Social rituals of pain: the socio-symbolic meaning of violence in gang initiations

Stevenson Murer, J. and Schwarze, T. (2022) Social rituals of pain: the socio-symbolic meaning of violence in gang initiations. International Journal of Politics, Culture, and Society, 35(1), pp. 95-110. (doi: 10.1007/s10767-020-09392-2)

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Much of criminological scholarship on street gangs focuses on the deviant and delinquent aspects of gang violence. Although the research tradition acknowledges that violence is central to the life in a gang, it often labels this form of violence as an “anti-social” behaviour. This article challenges this conceptualisation of gang violence and proposes instead that gang violence is a social performance. By using the example of gang initiation rites, this article suggests that violence in such rites possesses a socio-symbolic and performative function that informs about the social status of gang members. This article draws on Jeffrey Stevenson Murer’s theory of the performative and communicative function of violence as well as on Pierre Bourdieu’s concepts of social field, habitus and social capital in order to demonstrate that violence during gang initiation rites is an inherently social act that reinforces and strengthens the social ties and bonds among the members of a gang. The aim of this piece is to broaden scholarship on gangs towards a more critical theorisation of the performative and communicative functions of gang violence. We suggest that a stronger engagement with critical social theory on collective identity, violence and social capital can contribute to a more nuanced understanding of the socio-symbolic and cultural processes that underlie gang membership.

Item Type:Articles
Additional Information:Funding: Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.
Keywords:Gangs, violence, initiation rites, social capital, performativity.
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Schwarze, Dr Tilman
Authors: Stevenson Murer, J., and Schwarze, T.
College/School:College of Social Sciences > School of Social and Political Sciences > Sociology Anthropology and Applied Social Sciences
Journal Name:International Journal of Politics, Culture, and Society
ISSN (Online):1573-3416
Published Online:23 October 2020
Copyright Holders:Copyright © 2020 The Authors
First Published:First published in International Journal of Politics, Culture, and Society 35(1): 95-110
Publisher Policy:Reproduced under a Creative Commons Licence

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