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The Eurogang Program of Research

Summary and Keywords

The Eurogang Program of Research is a loosely knit network of researchers and policymakers with an interest in better understanding troublesome youth groups. While the group is guided by a steering committee, that is the extent of the organizational structure. Members of the network volunteer to host the website, maintain the listserv, organize workshops, and engage in research that adopts the Eurogang definition, instruments, and methodologies.

The Eurogang Program has as its primary goal the fostering of multisite, multi-method, comparative research on street gangs. Over the past two decades, this group of more than 200 scholars has convened 17 international workshops in Europe and the United States. The Eurogang Program does not have a steady funding source; however, over the years various network members have written proposals for funding to government agencies, sought support from non-profit organizations and foundations, and requested funding from their universities. Through a series of workshops from 1998 through 2004, the Eurogang group developed common definitional approaches, an integrated research design, and model research instruments. From 2005 through 2017, the group has continued to host substantively-focused workshops that examine research informed by the Eurogang framework. Since its inception, this Eurogang group has spawned several retrospective cross-national studies, articles in professional journals, five edited volumes of scholarship, and a manual that provides a history of the group and its guiding principles as well as information on the development and use of the five Eurogang research instruments (i.e., city-level descriptors, expert survey, youth survey, ethnography guidelines, and prevention/intervention program inventory). The Eurogang Program Manual and instruments are available on the Eurogang website. While much has been accomplished, much remains to be learned.

Keywords: Eurogang, youth gangs, street gangs, comparative research, multi-method, cross-national

Overview

The topic of youth gangs has received considerable scholarly attention in the United States and, more recently, in other nations as well. Numerous publications have addressed the prevalence of, trends in, and responses to youth gangs within specific local, regional, and national contexts. Relatively missing from this field, however, is systematic examination of the youth gang phenomenon across multiple societal and cultural contexts, although exceptions exist in textbooks and edited volumes (e.g., Covey, 2003; Curry, Decker, & Pyrooz, 2005; Decker & Pyrooz, 2015; Decker & Weerman, 2005; Duffy & Gillig, 2004; Esbensen & Maxson, 2012; Hagedorn, 2007; Hazlehurst & Hazlehurst, 1998; Klein, Kerner, Maxson, & Weitekamp, 2001; Maxson & Esbensen, 2016; van Gemert, Peterson, & Lien, 2008). This chapter seeks to introduce readers to a coordinated effort by a number of researchers and policymakers to address this gap in knowledge on youth gangs—the Eurogang Program of Research.

The Eurogang Program of Research (also known as the Eurogang Project, the Eurogang Network, or just simply Eurogang) has as its primary goal the fostering of multisite, multi-method, comparative research on street gangs. Over the past two decades, this group of more than 200 scholars has convened 17 international workshops in Belgium, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Through a series of workshops from 1998 through 2004, the Eurogang group (EG) developed common definitional approaches, an integrated research design, and model research instruments. Since its inception, this Eurogang group has spawned several retrospective cross-national studies, articles in professional journals, five edited volumes of scholarship, and a manual that provides a history of the group and its guiding principles as well as information on the development and use of the five Eurogang research instruments (i.e., city-level descriptors, expert survey, youth survey, ethnography guidelines, and prevention/intervention program inventory). The Eurogang Program Manual along with the instruments is available on the Eurogang website.

The Eurogang Project is a loosely knit network of researchers and policymakers with an interest in better understanding troublesome youth groups. While the group is guided by a steering committee (current members are: Emma Alleyne, University of Kent, United Kingdom; Jan-Dirk DeJong, Hogeschool Leiden, the Netherlands; Finn-Aage Esbensen, University of Missouri-St. Louis; Elke van Hellemont, University of Kent, United Kingdom; Cheryl Maxson, University of California, Irvine; Chris Melde, Michigan State University; Frank Weerman, Netherlands Institute for the Study of Crime and Law Enforcement, Amsterdam, The Netherlands), that is the extent of the organizational structure. Members of the network volunteer to host the website, maintain the listserv, organize workshops, and engage in research that adopts the Eurogang definition, instruments, and methodologies.

To borrow from Star Wars, this ragtag group of researchers provides an example of how much can be done with few resources. The Eurogang Project does not have a steady funding source; however, over the years various network members have written proposals for funding to government agencies, sought support from non-profit organizations and foundations, and requested funding from their universities. These efforts have resulted in sufficient funding to pay for lodging and meals at all of the workshops and, in some instances, to reimburse participants for all of their travel expenses.1 These fundraising efforts have made it possible for graduate students and young scholars to be active participants in the workshops. This last point is important to highlight; one goal from the outset of the Eurogang Program was to introduce a new generation of researchers to the benefits (and challenges) of multisite, multi-method research on youth gangs. The following organizations have provided funds to support Eurogang activities:

  • Arizona State University;

  • City of Gothenburg, Sweden;

  • Danish Crime Prevention Council;

  • Dutch Ministry of the Interior;

  • Dutch Ministry of Justice;

  • E. Desmond Lee Collaborative Vision—University of Missouri-St. Louis;

  • Economic and Social Research Council (United Kingdom);

  • German Ministry of Justice;

  • Gothenburg University;

  • Jerry Lee Foundation;

  • Michigan State University;

  • Municipality of Oslo;

  • National Consortium of Violence Research (NCOVR);

  • Norwegian Association of Local and Regional Authorities;

  • Norwegian Ministry of Children and Family;

  • Norwegian Ministry of Children, Equal Opportunity and Inclusion;

  • Norwegian Ministry of Justice;

  • Norwegian Research Council;

  • Stockholm Gang Intervention and Prevention Project;

  • Swedish Research Council;

  • University of Illinois-Chicago;

  • University of Missouri-St. Louis;

  • University of Nebraska-Omaha;

  • University of Southern California;

  • US Department of Justice, National Institute of Justice;

  • US Department of Justice, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.

