Research has shown that the development and structure of human society are influenced by the interactions of individuals with wider forces in the relevant society. These forces play a significant part in shaping our thoughts, actions, and reactions to the various demographic issues that affect the society. Several theories offer perspective on social problems such as crime, limited education opportunities, child abuse, economic inequalities, discrimination, and drug abuse, among others. The paper will explore the development and structure of the mentioned issues. The organization of the paper will be as follows: a sociological perspective on crime and gang violence in the American society, social inequality, and its consequences, and the effect of social institutions on individuals’ lives.
Crime and Gang Violence in the United States
Crime and gang violence represent some of the enduring social problems in the US. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigations (2016), there are at least 33,000 street gangs, prison gangs, and motorcycle gangs in the US and Puerto Rico. These gangs engage in nefarious activities including violent control of neighborhoods, robbery, prostitution, human trafficking, and drug trafficking, among others. These social problems continue to have an adverse effect on the American society.
Conflict Perspective of Crime and Gang Violence
The conflict theory portrays society as a dynamic entity that is undergoing continuous change. The evolution of families, communities, and states often benefits some members and disadvantage others (Blume, 1996).These imbalances create a situation that makes the disadvantaged persons engage in conflict with the other groups so as to lift themselves out of the disadvantaged position. Although societies have designed various conflict resolution mechanisms such as elections and courts, Zembroski (2011) explains that the persons in economic power engage in more economic and social empowerment of their group, further polarizing the relationships.
The early 20th century saw scholars begin to move away from biological and psychological premises to social environments as the explanations for the causes of crime and gang violence in the US (Zembroski, 2011).This paradigm shift focused on the reasons that made groups of a particular environment engage in criminal activities and violence. Studies of Alleyne and Wood (2011) and Zembroski (2011), give an extensive account of the economic causes of crime and gang violence. They argue that low economic conditions, discrimination, and poor parental management interplay propel young people into crime and violence. Zembroski noted that delinquency was higher in transition neighborhoods compared to affluent zones. When authorities fight crime with little attention to the economic aspect of the crime, deviant cultural norms develop. Butler’s (2016) study shows that diminished economic conditions deny young people the chance to ‘join in’ with other groups due to the lack of dignity that is associated with mainstream economic status. The lack of sense of belonging makes them resort to gang and criminal activities as a way of generating money to improve the economic disadvantage.
Cultural Elements that contribute to Crime and Gang Violence
Culture represents distinct patterns of practices and expressions that are exhibited by a particular group of people. One’s culture is reflected in how the person learns, expresses, retells origin stories, relates, and shares norms and values within a social setting(Butler,2016).The Culture in the American society shares a vital part in influencing crime and gang violence.
Expectations and glorification of certain norms among a particular group of people offer insight into the culture of violence in the US. Blume (1996) argued that the ‘toughness’ culture that emerged in the American society after the end of World War 2 plays a role in amplifying violent tendencies among teens. Although there are laws that deal with such antisocial behaviors, Blume noted that the American society continues to glorify violence in approaching such problems. Also, video games and Films that reward gang-like behaviors fuel the urge of young aspiring members (Alleyne and Wood, 2011). Patterson (2015) expands the cultural dimension further through his argument that crime and gang violence is an inverted image of the US culture of toughness as a nation. According to Patterson, the gangs have norms that rooted in American’s core values: the aggressive assertion and defense of respect, hyper-masculinity, individualism, and reverence for the gun. Poverty, unemployment, single parenting and aggressive law enforcers further compound the situation.
Another cultural element of crime and gang violence is the strong emphasis on materialism. Research shows that living in a culture that puts great emphasis on material wealth propels the youth into violence and illegal activities. The lure of power, wealth and prestige make the youth desperate to join gangs (Zembroski, 2011; Stringer, 2009).The pressure that comes with material success strains the self-esteem of young boys who turn to gangs as a way of reclaiming the dignity that material success offers. Studies of Alleyne and Wood (2011) supports the premise that boys with less confidence and reduced bonds with socioeconomic environments ,such as family and school ,are more likely to join gangs to raise the level of personal esteem that material wealth offers. Similarly, the esteem plays an important role in the teens’ decisions to leave or stay in gang life.
Relationship of Socialization with Crime and Gang Violence
Patterson (2015) describes socialization as the process through which norms, values, beliefs, and symbols of a distinct group of people are relayed from one generation to another. Findings of Alleyne and Wood (2011) demonstrate that the weak bonds between the youth and their families create a social gap that tempts the boys into gang life. Broken families and lack of father figures in the family set ups predispose young people to violence; they seek to fill the mentioned void from gang leaders. Butler (2016) offers a succinct discussion of the influence of family on a child’s social growth and development. According to Butler, children are less adept at acquiring their own culture. They acquire, discover and construct shared social norms and values of their social settings through repeated interaction with parents, caregivers and other close adults. The acquired traits in the form of norms and values are manipulated and tried out as they grow up. The mentioned assertions are consistent with the findings of Zembroski (2011) that some families have replaced conventional values with criminal values which are then transmitted from one generation to next through socialization.
As indicated earlier, some of the products of mass media foment crime and gang violence. As Blume (1996) explains, video games and films that underscore traits of toughness lure young people to gang crime. These mass media products engender a culture of using the gun to solve or articulate issues. Stringer (2009) noted that the media influences young people to join gangs through gangster rap and hip-hop lifestyle that glorify violence, drug abuse, and misogyny. The media products fail to recognize the ethical issues of their products because young people do not have a developed life experience that helps to separate realities from entertainment.
According to Alleyne and Wood (2011), gang membership results from the relationships of boys in the neighborhoods. The close consanguinity of boys allows them to share life experiences and the challenges of life. Peers protect each other and engage in common illegal activities to influence fellow boys. Zembroski (2011) explains that the success of peer pressure in enlisting boys to gang activities is rooted in the breakdown of family set ups and economic challenges. The absence of family values creates room for deviance and conduct disorders that make the youth seek solace elsewhere.
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