The purpose of this paper is to disseminate street gang research by Hesketh (2018) that has identified a major aspect of young disenfranchised people’s attraction to street gangs as edgework risk-taking. The study which sought to identify differences between those who joined street gangs compared to those who abstained on Merseyside.
Two samples were taken from locations within the five boroughs of Merseyside, the first comprising of 22 participants (18–25) involved in street gangs as active and ex-members with a second sample consisting of 22 participants (18–25) who had completely abstained from street gang membership. Data were collected through adoption of biographic narrative interpretive method (BNIM) (Wengraf, 2001), with analysis taking the form of Strauss and Corbin’s (1990) version of grounded theory.
Of the many findings that surrounded what was identified as the core category/central phenomena of “coping with limited opportunity” it emerged that marginalisation and austerity were contributing to increasing inequality and institutional constraint on young people on Merseyside. As a result, many of the 18–25 year young men felt powerless, lacking identity and aspirational drive. Joining a gang thus became not only a way in which control was seized back from such constraint through criminal risk-taking behaviour, what Lyng (1990) has termed “edgework”, but also a means in which many of the young men interviewed gained an identity of being “bad” from which intrinsically pleasurable seductive and criminally erotic sensations were derived (Katz, 1988). Moreover, a relatively new version of edgework was also identified, even though by way of male testimony. Called “vicarious edgework”, the phenomena sees young women drawn to male gang members (“bad boys”) to derive the excitement of risk indirectly while remaining law abiding. In sum, the paper highlights a concerning socio-psychological and key motivating driver triggered by marginalisation.
Study samples were all male. Thus, any observations on the vicarious edgework aspect of risk taking requires further research involving both young men and women.
The paper highlights the need for more understanding of the allure of risk-taking. The paper identifies a new form of female edgework. The paper draws attention to gang membership and non-membership on Merseyside, an area that has been greatly neglected by gangs’ studies in the UK. The paper describes a novel way of data collection using an adoption of BNIM.
In sum, the paper highlights a concerning socio-psychological and key motivating driver triggered by marginalisation. This, the author contends has been largely neglected by risk factor focussed interventions that largely concentrate on the idea of rational choice theory and sociological positivism.
The paper attempts to disseminate original street gang research by Hesketh (2018) that has identified a major aspect of young disenfranchised people’s attraction to street gangs as edgework risk-taking.
Hesketh, R. (2019), "Joining gangs: living on the edge?", Journal of Criminological Research, Policy and Practice, Vol. ahead-of-print No. ahead-of-print. https://doi.org/10.1108/JCRPP-07-2019-0052Download as .RIS
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