Youth gangs and conflict theory

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The concept of gangs is now the focus of many scholars who define it as a group of people with negative attributes or mindset towards the society. Therefore, for a gang to be in existence, the members should have a common interest or shared values. Conflict theory clearly portrays how people in the upper class and the lower class relate with each other, and the role it plays in youth gangs in the society. According to Young, Fitzgibbon and Silverstone (2014), a youth gang is majorly a small group of young people, who involve themselves in dangerous activities on the streets such as drugs, prostitution and other activities which are not legally acceptable in any country. It is not uncommon to see young lads in the gangs carrying highly classified weapons, car hijacking people and therefore they are always on the run owing to the fear instilled in them by the police and other rival gang members.

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Marxists postulates that conflicts make people to be separated from their social networks. Gallo (2012) explains that conflicts come out clear when members of a given society feel that they are competitors of each other, and therefore, a less mutual relationship can develop within one another. The people who are marginalized always feel that do not have power, norms, meaning, are culturally estranged, self-estranged, and they are socially separated. Therefore owing to the loss of the above human attributes, youths may decide to form gangs which advocate for violence, sabotage, and substance of abuse an idea which was put forward by Young, Fitzgibbon, and Silverstone (2014). The paper will discuss on how directly and indirectly class consciousness; social, economic status of the family, alienation; negative labeling and the social bonding lead to more youths joining dangerous gangs as well as the history of the youth groups, besides the research itself including the methodology and discussion of the results.

Relationship between Youth Gangs and Conflict Theory

According to the theory, conflict comes about owing to economic and structural inequality of people. Moreover, according to the most recent research, folks who belong to the ruling class and the working class cannot be put in the same pot because their economic interests are far much apart. For example, the capitalists’ primary concern is to maximize their profits while making sure that costs of labor are brought to their knees, and therefore, the workers suffer from this type of exploitation. Notably, class conflicts are born which leads to class consciousness. The more youths are conscious about their social class, the more gangs they are most likely to form (Livingstone, & Weinfeld, 2015). Whenever individuals are aware where they are placed within the society, the socio-structural confusion that is majorly caused by labor and capital, struggle for economic welfare, and economic power will be the order of the day. It usually happens through the formation of youth gang groups.

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Social, economic status is directly related to the formation and joining of teenagers in the youth groups. Put differently; this is the parents’ occupational prestige, their income and the level of education they have acquired (Mehmood, Ahmad, & Khan, 2016). There is a major association between the socio-economic status of someone’s family and the level of youth gangs in any country; however, nobody knows for sure the precise direction it usually takes. Consequently, some scholars argue that the relationship between status quo of a family and youth gangs is negative. However, the young people who get the smallest amount of income per month are less likely to enter or get involved in group activities. Moreover, kids who come from both low and high socio-economic status are involved with drug abuse only that frequency of the misuse of the drugs is relatively different (Gallo, 2012).

Furthermore, the creation and development of youth gangs are directly related to the class consciousness idea of conflict theory. In the capitalist world, it is viewed as the awareness of the status quo of every member of the society. The kids of parents that belong to the disadvantaged class will always form gangs as a way of protecting themselves from the capitalists (Mehmood, Ahmad, & Khan, 2016). It is usually castigated by the general notion that class inequality exists whereby the capitalist exploits and oppresses the working class because they own the means of production. Therefore class struggle will most likely lead to bloody revolution when the issue of social inequality emerges. Consequently, gang membership is as a result of structural inequities, and therefore, it is regarded as a resistant occurrence. Gang members will manifest their badness through a myriad of socially unacceptable behaviors such as drug dealing, street bullying, and violent offenses. A relationship exists between social, economic status and class consciousness. Class conflict, class consciousness, and favoritism of violence against a class enemy are very common in the developing world because of the widening gap between the income that the rich receive and what the poor get (Brotherton, 2015). Conventionally, youth in the lower class lack material wealth and social recognition unlike the young in the middle and upper class which makes them to form gang groups to counter the inequality.

