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Gangs Internationally

There is a tendency to view gangs as an American phenomenon. However, youth gangs have been reported across many countries. The literature on international gangs is sparse, most often simply reporting gangs' existence in a certain country. The research that has been conducted abroad generally focuses on the characteristics of gang members and gangs' involvement in criminal activity. Thus, little is known about gangs internationally, and virtually nothing is known about gangs acting as fictive kin abroad. However, gangs in many other countries share many characteristics with American gangs, and thus they may also mirror this aspect of American gangs.

Research in Canada has focused primarily on Asian gangs, describing Chinese gangs in Vancouver and Vietnamese gangs in Toronto (Covey, Menard, and Franzese 1992; Klein 1995). However, Robert Gordon (1998) highlighted the ethnic diversity of Vancouver gangs, arguing that although these gangs often have ethnic names, a minority are actually composed primarily of members from the same ethnic background. While some discrepancies remain in the research, it is clear that Canadian gangs are not as prevalent as gangs in the United States. Gordon (1998) suggests one reason for this is because Canadian cities' educational, health, and social services are more effective at addressing the underlying problems associated with gangs.

Mexican gangs appear very similar to Cholo culture of the Hispanic gangs of the southwest United States, being similar in territoriality, gang rivalries, graffiti, and delinquent activities (Klein 1995). However, as with American gangs, there also appears to be great variety in their behaviors, especially between gangs in urban and rural areas (Cavan and Cavan 1968).

The limited research on gangs in Asia indicates that youth gangs in Malaysia and Thailand commit a relatively large share of the total crime there (Holyst 1982). Chinese triads have garnered much attention from media, however these are mostly composed of adult males, rather than juveniles. Yet the triads may play a role in youth gangs, serving as a blueprint for youth gang structure and activities, as well as providing the triads with new members (Covey, Menard, and Franzese 1992). Chinese youth gangs specializing in theft and drugs have been reported, as well as other gangs that engage in a wider variety of criminal activities and are more varied in age, number of members, and degree of territoriality (Klein 1995). Compared to the United States, adult and youth gangs are responsible for greater portion of crime in Japan, although both adults and youth crime rates are higher in the United States (Spergel 1995).

Youth gangs are also common throughout Europe. Gangs committed a large portion of total offenses in Spain in the 1980s (Holyst 1982), but few gangs exist currently (Klein 1995). After a period of absence, gangs have reemerged in France, although they are still much less prevalent than in the United State. At least in Paris, the re-emergence of gangs is thought to have been spurred by the increase in drug trafficking and the growth of the underclass (Kroeker and Haut 1995). German right-wing youth groups have drawn much attention; however, some researchers suggest they should be distinguished from youth street gangs (Kelin 1995). Neo-Nazi groups resemble youth street gangs in some ways, but they are typically more focused, involved in planning their movement, and spend much more time involved in activities to further their cause, such as writing literature and pamphlets (Klein 1995). Yet their reappearance in the 1990s, and their attacks on immigrant youths are linked to the emergence of gangs more closely resembling the American street gang. For instance, Hermann Tertilt's (2001) field study of a Turkish gang in Frankfort suggests that their violence is a response to the "segregation, degradation and humiliation," inflicted on foreigners in Germany. Others have also noted that territorial youth gangs form in response to extremists' attacks on immigrant youth (Klein 1995).

A broad range of youth groups existed in the former Soviet Union; however, it was not clear that these groups actually constituted gangs. Research since the Soviet Union's demise indicates that contemporary Russian gangs mirror American street gangs in many respects. These gangs emerged in cities with minority populations; they are territorial, and are frequently in conflict with rival gangs (Klein 1995). For the most part, they are large and fairly well organized, and members appear to share a strong sense of solidarity.

Gangs have been a fairly consistent feature of the urban landscape of Britain. In the seventeenth century, British gangs routinely vandalized urban areas, were territorial, and were involved in violent conflict with other gangs (Pearson 1983). Studies of British gangs that existed in the early 1900s suggest that these trends persisted. The research also suggested that British gangs were not as large and structured, nor nearly as violent as American gangs (Cavan and Cavan 1968; Morash 1983; Covey, Menard, and Franzese 1992). However, the 1980s saw the emergence of American-style gangs: ethnic street gangs that populate metropolitan areas, work in the drug trade, and are more violent than previous British gangs (Mares 2001).

Gangs exist in many varieties and forms, across many different countries and cultures. Although their particulars and contexts differ, some trends are apparent. The economic, social, and sometimes violent discrimination immigrants often encounter appears to underpin the formation of gangs in many countries, including the United States. Gangs appear to be much more likely to form in poor, urbanized areas with underdeveloped social institutions. This is consistent with the social disorganization theory that lies at the heart of many theories of gangs. Comparing gangs cross-culturally allows for a greater assessment of the role structure and culture play in gang formation and gang activity.

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Marriage and Family EncyclopediaFamily Social IssuesGangs - Defining Gangs, Gang Formation, Symbols Of Gangs And Gang Membership, Gangs And Crime, Gangs And Neighborhoods