The Eurogang website notes three primary objectives of this network:

  1. (1) to build a foundation of knowledge regarding the socio-economic conditions and institutional processes that foster or curtail the emergence and persistence/dissolution of youth gangs and problematic groups;

  2. (2) to construct an infrastructure for comparative, multi-method, cross-national research on youth violence in group contexts; and

  3. (3) to disseminate and effectively utilize knowledge to inform the development of effective local, national, and international responses to emerging youth crime and violence issues.

History

In 1996, noted American gang researcher, Malcolm Klein, published an exploratory article on the presence of gangs in Europe (Klein, 1996). His observations led him to convene a small group of researchers following a restorative justice conference in Leuven, Belgium in 1997. Discussion of how the study of street gangs in Europe might be fostered continued a few months later at the American Society of Criminology Annual Meeting in San Diego, California. With an enthusiastic response from researchers who were present at these meetings and from others who were unable to attend, a small group of researchers (Weitekamp, Maxson, Klein, and Kerner) organized the first Eurogang workshop in Schmitten, Germany in September, 1998. More than 40 people from 13 nations attended this inaugural meeting of what has become known as Eurogang. Guided by the presentations of prepared papers, meeting participants learned about state of the art gang research in the United States and Europe, as well as a number of European studies of other youth groups that might or might not be called street gangs. These presentations acted as a catalyst for the first of many lengthy discussions about gang definitions and research methods. Perhaps the primary issue at this meeting was the sensitivity to the topic of gang existence in Europe: whether gangs existed in Europe. Some observers did not see the entities they expected based on sensationalized, media-driven accounts of gangs in the United States. Adding to that were the understandable concerns that acknowledgement of European gangs might cause a “moral panic” that could stimulate a suppressive overreaction to the phenomenon (Huff, 1989; Miethe & McCorkle, 2002; Zatz & Portillos, 2000). Scholars have also observed the consequences of stigmatization and racialization in suppressive responses (Duran, 2013; Katz, 1988; Muniz, 2015). This concern about stigmatization is evident in research conducted by Eurogang members, for example, the impact on immigrants (a central theme of the third Eurogang volume edited by van Gemert, Peterson, & Lien, 2008). Nevertheless, there were many reports about troublesome youth groups that were recognized as clear examples of street gangs by the American gang researchers present at the meeting. In the following paragraphs, a detailed accounting of the contributions of each subsequent Eurogang workshop is provided.

Two important outcomes resulted from the Schmitten workshop. First was a spirit of enthusiasm for fostering systematic research on gangs in Europe. The second major product was the agreement to compile the presented papers and a few others into a published volume (Klein et al., 2001). The energy and intellectual curiosity of participants attending this initial gathering helped to establish a multinational collaborative that resulted in the Eurogang Program of Research. Since the Schmitten meeting, the group has engaged in a number of coordinated activities, including 17 formal workshops, numerous informal meetings and panels at professional conferences, the collaborative development of a package of instruments, five published volumes of research, and several funding applications for systematic, cross-national, multi-method studies of street gangs in Europe.

That first meeting in Schmitten generated considerable interest in further efforts to explore the similarities and differences in American youth gangs and European troublesome youth groups; there was considerable reluctance on the part of European researchers to use the “g” word either for fear of contributing to a moral panic or because of their firm belief that the European groups were not like the American groups. This latter argument became known as the “Eurogang Paradox” (the title of the first edited volume of research produced by the Eurogang Program; Klein, et al., 2001) since most American youth gangs did not resemble the stereotypical youth gangs depicted in the mass media (i.e., hierarchically organized, highly cohesive, disciplined, and hyper-violent). There is some evidence that emerging gang issues were not accurately identified in the Netherlands (van Gemert, 2012), Denmark (Pedersen & Lindstad, 2012), and England (Smithson, Monchuk, & Armitage, 2012) due to an overreliance on these stereotypic images.

An initial research design emerged from this first workshop that embraced multiple methods of gathering information about gangs, a commitment to implementing standardized designs across multiple sites, and a multi-layered design structure that could provide city- and neighborhood-level contextual information to the more detailed accounts of gangs and youth groups (Maxson, 2001). The fundamental characteristics of the Eurogang group process were also evident at this first workshop: numerous intense discussions of core issues in research and policy, respect for different perspectives, and a furtherance of social integration and communication among researchers.

The second workshop convened in September 1999 in Oslo, Norway. This meeting proved pivotal in producing the organizational framework that would propel the methodological development of the instrument packages. Five instrument-based working groups were formed: city level descriptors, expert survey, youth survey, ethnography, and a program inventory. An additional group agreed to hammer out the thorny definitional issues and another took responsibility for seeking out funding opportunities for further meetings and research. There was little enthusiasm for a proposed workgroup on archival methods (using police or judicial data), and subsequent attempts to promote interest have not been successful.

Oslo meeting participants aligned themselves with at least one, and sometimes several, working groups. Group facilitators volunteered to guide the groups toward draft instruments. We recruited others interested in participating that were not in attendance at the Oslo meeting. Within each working group, between 10 and 18 individuals participated in the instrument development discussions during the most active periods (much of this discussion took place via telephone conversations, faxing of documents, snail mail, and email). It was understood that although much of the work would be accomplished within the working groups, it was critical to adopt common measures across different instruments. Therefore, the final decisions were made in plenary sessions. The work of the groups was given extra momentum by the convening of the third Eurogang workshop in Leuven, Belgium, held only a month after the Oslo meeting. Substantial discussion revolved around the question of whether multi-investigator, multisite, systematic ethnography was possible, or desirable. The ethnography working group tentatively agreed to draft guidelines for ethnographic researchers rather than the more specific instruments that were in development in the city, expert, and youth working groups. After this meeting, we used electronic communication to further refine instrument contents.