Apart from class consciousness, alienation is regarded as a contributing factor to the development of youth groups. Alienation is when the young people feel that they are not part and parcel of their significant others, family, society or themselves (Young, Fitzgibbon, & Silverstone, 2014). It can be concluded that when the young people feel that they are separated from the society, they engage themselves in dangerous acts such as alcoholism, vandalism, drug abuse, truancy and violence against their fellow members of the society (Brotherton, 2015). Social, economic status is closely linked with alienation. Hence, 95 percent of people who earn a small amount of money are most likely to feel alienated than individuals in the middle class and those persons in the upper class, and therefore, they will turn into the formation of gangs to bridge that gap. Moreover, the youths in the middle class have more resources to build relationships with their peers hence they will not suffer rejection like their fellow young people in the lower class.

In addition to alienation and class consciousness, negative labeling also plays a significant role in the formation of the gang groups and their development. The young people take in seriously what other people say about them during social interactions (Brotherton, 2015). Teachers, peers, and parents can mention to a young person that the groups of people they hang out with are not right and they may influence them into developing unacceptable behavior in the society. If more than five youths get negative responses from the community on how they conduct themselves, they are most likely to form gangs. Therefore, the bands will make them feel comfortable since they embrace each other’s behavior. Notably, the type of responses that the youth get from the society has an influence on their ability to form gangs. Negative labeling usually occurs with a child of the lower class level unlike the upper and middle-class youths, and therefore, there is a close link between socio-economic status, alienation, and negative labeling. Negative labeling usually occurs among the young people of the lower social and economic situation than the middle and upper-class youths. Moreover, it is class-bias which means that there are more law breakers in the bottom class than in the upper class. For example, in the US underprivileged youths are the most criminal suspects making up to 60 percent of people arrested daily for being suspected dealing in illegal activities (Young, Fitzgibbon, & Silverstone, 2014). Therefore, the less powerful groups in the society will form groups to give them a sense of protection from many factors.

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There is evidence that the social, economic status of the family is closely related to social bonding which plays a significant role in the formation of youth criminal gangs. Disadvantaged households in the society put their child at the risk of joining criminal gangs. For example, 75 percent of the truancy cases in the United States occur in the lower social, economic status individuals. It is believed that the maladaptive tendencies which arise from some groups being disadvantaged may have a significant influence on the life course of these individuals. Put differently, the behavior of the young people can be as a result of what they adopted when they kids, that is, if juveniles joined the gang groups when they were little owing to poor social bonding, giving up them can be significantly challenging (Livingstone, & Weinfeld, 2015). Therefore, joining the gang groups is associated with the youths having minimal contacts with their parents. An explanation given to this scenario is that parents had a low level of education and income which made them use poor methods of bringing up their kids. For example, one-third of relatives in the developing world do not know that it is their responsibility to teach their children about socially valued norms.

Historical Background of Youth Gangs

In the United States gangs were a typical figure during the immigration period which was associated with the social class of the people migrating. Communities during that time had a different attitude toward the wave of immigration. However, they shared experiences on overcoming prejudice and discrimination that they faced from one generation to the next. In the 18th century, 80 percent of crimes were associated with low-class immigrants staying in the ghetto cities of Campton where non-indigenous American communities stayed and still stay (Young, Fitzgibbon, & Silverstone, 2014). Consequently, the low social class was the reason the youths joined gangs and became involved with dangerous behaviors such as street bullying, theft, and prostitution. Most parents during this period in the immigrant community did mainly manual labor which paid little, and therefore, not enough to support their children. Most of the youths found themselves joining the criminal gangs because they offered them with entertainment, ‘camaraderie’ and some of the essentials such as food and other goods. However, the later was obtained through criminal acts.

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In the 19th century the structures were still meaningful, however, how immigration is done has changed, and it has affected gang groups in majorly two ways. To begin with, when the immigrants arrive in the US, they form their communities, and most of the communities such as the Vietnamese and the Chinese had a long history of gangs in their home places long before they migrated to the US. However, things are now different in that societies send their people to the US and then wait for them to form communities before they can start inculcating some elements of their gang culture. Unfortunately, the groups that are created are involved with morally damaging elements such as drug trafficking and gambling. People arriving in the US are new to the US environment which when combined with the prejudice they get from the local population they often feel that they are socially neglected or avoided (Young, Fitzgibbon, & Silverstone, 2014). It usually leads to the development of a fertile ground for engaging in criminal activities such selling of drugs to each other. It is partly owing to the protection they offer themselves especially from the affluent members of the society. Most of the areas they stay are remote and are rarely visited by law enforcing agencies such as the police department. Illegal gambling houses are very common where these communities reside (Livingstone, & Weinfeld, 2015). Most importantly, in addition to the illegal gambling and drug trafficking houses, the isolation of the communities from the rest of the other societies provides them with a hideout for their dealings with the police.

