Manufacturing Resilience on the Margins: Street Gangs, Property, &Vulnerability Theory

01 Jan 2019

Within law, contemporary street gangs are cast as corporatized criminal enterprises, whose primary goal is the acquisition of illicit economic capital. The sophistication of corporate gangs has led to the development of novel control mechanisms like gang injunctions, which are civil legal remedies employed to disperse unwanted gang activity from protected communities. This article suggests that the idea of propertyand the vulnerability associated therewith-is central to understanding gangs. Accepting the well-established proposition that gangs arise due to the unavailability or inaccessibility of markets for mainstream and legitimized forms of capital, this article argues that gangs are best understood as corporate institutions engaged in the sustained, transgressive creation of alternative markets for the development of the types of property interests that scholars have associated with the development and pursuit of identity and "personhood." That is, gangs are mechanisms through which networked vulnerable subjects seek to create resilience in each other. The particular vulnerabilities to which gang members are least resilient have been clearly identified and thoroughly explored in sociological literature. Nonetheless, the criminological framing of gangs as creators rather than subjects of vulnerability within already marginalized communities has prevented widespread implementation or political consideration these realities. Instead, anti-gang strategies eliminate resilience to which gangs and their members have access by imposing a presumption of criminality on individuals believed to be associated with gangs and destabilize the sources of resilience available to people and institutions proximal to gangs. Using the reimagined potential for government action and responsibility that vulnerability theory permits, this article suggests that local governments should compensate gang members for refraining from certain gang conduct. This approach, which has seen success when implemented by private and government actors (both in the gang and other contexts), offers a potentially effective response to gang member vulnerability-i.e. fostering resilience-that is responsive to the social justice, economic, and political considerations that gangs present.