Initial drafts of most of the instruments were introduced and discussed at the fourth Eurogang workshop that was held in the autumn of 2000 in the Netherlands, at the North Sea resort town of Egmond aan Zee. During this meeting, attention focused on the content of the instruments. Each instrument working group proposed a series of topics to be discussed by the larger group. Furthermore, a first attempt was made to arrive at a common definition of gangs/troublesome youth groups, the subject of study within the Eurogang Program.

The fifth and sixth Eurogang workshops were very intensive. Both were held at the Correctional Officer Training Facility of Bavaria in Straubing, Germany in the summers of 2002 and 2003. During the fifth Eurogang meeting, we reached consensus after lengthy discussions on a Eurogang definition to be adopted in Eurogang work: A street gang (or “troublesome youth group,” if preferred) is “any durable, street-oriented youth group whose involvement in illegal activity is part of its group identity” (Weerman, Maxson, Esbensen, Aldridge, Medina, & van Gemert, 2009). We will discuss the elements of this definition in greater detail in a subsequent section of this chapter. Agreement on preliminary drafts of the Expert and Youth Surveys was achieved, which then allowed researchers from diverse countries to translate the instruments into those languages.2 Researchers were encouraged to translate the instrument into their native language and to then “back translate” that version into English to assess the extent to which the translated version actually mirrored the original English version. These preliminary drafts were translated into Dutch, French, German, Norwegian, Russian, and Spanish. All of these researchers then conducted pretests to identify potential problems and/or, misunderstandings in the instruments.

The sixth Eurogang meeting served as a platform to: (1) review the results of pretests of the instruments, (2) discuss translation issues, (3) coordinate common measures across different instruments, and (4) refine the content of the instruments. In addition, a draft of a gang prevention or intervention program inventory was introduced. During these meetings, participants addressed the issue of who could have access to the instruments that had been developed. Would use be limited to the Eurogang participants who had worked so hard to develop them, or would we make the instruments available to all who might want to use them? If there was free access, how could we learn from others’ experiences to refine the instruments? Another topic of discussion was concerned about the way in which different research traditions and different locations might handle informed consent procedures. Discussion focused on two separate issues: (1) for youth surveys there was concern about possible selection bias associated with different standards for participation associated with active and passive parental consent for youth participation in survey research and (2) for qualitative research there was considerable discussion of the extent to which research participants should approve of the researchers’ written reports. Finally, we formalized the creation of the Eurogang electronic listserv (currently there are 231 subscribers) and the Eurogang website.

Both meetings in Straubing included presentations on the first research studies which employed the Eurogang definition of gang/troublesome youth group and early versions of the proposed instruments. A number of these presentations, together with several solicited chapters, comprise the second volume of Eurogang research (Decker & Weerman, 2005). The volume provided a rich account of street gang activity in cities in several European countries such as the Netherlands, Norway, Germany, Italy, Scotland, and Russia as well as a rare comparison of gang activity in several US cities and the Hague (Weerman & Esbensen, 2005). In addition to important substantive contributions, these chapters illustrate the utility of the Eurogang definition across place and method, spanning both qualitative and quantitative techniques of data collection and analysis. As concluded by the volume’s co-editors, “the definition has proven to work well” (Weerman & Decker, 2005, p. 304). Further, chapter authors profitably employed several of the Eurogang instruments. The Expert Survey proved viable in Amsterdam (van Gemert, 2005) and two cities in Russia (Salagev, Sahskin, Sherbakova, & Touriyanskiy, 2005). Several chapters drew from the Ethnographic Guidelines to analyze gang forms in Amsterdam, Oslo, Genoa, Moscow, and Kazan. In addition to the aforementioned comparative study by Weerman and Esbensen (2005), Bradshaw’s (2005) chapter draws from youth survey data in Edinburgh to contrast gang dynamics there with the United States. Despite the valuable contributions in the volume, the co-editors note the need for deployment of multiple methods to study the same gangs and areas, which is of course a major goal of the Eurogang network.

We convened the seventh Eurogang workshop in 2004, for the first time in the United States in the city of Albany, New York. This meeting focused on a substantive issue: the role of violence in street gangs. Findings presented at this meeting were published in the European Journal of Criminology (Klein, Weerman, & Thornberry, 2006). Also, the results of a final round of pretests were discussed. The participants concluded that the instruments should be deemed “final” and made available to any interested researcher. Subsequently, the five instruments and the definitions essay were posted on the Eurogang website, but electronic access remains contingent upon contact with the Eurogang’s “Use Master” so that experiences with the instruments can be tracked. These instruments are all available on the Eurogang website.

The Albany workshop marked the close of the instrument development phase of the Eurogang Research Program and the beginning of Phase II, wherein Eurogang participants shifted focus to the conceptual and empirical issues that engage all researchers and scholars. This change was evident in the eighth Eurogang workshop held in May 2005 in the Basque city of Oñati in Spain. This meeting included substantive presentations that addressed the issues of migration and ethnicity. Many of these presentations, together with others, comprise the third volume of Eurogang research (van Gemert, Peterson, & Lien, 2008). While several chapters in the second Eurogang volume illustrated the importance of immigration in gang formation and maintaining group identity, these themes were highlighted in the third volume. The chapters in this volume grapple with the complex relationship between migration, ethnicity, and gang formation. Several touch on the role of stigmatization and marginalization of immigrants and ethnic minorities. These issues are examined in eight European countries (England, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Russia, Spain, and Sweden) as well as Australia, Canada, and the United States. While utilizing a wide range of methods, each of the chapters considers the Eurogang definition in their discussions. Despite the rich variety of contexts represented in this work, the co-editors point to similar impacts of opportunity structures, cultural traditions, and social disorganization in understanding the dynamics of gang formation and behavior (van Gemert, Peterson, & Lien, 2008).

