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The violent gang and the construction of masculinity amongst socially excluded young men

Adam Baird (Assistant Professor of Sustainable Urban Governance and Peace, based at the University for Peace, United Nations Affiliated University, Costa Rica)

Safer Communities

ISSN: 1757-8043

Article publication date: 28 September 2012




The aim of this paper is to help in understanding the relationship between the construction of the male identity and how social violence may be “reproduced” (using the concept of habitus after Pierre Bourdieu), in poor and socially excluded contexts. The paper aims to inform debate and policy making.


The paper draws on empirical data collected in 2008, in the form of life‐history interviews with male youths – including members and non‐members of gangs – from two poor and very violent neighbourhoods in Medellín, Colombia's second largest city.


Masculinities alone do not account for urban violence, but they play an integral role why violence is reproduced. In socio‐economically excluded contexts the gang becomes an attractive vehicle for “doing masculinity” for boys and young men. Youths who did not join gangs tended to have family support to develop a “moral rejection” of gangs, crime and violence during childhood, which contributed to them finding non‐gang pathways to manhood. Youths who joined gangs were less likely to develop this “moral rejection” during childhood, often due to family problems; and were more likely to admire older gang members, and perceive the gang as an attractive pathway to manhood.

Research limitations/implications

As the sole researcher a limited number of 32 individuals were interviewed.


There is a lack of research on masculinities and gang affiliation in the UK and across the globe. This paper provides new conceptual ideas for understanding why young men make up the vast majority of violent gang members, whilst providing an original data set from a very violent urban setting.



Baird, A. (2012), "The violent gang and the construction of masculinity amongst socially excluded young men", Safer Communities, Vol. 11 No. 4, pp. 179-190.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2012, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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