or Lager Louts? Working Class Street Gangs in Manchester. In The Eurogang Paradox: Street Gangs and Youth Groups in the U.S. and Europe. Kluwer Academic Publishers.

McLean, R., 2019. Gangs, Drugs and (Dis)Organised Crime. Bristol University Press.

Pitts, J., 2011. Mercenary territory : are youth gangs really a problem. In B. Goldson, ed. Youth in crisis? : 'gangs', territoriality and violence. Routledge.

Wood, J. & Alleyne, E., 2010. Street gang theory and research: Where are we now and where do we go from here? Aggression and Violent Behavior, 15(2), pp.100-11.

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