A ninth Eurogang workshop was convened in Los Angeles, California in May 2008. This workshop had the purpose of raising the visibility of the Eurogang Program to US researchers and engaging a new generation of young scholars with Eurogang activities. To support these aims, Malcolm Klein produced a monograph which imagines a Eurogang study of the fictional community of Euroburg and illustrates many of the issues encountered while conducting cross-national, multi-method research on youth gangs (Klein, 2009).

Throughout our series of workshops, certain themes surface again and again in our discussions of definitional and methodological issues. We also engage in repeated discussions about the group processes that occur within youth gangs and how these might contribute to high levels of offending. As such, we devoted our tenth Eurogang meeting in June 2010 in Neustadt an der Weinstrasse, Germany to presentations and discussions of these core issues associated with comparative research on youth gangs as well as site-specific descriptions of gang research in a variety of European settings. The presentations at that workshop provide the foundation for the fourth Eurogang book (Esbensen & Maxson, 2012).

Some of the chapter authors represented in the fourth Eurogang book are well-known scholars in the field, while others broke new ground by being the first in their countries to raise interest in and to conduct research on youth gang issues. Authors from a variety of scholarly disciplines as well as cultural perspectives provide rich and diverse views of the youth gang phenomenon. The works in that volume represent various and rich research traditions, including ethnographic methods, self-report surveys or interviews of youth, surveys or interviews with law enforcement, official records data, and victim interviews. Importantly, and unique among the few books that address gangs outside the United States, all of the authors utilize the Eurogang Program’s definition of a youth gang so that, while the groups they describe are located in different countries, comparisons may be drawn between them.

The eleventh workshop in September 2011 was convened in the quaint Danish town of Hillerod, located 30 miles from Copenhagen. This workshop included a number of Danish practitioners (youth outreach workers, police officers) who worked with gang youth. The formal presentations covered a number of different topics, but two themes dominated the discussions: policy and programmatic issues (e.g., applicability of restorative justice practices and school- and family-based programs) and the emerging attention allotted to the topic of gang desistance.

The twelfth workshop, held in May 2012, continued the efforts to bridge the historical divide between researchers and practitioners. In fact, the Eurogang workshop was part of the larger conference organized by the Stockholm police in conjunction with the Stockholm Gang Intervention and Prevention Project (SGIP). Several hundred law enforcement officers from throughout Scandinavia and the United Kingdom attended the larger conference at which Eurogang researchers made a number of presentations (Leinfelt & Rostami, 2012; Rostami & Leinfelt, 2012). In addition to detailed discussion of the SGIP Project, the meeting featured a number of panel presentations that included basic research on gangs, criminal justice interventions, and responses to gangs. One particular panel discussion introduced a topic that would assume increasing relevance in subsequent years—gangs and the Internet.

The thirteenth Eurogang workshop was hosted by the Centre of Research and Education in Forensic Psychology (CORE-FP) at the University of Kent in Canterbury, United Kingdom, in June 2013. One unique feature of this workshop was inclusion of a half-day seminar preceding the workshop. This seminar was attended largely by graduate students from Kent and provided a detailed overview of the Eurogang project, the instruments, and challenges associated with conducting cross-national gang research. One of the aims of the workshop was to bring together different disciplines in the study of gangs, including psychology, prison research, mental health, and policy studies. For example, presentations addressed the mental health of gang members; psychological characteristics such as social dominance orientation and trust propensity in street gang members; and comparisons of street and prison gang membership. Discussions also included more traditional issues such as gang definitions and typologies, group processes, and desistance from gangs.

In June of 2014, the fourteenth Eurogang workshop was held in the scenic coastal town of Stavern, Norway, at the Norwegian Police training facility. Several local practitioners (police officers, municipal workers, youth outreach workers, and crime prevention units) joined in the discussions. A number of presentations were of particular relevance to the practitioner/researcher audience and focused on such topics as policing gangs, a Danish desistance program for gang and biker group members, and evaluations of gang intervention programs more generally. The workshop also featured presentations on a wide variety of other topics, including motives for leaving the gang, social network methods, gang violence in Venezuela, and gay gang members. Another theme of the workshop was discussion of gang transformations: how youth networks develop into street gangs and how street gangs develop into other types of gangs and groups.

In June 2015, the fifteenth meeting of the Eurogang group returned to Germany to the beautiful rural setting of Blaubeuren at the Heinrich Fabri Institute (Social Research Science Center). This workshop focused attention on new developments in comparative research on youth gangs, and included a special brainstorm session about comparative analysis and comparative case study methods, along with a presentation of specifically comparative ethnographic gang research. Other papers engaged the topics of gang embeddedness, gangs in the virtual world, and group processes.

In June 2016, the Eurogang workshop returned to Scandinavia—to the west coast city of Gothenburg, Sweden. For a period of time (2011–2016), Gothenburg had experienced an increase in youth- and gang-related crime and local politicians and practitioners were eager to learn from the Eurogang members. Participants at the workshop included approximately 40 Eurogang members and 40 Swedish practitioners from a wide range of agencies but primarily law enforcement. As in several of the preceding workshops, a major objective of this workshop was to include researchers and practitioners in the discussion. As such, there were a number of informative exchanges between the participants on topics ranging from the local situation in Gothenburg to the increasingly more common issue of gang members’ use of social media.

