Subcultures: Sociology and Chicago School

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This essay explores firstly the insight offered by applying aspects of the Chicago School’s theory, specifically the Concentric Zone Model and analysis of the City, to the subcultural group of gangs. Their ideas will be explored and contrasted with those in Brown, Vigil and Taylors 2012 article: “The Ghettoization of Blacks in Los Angeles: the Emergence of Street Gangs”. Further to this I will analyse the limitations of the Chicago Schools theory and contrast this with insight offered form the Birmingham School of thought. The notion of culture can be conceptualised in a variety of different ways but in general terms can be purported to encompass the behavioural norms of a society and the knowledge, beliefs and laws which inform their customs (Tylor, 1871). Similarly, the definition of what constitutes a subculture is contested and open to multiple interpretations. The common theme of subcultural definitions includes the notion that subcultures “construct, perceive and portray” themselves as isolated groups separate from the parent culture (Macdonald, 2001, 152). The relationship between culture and subculture can arguably be understood through the subcultures “subordinate, subaltern and subterranean” relationship principally the subculture’s inferior status which has been conferred through conceptual difference (Thornton, 1995, 4). The Chicago School was established in 1982 and remained at the pinnacle of sociological thought through to the late 1950s. The American sociological tradition, which was influenced greatly by the work of Durkheim, Simmel and Tonnies, has focused largely on the ecological model of society and on the emergence of subcultures, a result of urbanization with the City at the Crux of social investigation (Williams, 2007). Central to the school’s work on the city is Park and Burgess Concentric Zone Model which uses an amalgamation of ethnographic methods and ecology to construct a diagram of urban land use (Macionis and Plummer, 2005). The Concentric Zone Model theory proposes that the form of the City falls into five concentric rings, formed through an organic rhythm as opposed to strategic forethought. Each band is coloured by levels of desirability and the social consequences of each zone, with the city centre as the most degenerate area impacted highly by social changes such as poverty, overcrowding and immigration (Macionis and Plummer, 2005). Social dislocations, such as: gangs, violence and crime, for the Chicago School are principally considered to be consequences of the “intersection of urban ecology and social stratification” (Hagedorn). Brown, Vigil and Taylor’s article focuses on the lived reality of the African-American community from a historical perspective in an attempt to explain gang formation and in doing so stresses the significance of the effects of racism. Central to their argument is the concept of multiple marginality which reflects the complexities and persistence of racial forces on the African-American experience (Vigil, 1978). The image of the African-American community is arguably intrinsically linked with that of, guns, drugs, gangs and murder making it hard to separate the two ideals from each other however this negates the fact that the African-American community thrived for over a century and a half before the conditions deteriorated (Brown, Vigil, Taylor, 2012, 225). The rise of gangs was a result of the marginalization of the Black community which ranged from employment discrimination to social segregation, a process by which the opportunities and prospects of both adults and youth in the community was severely limited (DeGraff, 1980). .

The Chicago Schools explanation for the cause of gangs contrasts that which is presented in the article. Robert Park, suggested that gangs are a result of “city wilderness” influenced by their location in the concentric zone model without regard to race, creed or colour (Park, 1927). Brown, Vigil and Taylor’s article proposes...
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