Discourse, Policy, Gangs: An Analysis of Gang Members' Talk and Policy

Prof Doc Thesis

Agnew, Emma 2016. Discourse, Policy, Gangs: An Analysis of Gang Members' Talk and Policy. Prof Doc Thesis University of East London Psychology https://doi.org/10.15123/PUB.5384
AuthorsAgnew, Emma
TypeProf Doc Thesis

European academics have historically been reluctant to conduct explicit gang research on the premise that it risks stereotyping communities. Subsequently, notions about gangs in the UK have been transposed from American literature, which is primarily based within a criminological perspective and focuses on personal characteristics of gang members, such as their violent tendencies (Gottfredson & Hirschi, 1990). Alternatively, underpinned by a community psychology perspective, this research explores how young people involved in gangs construct their identities and experiences, and to what extent these constructions reproduce or resist political discourse. Semi-structured interviews with six self-identified gang members, as well as the UK policy ‘Ending Gang and Youth Violence’ (Home Office, 2011) were analysed using a hybrid approach of discursive psychology and critical discourse analysis. The four main discursive sites identified in the policy were: i) The demonization of gangs, ii) the inevitability of gangs, iii) gangs: the product of ‘troubled families’, iv) the racialization of gangs. The four main discursive sites within the interviews were: i) experiences of racism, ii) the inevitability of gang membership, iii) problematized identities, iv) individual and family responsibility. The analysis indicated that, at times, the participants reproduced problematising ideological discourse, at other times they constructed reimagined personal narratives which resisted hegemonic discourses about gang members, and at other times they exposed the oppressive mechanisms of political discourse, by detailing how being labelled a ‘gang member’ and racial discrimination had shaped their subjectivities and lived experiences. The findings indicate the need for an overhaul of elitist policy production, for authentic participation of young people with experiences of living in deprived areas, and for a shift from the ‘criminological’ framework of gang policy towards ‘welfare’. Furthermore, the findings highlight the need to direct political attention to addressing racial discrimination. Clinically, community psychology approaches are recommended, as well as working at macro levels to change cultural narratives around this group.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)https://doi.org/10.15123/PUB.5384
Publication dates
PrintMay 2016
Publication process dates
Deposited21 Nov 2016
Publisher's version
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