The seventeenth Eurogang workshop was held at Michigan State University (MSU) in June 2017. Following the example of the meeting at the University of Kent, the MSU workshop included a half-day seminar that introduced younger scholars and new members to the history of the Eurogang Program. The seminar discussed the origins of the Eurogang definition, and critiques offered of it, as well as the process by which the Eurogang instruments were developed, pretested, and finalized. Challenges associated with multi-method, cross-national research were also introduced. The main body of the workshop highlighted the local situation in Flint, Michigan (an hour’s drive from the Michigan State University campus in East Lansing) as well as the role of neighborhood contextual factors in fostering gang activity. With the increased importance of social media in daily life, special attention was also given to the role of social media in expanding the public presence of gangs online.

The eighteenth Eurogang workshop will represent the twentieth anniversary of the first meeting in Schmitten, Germany in 1998. Planning is currently underway for a meeting in June 2018 in the Netherlands. The map3 in Figure 1 highlights the location of Eurogang meetings that have been convened in Europe. Active participants in the Eurogang meetings represent a number of nations, most notably the United States, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Germany, Italy, Switzerland, Israel, and France. In addition to these nations, members of the Eurogang email distribution list live in the following countries: Argentina, Austria, Australia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Canada, Croatia, Greece, Hong Kong, Ireland, Kenya, New Zealand, Russia, Scotland, Singapore, and Slovenia.

The Eurogang Program of ResearchClick to view larger

Figure 1. Locations of Eurogang Research Program Workshops.

Courtesy of Tim McCuddy.

The preceding paragraphs have detailed the substantive content of the various Eurogang workshops. It is also important to note these workshops have not been all work and no play, nor have they been limited to academic conversations about theory, research, and policy. Importantly, all of the three-day workshops have included visits to relevant historical, cultural, and topical sites. For instance, we have had the opportunity to visit the maximum security prison in Bavaria, meet with gang members incarcerated in a Danish prison, take walking tours of gang areas in Brussels and Oslo, visit castles and wineries, tour cathedrals, and even enjoy some boat rides along the Norwegian and Swedish coasts. Eurogang gatherings have incorporated folk singing contests and talent shows, basketball, volleyball, and hikes in the woods. We truly believe in the importance of appreciating the social and historical contexts of the locations we visit and of providing settings for informal discussion and socializing. See Figure 1 for a visual depiction of all of the Eurogang meeting sites. In addition to the European meetings, we also held meetings in Albany, New York (2004), Los Angeles, California (2008), and East Lansing, Michigan (2017).

The Eurogang Definition of Gang Membership

Underlying all of the research proposed by the Eurogang Program is the consensus Eurogang definition of a street gang/troublesome youth group. During the second Eurogang meeting in Oslo, a separate working group was established, called the Definitions group. This group was charged with the task of accomplishing what 70 years of American gang research had not been able to accomplish—providing a consensus definition of what constitutes a gang. Malcolm Klein spearheaded this daunting task. Following three years of discussions and a number of draft definitions, consensus was reached on the definitive wording of the definition during a plenary session at the fifth Eurogang meeting in 2002: A street gang/troublesome youth group is “any durable, street-oriented youth group whose involvement in illegal activity is part of its group identity” (Weerman et al., 2009).

Development of the Definition: Definers and Descriptors

The process of developing a consensus definition began with agreement that the definition would have to be one that would attract widespread acceptance and one that would be suitable in multiple cultural contexts. Early in the deliberations, we made the important distinction between gang definers and gang descriptors. This distinction proved to be a significant step towards reaching agreement on a definition. Perhaps surprisingly, many law enforcement definitions of gang affiliation rely upon descriptors such as group name, tattoos, and other symbols. While these characteristics may describe some gangs, they are not essential elements of a gang. Elements that are absolutely essential to categorize a group as a gang or an individual as a gang member we term “gang definers” while “descriptors” refer to those elements that help to describe specific characteristics of a particular group. For example, descriptors include group names, colors, or symbols, and the use of tattoos are elements that are often ascribed to gangs and their members. However, does a group have to use a name to be considered a gang? Does a group have to adopt specific colors or symbols to make it a gang? And is it essential to have a tattoo in order to be a gang member? The answer to these questions is no. Conversely, are groups that have colors, a name, or symbols inevitably considered gangs? This latter question identifies groups such as athletic teams and the scouts, so we believe that the answer to that question is a resounding no. Although these characteristics might help to describe a gang or gang members, they are not essential elements of a gang.

What then are the key components that define a street gang? In the working group, the focus turned to such elements as size, age composition, location, stability, and group identity. To start with, it is clear that a gang is a group. Therefore, a gang must consist of more than one person. Although some law enforcement agencies consider two members sufficient to be a gang, most gang scholars agree that to constitute a gang there must be at least three members. Given that our interest is in youth gangs, we must also place parameters on the age range of members. A group composed primarily of twenty- and thirty-year-olds would not fit well within the category of youth. Also, the types of behavior that evoke public and law enforcement concern need to be considered. We do not dispute the fact that many groups (primarily middle class and/or suburban youths) may be involved in troublesome and illegal behavior from time to time; however, the street-oriented aspect of gangs is what elicits fear and concern. The emergence of social media and its ubiquity call for consideration of the “public space” nature of many social media interactions—a point that has been the topic of discussion during the sixteenth and seventeenth Eurogang workshops—and a topic which will continue to receive attention in future Eurogang workshops. In addition to this street-oriented nature of gangs, what other criteria help to differentiate a gang from other street-oriented groups such as mobs? One defining criterion is that gangs persist over some period of time. They do not assemble for just one day or one event. Groups that endure over time and those that dissipate almost upon formation are qualitatively different from one another. Another important defining element of gangs is their sense of “we-ness” or group identity. Without such an identity, we cannot speak of gang membership or gang activity.