Additionally, gangs have developed since time memorial owing to the blocked socio-economic structural progress of the youths. Most of the children of the immigrant communities, especially the 2nd generation have joined gangs owing to frustration after realizing that they may not land into jobs that will enable them to have better standards of living than their parents did (Livingstone, & Weinfeld, 2015). There is a general assumption that the gang groups will give them a better life by the provision of some small cash which is majorly obtained through criminal activities such as drug trafficking. 60 percent of immigrants from these communities who deal in cocaine and heroin usually are the illegal immigrants from Mexico and Puerto Rico (Young, Fitzgibbon, & Silverstone, 2014). However, this has proved to be quite promising since most of the youths in these communities are now leading lavish lifestyles whereby they drive to world class machine cars.

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To achieve the objectives of this study the following methods were used

  • An extensive literature review of the scholarly journals, books and websites that had relevant information
  • A questionnaire was designed and conducted to measure socio-economic status, class consciousness, alienation, negative labeling, social bonding and delinquent behavior


The finding of the investigation showed that there is a positive relationship between social bonding family socio-economic statuses. It is explained by the parenting style since socio-economic status was a prerequisite to parenting styles that adopted concerning social, financial, and cultural capital. Therefore, parents with a high-level occupation will have the autonomy to guide their children with authority. On the other hand, parents who have low-level occupation will bring up their children while restricted on some important aspects. Additionally, youths whose families have lower socioeconomic status receive a little love from their mothers and tend to experience parental conflicts owing to poor communication skills and financial problems? Therefore, the social bonding experienced between youths of the low-level socio-economic status and their mothers is relatively weak.

According to the findings, it was clear that social bonding is negatively related to the formation of youth gangs. However, it was discovered when parents punish their kids heavily they are more likely to form criminally oriented groups. It is explained by the feeling that youths get of not being emotionally supported and therefore seek refuge in the youth gangs. Furthermore, negative labeling was positively related to the formation of groups by the kids.

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The previous studies provide a thorough understanding of the impact of the structural and social factors on the development of youth gangs by relating it to the conflict theory of sociology. The influence of various factors on the elaboration of the youth groups has been discussed simultaneously.


Sociologists have linked gangs to the conflict theory. According to the theory people are always in conflict owing to varied interests they have. Alienation is seen to be at the forefront in advocating for the rise of youth gangs whereby the youths in the low social class feel isolated and therefore need to join gangs in order to protect themselves. How the society responds to the behavior of the youths has an influence on the development of the gang groups to accommodate their behavior. Moreover, when the youths become more aware about their social position they are more likely to join gangs. However, youth gangs have been there since time memorial, especially, when different communities were migrating to the US and became isolated from the rest of the rich whites. Gangs are structured in such way that they are favored by the structure of the market in which they operate. Research shows all the gang groups use a lot of force in spreading their influence across all divides. However, owing to dynamics of the economy cases of crime castigated by the youth gangs is increasing at an alarming rate. Surprisingly, gang groups are now operating like any corporate society. Notably, they now have the monopoly of various drug products making them strong in the market. Currently, government officials are funding these youth gangs for their self interest. It is now clear that violence will be the order of the day since gang groups are not subject to any external regulating agency.

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  1. Brotherton, D. C. (2015). Youth street gangs: a critical appraisal. Choice Reviews Online, 16(4), 351–358
  2. Gallo, G. (2012). Conflict Theory, Complexity and Systems Approach. Systems Research And Behavioral Science, 30(2), 156-175.
  3. Livingstone, A., & Weinfeld, M. (2015). Black Families and Socio-economic Inequality in Canada. Canadian Ethnic Studies, 47(3), 1-23.
  4. Mehmood, S., Ahmad, Z., & Khan, A. (2016). Dynamic relationships between tourist arrivals, immigrants, and crimes in the United States. Tourism Management, 54, 383-392.
  5. Young, T., Fitzgibbon, W., & Silverstone, D. (2014). A Question of Family? Youth and Gangs. Youth Justice, 14(2), 171-185.
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