In their book Youth Gangs in American Society, authors Shelden, Tracy, and Brown (1997) take a sociological approach to the subject of youth gangs, their origin, development, and potential future. The book has a good deal of information about the gang culture, but the interpretation of the authors places more blame on society than on the offenders and fails to convince as to its view of the origin and nature of the gang problem in society today.
The authors rightly note that there was no gang problem until the mid-nineteenth century, and the problem of delinquency was noted among various urban groups as the nation became more industrialized and presumably as the population became more condensed in the cities. The gang problem today, of course, is much greater and has become an epidemic in our cities, to the point where whole areas are completely controlled by gangs and where much of the public lives in fear. The approach taken by these authors places the blame on a variety of social institutions that have no desire to create a gang culture but that are here blamed for it just the same, from the news media for writing about the Watts riots and making black youth seem criminal to the economy for changing in a way that produced an opportunity and a need among these same black youth. At any rate, the authors find that most of the gang trappings originated with Hispanic gangs and then were taken over and modified by the new black gangs that developed in the late 1960s.
The authors analyze a number of theories of why gangs develop, among them Social Disorganization Theory, Strain and Cultural-Deviance Theory, Social Bond/Control Theory, and labeling. They find that these theories have certain features which link them, such as the idea of the importance of the external socioeconomic environment in explaining gangs:
Beginning with social disorganization. . . these theories link gangs to such environmental factors as poverty,...