One persistent debate in gang literature is the relevance of involvement in illegal activity. Short (1996) among others has argued against including crime in gang definitions due to a concern about tautology and overemphasizing offending as a characteristic of the group. The working group felt that group involvement in illegal activity is a critical distinguishing element of youth gangs. Without this illegal activity, the group would not generate the policy interest that gangs currently and historically have. Importantly, Eurogang members reinforced that crime involvement is part and parcel of the identity of the group and not just some of its members. These defining elements, then, were combined to establish the Eurogang definition of a gang: “a street gang (or troublesome youth group corresponding to a street gang elsewhere) is any durable, street-oriented youth group whose involvement in illegal activity is part of its group identity” (Weerman et al., 2009).

In addition to the defining elements just described, a phrase (“troublesome youth group corresponding to a street gang elsewhere”) that could be substituted for the word “gang” was provided. This was meant to address the concerns that the word “gang” may elicit the Eurogang Paradox (i.e., that European troublesome youth groups are not gangs because they are perceived—incorrectly as Eurogang research would reveal—to be like American gangs) or more specifically, its translation in their own language, like “bande” or “jeugdbende” may not convey the same meaning as the word “gang.” It is possible that the public in one country has strong stereotypes or associations in mind that are connected to these words. The discussion about this problem was resolved by allowing local researchers to use the phrase “troublesome youth group,” or its translation instead of the word “gang,” if they want to prevent misconceptions by the general public. During Eurogang meetings and other conferences, however, researchers commonly refer to “gangs” as their subject of research.

Developing Measures

To guide the group’s discussion and finalization of research instruments, we developed a ranking system in which we prioritized the desirability of including various measures and questions. The defining elements reviewed above constitute Level I measures and should be incorporated into all of the methods of data collection. In addition to these elements, there are descriptive items that provide additional information about individual gang members and the gang as a group. We divided these descriptors into two additional categories, cleverly referred to as Level II (measures that are desirable but not strictly necessary) and Level III (a list of suggestions for interesting additional measures that can be included in a comparative gang study). We further grouped these variables as individual-level or group-level characteristics.

Individual-Level Characteristics

  • Level I: demographics.

  • Level II: family background; parental schooling; employment; prevention, intervention and suppression experiences; victimization history outside of gang; self-reported delinquency; illiteracy; parental monitoring and supervision; girl/boyfriends; legal status/immigrant; proportion of close friends in gang; ex-gang status; siblings.

  • Level III: SES background; personal networks beyond the gang; mental health; school and family attachment; residence of family.

Group-Level Characteristics

  • Level I: age; common group crimes; drug and alcohol use; duration; ethnic composition; gang or not; negative peer commitment; sex composition; group size; illegal activity; immigrant composition; name (what is it and who gave it); reasons for joining; street- orientation; subgroups; term used; territory.

  • Level II: attachment to group; entry and exit criteria; external antagonists; other groups that are present in location; fights with other groups; group values; history of the gang; key events/incidents; roles, symbols and colors; structured narratives.

  • Level III: class composition of the gang; hanging out together; kinship; political orientation; proportion of members co-located.

These measurement guidelines were intended to facilitate the collection of comparable data across multiple contexts and thereby allow for systematic assessment of troublesome youth group behavior in a variety of national or cultural settings. By encouraging researchers to include these measures of individual and group characteristics through multiple methods, the Eurogang Program would be in a stronger position to discuss policy responses to this form of adolescent problem behavior.

Eurogang Instruments

As described in the preceding sections, each of the Eurogang working groups produced an instrument to be used in comparative gang research. Most Eurogang researchers rely on one or more of the following instruments in their research. To date, the city-level descriptors and prevention/intervention program inventory instruments have been piloted but have not yet been used in a full-scale study. We describe each of these instruments below.

City-Level

One of the key aims of the Eurogang Program is to develop a better understanding of how context contributes to gang emergence, its dynamics, and the behavior of gang-involved youth. Traditionally, context has been incorporated through the analysis of local conditions in single-location ethnographies or by incorporating neighborhood information in survey studies, often by linking survey data to other existing administrative data sources. The study of context becomes even more relevant in cross-national comparisons where significant differences can be found in local history, spatial urban configurations, and social and criminal justice policy. Cross-national research of the type advocated by the Eurogang Program aims to develop an understanding of how different national and local circumstances across Europe impact the gang situation at different sites. Categories of items included on this instrument are population demographics, economic and education characteristics, political and administrative context, land use, and crime rates.

Expert Survey

This compact questionnaire was developed to survey or interview (telephone or in-person) local experts on the presence of street gangs/troublesome youth groups. These experts may be police officers, youth workers, or anybody else who has sound knowledge about the gangs in a neighborhood or city. The questionnaire covers the existence of gangs according to the Eurogang definition, information about the demographics and other characteristics of these gangs, and the gang type to which they belong. It provides a general picture of the amount and nature of gangs in a certain area.

Youth Survey

This questionnaire is intended to collect quantitative individual data from young people. The youth survey is designed to be administered in classrooms in secondary schools (using computer-assisted administration or paper and pencil methods) but it can also be administered in other settings as well (e.g., community or institutional samples). The core questions necessary to establish whether respondents belong to a gang/troublesome youth group according to the Eurogang definition are included as are additional items that describe structural and cultural characteristics of the group to which respondents belong.

Ethnography Guidelines

This is a set of guidelines and advice on how to collect qualitative information on one or more street gangs/troublesome youth groups employing ethnographic approaches. The guidelines are flexible, as researchers may prefer different methods (observational methods and/or in-depth interviews with gang members or key informants). Another part of the document offers a list of topics that needs to be addressed in a Eurogang ethnographic research project. These topics are focused on group characteristics, gang culture, individual members, and the historical and local context of the gang under study.

