The gangster imaginary: Towards a transgressive topography of urban violence
2016 IJURR lecture by Dennis Rodgers at the ISA-RC21 annual conference
Cities have long been associated with danger and violence, largely due to a persistent perception that urban contexts are inherently unruly and disorderly spaces, and therefore generally prone to transgressive forms of behaviour. In this lecture, Dennis Rodgers discusses how gangs occupy a key position within this particular global imaginary of urban violence and why they are widely considered to be fundamentally brutal and destructive social phenomena.
Numerous studies, from the Chicago School of Sociology’s foundational gang ethnographies in the 1920s and 1930s to contemporary explorations of the phenomena in cities of the so-called “Global South”, have however highlighted how such a gangster imaginary is deeply flawed. Drawing on some of these, as well as my own ongoing longitudinal ethnographic research on gang dynamics in Nicaragua begun in 1996, this talk will elaborate on three gang-related tropes – “gang governance”, “gangsters as infrastructure”, and “gangland urbanism” – in order to articulate an alternative gang imaginary, one that provides key elements for the conception of a different topography of urban violence where transgression emerges not only normatively as a “way of life”, but also as a necessary condition for the pursuit of urban social justice.