The Trajectory of Gang Membership: The Desistance from a "Deviant" Identity

Title: The Trajectory of Gang Membership: The Desistance from a "Deviant" Identity
Authors: Bailey, Maykal
Date: 2015
Abstract: The public acts of violence during the summer of 2012 in Toronto brought the theme of gangs back to the forefront in Canadian media coverage. As renewed debates argued old subject matters, our understanding of gangs was not able to diverge from its endless roundabout. This paper inverts the study of gangs that has classically looked towards the gang as a collective to explain its sub-cultural delinquent and sometimes violent tendencies, and explores the individualized interpretation of gang membership from the perspective of four Latin-Canadian males from the Greater Toronto Area. This study takes on the challenge of observing the trajectory of gang membership based on the first hand experiences of self-proclaimed ex-gang members and through an in-depth dialogue with these participants, ventures through the turning points that led these individual actors through the process of onset; commitment and desistance. This exploration into the lived experiences of gang membership is seen through a Symbolic Interactionist lens and views gang membership as one of many identities that can actively be portrayed by the social being. In this perspective, the concepts of gangs and gang membership are described as a subjective experience completely open to interpretation, but guided by the flow of unique interactions that these individuals encountered within a variety of complex situations and environments. That which is being observed herein is the process of how the participants interacted with their existing environments and the circumstances produced by them, highlighting the momentous events that continuously defined the individuals understanding of their own self concept as a gang member up until the point of non-membership. What was observed by a dissection of the interviewee’s accounts was that the onset of gang membership was influenced primarily by a feeling of disassociation and alienation which the participants actively sought to suppress, whereby the idea of belonging to a gang offered the remedy. The aspect of commitment was shown to be focused more towards upholding the identity of gang membership and their reputation than towards the gang itself. Reinforcing the identity maintained the individual’s social status and relevance amongst their peers, solidifying the aspired identity of gang membership. Finally, the process of desistance surfaced once the gang member identity no longer seemed beneficial. Life threats, a re-emergence of the feeling of solidarity, the experience of disloyalty and the acceptance of another identity as being more imperative were factors that separately influenced the move for the discontinuance for the projection of the gang member identity. Although the participants admit to and self proclaim ex-membership, they do nonetheless acknowledge that the gang mask could once again be put back on.
CollectionThèses, 2011 - // Theses, 2011 -