Prevention and Intervention Inventory

The interest in European programmatic and policy responses to gangs was evident at the first Eurogang workshop. The goal of the Prevention and Intervention Inventory is to identify strategies or programs that have been initiated to prevent or respond to gangs in different countries, and to learn something about the nature of such programs. The development of this instrument initially lagged behind other Eurogang instruments. One reason is that many European governments do not recognize a particular gang problem in their country or one that needs a specialized response through programs or policies. Another reason is that there are important cultural differences between countries in the way in which responses to social problems are organized (see Carlsson & Decker, 2005). The United States and some European countries develop special programs to respond to emerging social problems whereas other European nations provide a broad safety net of health, employment, and social services to their populations. The latter model tends to increase the capacity of existing social institutions in response to emerging social problems, but it also implies that there are often no gang-specific responses or programs that need to be developed. Therefore, there were large differences among participants in the perceived relevance of an inventory of specialized prevention and intervention measures.

Substantive Contributions

One of the goals of the Eurogang project is “to disseminate and effectively utilize knowledge to inform the development of effective local, national, and international responses to emerging youth crime and violence issues.” Presentations at the Eurogang workshops serve as the basis for five edited volumes:

Klein, M. W., Kerner, H.-J., Maxson, C. L., & Weitekamp. E. E. G. (2001). The Eurogang paradox: Street gangs and youth groups in the US and Europe. Amsterdam, The Netherlands: Kluwer Press.

Decker, S. H., & Weerman, F. W. (2005). European street gangs and troublesome youth groups. Lanham, MD: Altamira Press.

van Gemert, F., Peterson, D., & Lien, I.-L. (2008). Street gangs, migration, and ethnicity. Cullompton, UK: Willan Publishing.

Esbensen, F.-A., & Maxson, C. L. (2012). Youth gangs in international perspective: Results from the Eurogang Program of Research. New York: Springer.

Maxson, C. L., & Esbensen, F.-A. (2016). Gang transitions and transformations in international context. New York: Springer.

To date, a number of researchers have contributed to our expanding understanding of gangs in international contexts. For example, topics addressed include: continued examination of definitional and measurement issues associated with use of the Eurogang definition (Aldridge, Medina-Ariz, & Ralphs, 2012; Matsuda, Esbensen, & Carson, 2012; Melde, Esbensen, & Carson, 2016; Roman, Cahill, & Eidson, 2016; Smithson, Monchuk, & Armitage, 2012); investigation of group processes that distinguish youth gangs from other law-violating youth groups (Alleyne & Wood, 2012; Hennigan & Spanovich, 2012; Maxson, 2012; Pyrooz, Fox, Katz, & Decker, 2012; Sela-Shayovitz, 2012) and descriptions of contemporary gang research in different nations (Bradshaw, 2005; deJong, 2012; Pedersen & Lindstad, 2012; Rostami & Leinfelt, 2012; de Waele & Pauwels, 2016); and several cross-cultural comparisons (Densley & Jones, 2016; Sela-Shayovitz, Pyrooz, & Decker, 2016; Vandenbogaerde & van Hellemont, 2016; Weerman & Esbensen, 2005).

Maxson (2012) and more recently, van Gemert and Weerman (2015) summarize the similarities and differences in gangs in the United States and Europe. Both works note the consistency in finding that gang membership dramatically increases involvement in crime and violence. Gang-to-non-gang offending ratios over three are the norm and are about five times higher in samples from Spain, Iceland, Portugal, Slovenia, and Norway (Gatti, Haymoz, & Schadee, 2011). Maxson observes that research on risk factors for joining gangs in Europe (for example, see Pedersen & Lindstad, 2012, in Copenhagen; Weerman, 2012, in the Hague; and Alleyne & Wood, 2012, in London; and Haymoz, Maxson, & Killias, 2014 in a wide variety of European countries) reveals quite similar patterns to what we have learned from the last three decades of gang studies in the United States. The structural forms that gangs take, based on size, age range, duration, territoriality, subgrouping and crime versatility, appear to be quite similar in the United States and Europe. Studies in a northern English city (Smithson et al., 2012), Copenhagen (Pedersen & Lindstad, 2012), and Stockholm (Rostami & Leinfelt, 2012) explicitly identify gang structures that capture most of the forms that gangs take in the United States (Klein & Maxson, 2006). Two Dutch researchers, van Gemert and Weerman (2015), conclude that European gangs are less organized, less likely to embrace names or identifying symbols, and are less territorial. In general, we see more similarities than differences across these very different cultural and geographic contexts.

In addition to these substantive contributions to the comparative literature on troublesome youth groups, another significant advancement came when the second International Self-Report Delinquency Study incorporated the elements of the Eurogang definition into their instrument, providing the first opportunity to gather systematic survey data on gangs throughout the world. This generated findings on gang prevalence and criminal offending in 30 countries (Gatti et al., 2011; Haymoz & Gatti, 2010) as well as an analysis of risk factors for gang joining (Haymoz, Maxson, & Killias, 2014).

Challenges to Cross-National Comparative Research and Directions for the Future

The past 20 years have produced considerable advancement in the study of youth gangs (or troublesome youth groups). However, we conclude this chapter with a brief discussion of some of the challenges associated with comparative research and then we provide suggestions for future efforts. While we believe that the Eurogang Program’s development of a consensus definition and research instruments should facilitate multi-methods multisite research on gangs, we acknowledge that researchers will be confronted with additional challenges. Not the least of these challenges is the issue of research funding. Comparative and multi-method research is expensive when conducted in a single site; when carried out in multiple settings, the cost becomes even more onerous and the potential sources of such funding are few in numbers. One possible solution to this funding issue is for individual researchers to secure funding for their localized studies while cooperating with researchers from other nations who share an interest in comparative gang research.

