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Content archived on 2024-06-18

Gangs policies: youth and migration in local contexts

Final Report Summary - YOUGANG (Gangs policies: youth and migration in local contexts)

Main objectives of Yougang. Contexts and methods
The project has studied the development of policies relating to gangs during the last ten years by using the Spanish experience as a case study. Over the last few years a rising interest in gangs has emerged as a consequence of the French banlieue explosion, the UK Riots of 2011, and other violent events concerning, mainly but not only, young migrants and second generations all over Europe. These phenomena generated a huge flow of media stories resulting in moral panic and stigmatization processes against vulnerable subjects, as well as public interventions at a local and national level. The project has investigated local policies on youth and gangs in Spain, mainly in Barcelona and Madrid; stakeholders (local administrators, gang leaders, media opinion leaders, social workers, police officers,...etc) play a decisive role in determining the quality of outcomes.
YOUGANG has chosen to focus on two large metropolitan areas -Barcelona and Madrid, scenarios of massive reception and subaltern insertion processes of immigrant labour- because of the polarity that they express and publicly narrate, in terms of institutional interventions facing the gang scene. From 2006, as an effect of the explicit policy of Barcelona City Council, gangs had been turned into youth cultural associations, registered by the Government of Catalonia, with the aim of directing this phenomenon within a framework of vigilance, social empowerment and violence reduction. The same groups that in Barcelona institutions consecrated as cultural associations, in Madrid fell within the area of illicit organisations and consequently into the legitimacy of repressive types of action; different judicial sentences declared these youth groups illegal - thus just belonging was a criminal offence - detaining and deporting members and leaders. At the end of 2011, when Yougang research starts, little remained in Catalonia of the social interventions with street groups: the legalised associations were ephemeral and void of any public relevance, while a new hegemonic, political and media discourse attempted to overcome “the kindness that had lead to funding gangs”. In Madrid, at the same time, institutions attempted not to mobilise the discourse of gangs too much in public terms and held onto the same policy of zero tolerance.
The entering of YOUGANG into the research field corresponds to the peak of the crisis: all sorts of social cutbacks in the basic sectors of society (education, health, pensions, public salaries...) and massive unemployment (approximately 50% of young people and 25% of the total labour force in 2012), even more pronounced among the immigrant population (35%). The crisis is thus a key element, as it changes the resources the players have on the field, the order of priority in public policies, and structurally modifies the logics of action in the gang scene; for example, supporting the growth in the importance of the ties between groups, young people and street economy, within the framework of a radical increase of unemployment. As a consequence, the halt in inclusion policies towards gangs, together with the effects of the crisis, have generated a huge growth in street youth violence during the last two years in both contexts.
YOUGANG opted for a methodological triangulation, crossing different accounts and empirical tools : a) grey literature produced by the actors in the field; b) 43 interviews in Madrid and Barcelona with the different actors that are involved in the gang scene; c) 9 focus groups with the relevant actors involving 94 informants; d) a permanent focus group (6 months) with gangs leaders in Barcelona in order to produce the documentary; e) 36 audiovisual and audio interviews with gang members; d) the participation as an expert in the consulting committee fostered by different State agencies in Catalonia.

Main results and impact
Gangs as youth culture: the importance of recognition. Gangs express the search of a collective identity in which many young people from different backgrounds, native and non native, foreigners and nationals inscribe. Research findings suggest that these groups can be better interpreted and dealt with if we look at them from the viewpoint of youth cultures giving up the pathological approach that can only correspond with a repressing policy. The research carried out supports the idea that it is necessary to consider the group as a space for an intervention from within social and youth policies. An acknowledging policy means understanding the importance of overcoming the institutional practices that seek to suppress the gangs and the detachment of gang members, that to this day, 10 years after their first introduction in Spain, have not succeeded in eradicating the continuous reproduction of street gangs.

On violence: the reduction of harm. The media representation of gangs is constructed integrally around the violence of these groups. But the violence that these groups carry out is not linked to any great crime platform (prostitution rings, drug dealing, cover ups, arms dealing, etc.), but it manifests itself as a language to affirm the superiority of a group over another, to seek respect in a society that stigmatises certain youth groups. The results of Yougang support the continuation and the experimentation of policies of harm reduction, working on alternatives that allow limiting the negative consequences of certain behaviours.

Social capital and accesibility. Gangs are a space for accumulating social capital, that is, relations and opportunities. These street groups only incorporate and give space to all the subjects that for some reason are expelled from the different areas of institutionality: the labour market, the educational system, the family. The social capital of these groups is an excluding one (bonding social capital), that is, based on strong bonds among similar subjects that exchange the few available resources within the marginalised groups. The results of YOUGANG support the need for public policies that favour access to other resources and relationships (bridging social capital) and guarantee access for young people to educational spaces and town facilities. The exisiting stigma prevents the group members from accessing these facilities.

Potential impact. Different players intervene on the gangs: street educators, teachers, social services, youth workers, the police, court officials and correction officers. These players often have diverging objectives and seek different solutions. YOUGANG findings point at the need for networking and a shared culture of public intervention in this field that will only be achieved through networking and training. In this respect, the main targets of research have been policy makers and local administrators in the field of youth and social policies and the findings of this project will be mainly relevant for them. The research findings have been permanently discussed with policy makers at local and nacional level; moreover YOUGANG has continually assessed different catalan state institutions (the autonomous police and the social policy department of Barcelona City Council) in order to rethink gang and youth policies. Given the segregation suffered by lower class youth of migrant origin all over Europe, the policy recomendation induced by YOUGANG findings, as well the methodology of research and intervention with gangs, can be inspiring for practices and actions in other local and national contexts. Moreover, the youth cultures observed in this research are part of a transnational field; so the diffusion of alternative perspectives through the documentary, the website and the facebook page will involve gang members in different European locations.

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