Other challenges to comparative research include researcher disciplinary training and the willingness to engage in interdisciplinary research efforts. In the Eurogang Program, there are members trained in anthropology, criminology, law, medicine, public health, psychology, and sociology. Such multi-disciplinary collaboration requires a desire to collaborate and willingness to compromise. Along the same lines, researchers may well have different priorities and may not be willing to include all of the Eurogang instruments or even all of the questions recommended in the youth and expert surveys. Based on our own experiences, collaboration among multiple researchers can be quite challenging even in single-site, single-method studies.

In addition to these professional issues, comparative researchers encounter the more mundane issues of working in different time zones (sometimes resulting in delayed response to pressing questions), potential language barriers (although English has become the de facto language of research), and communication (although email, Skype, and other mediums have greatly facilitated interaction). These challenges, however, appear rather trivial when considered in relation to the benefits derived from comparative multi-method, multisite research. As such, we continue to encourage ad hoc collaborations among Eurogang members to seek funding opportunities for multisite, multi-method research.

The Future of Eurogang

We conclude our chapter with a discussion of two issues: expanding our reach and ensuring our relevance for continued gang research. One recurring issue that emerged early in the history of the Eurogang Program has been the restricted focus on Europe and North America. Some researchers have identified this focus as a bias when in fact the intent was to begin with a manageable task. While North America and Europe share a number of common cultural and historical events, there are nonetheless substantial cultural and linguistic differences that make comparative research among these countries quite challenging. The early organizers felt that it would be difficult enough to coordinate researchers in these two regions of the world without introducing additional barriers (e.g., language, history, and culture). With the considerable success of the Eurogang Program (e.g., usage of the definition and some of the instruments in research), it may be time to involve researchers and policymakers from other regions. Recent research by Rodriguez and colleagues (2016) suggests that the Eurogang definition may not work as well in Latin American contexts as it has in the European context (although some European researchers have also encouraged a reconsideration of the Eurogang operationalization; see Aldridge et al., 2012). The Eurogang Program welcomes this new research and new members from around the world. Those interested in joining the group can contact any member of the Eurogang steering committee to be added to the listserv. We foresee many lively and engaging discussions in the years ahead.

Since the first Eurogang meeting in 1998, society has experienced a social revolution of sorts: social media has expanded exponentially. In 1998, cell phones and personal computers were still relatively new and few researchers anticipated the speed at which technological advances would change social interaction. The Eurogang definition emphasizes “street-orientation” of the group. With the ubiquity of social media and the changing social interaction brought about by these new mediums, is this emphasis on street-orientation still relevant? Are postings on social media (i.e., YouTube, Instagram, Snapchat) the 21st century equivalent of street-orientation? That is, can these postings be considered behavior that occurs in public spaces that can intimidate other people? Again, we see these societal changes as fertile grounds for generating more discussion and debate at future meetings of the Eurogang Program. Expanding Eurogang research beyond the borders of North America and Europe and incorporating new social developments (such as social media) should serve to address the issues posed at the outset of this section: expanding the reach of Eurogang research and ensuring our relevance for continued gang research.

It must be noted that the vision of Eurogang has not yet been realized (Klein, 2012). We have yet to produce studies in which the five-instrument research design has been employed in multiple countries (or even in one!). As yet, we have no cases of prospective, comparative data collection in multiple countries using even one of the Eurogang instruments. However, the Eurogang paradigm has guided multi-method, gang research in several cities, including Copenhagen, Denmark, and “Research City” in the United Kingdom. Eurogang instruments have been used in England, the Netherlands, Germany, Norway, Denmark, and Russia as well as in the United States, Canada, and a number of Caribbean and Latin American settings. And, the 33-nation International Self-Report Delinquency Study included the Eurogang definition and questions in its second and third sweeps. Thus, scholars are beginning to build the research foundation on which to inform the study of youth gangs in multiple contexts and potential policy responses to these troublesome youth groups. There remains, however, much to be accomplished.

Further Reading

Decker, S. H., & Weerman, F. W. (2005). European street gangs and troublesome youth groups. Lanham, MD: Altamira Press.Find this resource:

    The Eurogang Project. Retrieved from https://www.umsl.edu/ccj/Eurogang/euroganghome.html.

    Esbensen, F.-A., & Maxson, C. L. (Eds.). (2012). Youth gangs in international perspective: Results from the Eurogang Program of Research. New York: Springer.Find this resource:

      van Gemert, F., Peterson, D., & Lien, I.-L. (2008). Street gangs, migration, and ethnicity. Cullompton, UK: Willan Publishing.Find this resource:

        Klein, M. W. (2009). The street gangs of Euroburg: A story of research. Bloomington, IN: Universe Publishing.Find this resource:

          Klein, M. W., Kerner, H.-J., Maxson, C. L., & Weitekamp, E. G. M. (2001). The Eurogang Paradox: Street gangs and youth groups in the U.S. and Europe. Amsterdam, The Netherlands: Kluwer Press.Find this resource:

            Maxson, C. L., & Esbensen, F.-A. (Eds.). (2016). Gang transitions and transformations in international context. New York: Springer.Find this resource:

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                                                                                                                            Notes:

                                                                                                                            (1.) Special recognition to the Des Lee Collaborative Vision at the University of Missouri-St. Louis for its continued support of many of the Eurogang workshops.

                                                                                                                            (2.) English was the common language during meetings and all documents were drafted initially in English.

                                                                                                                            (3.) Our thanks to Tim McCuddy for creating this map for inclusion in this chapter.