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Browsing by Author "Frestadius, Tero Tapani"

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  • Frestadius, Tero Tapani (2009)
    The master’s thesis examines gangs as a form of social and political organization in Los Angeles, California. The analysis breaks away from a conception prevailing in socio-scientific literature of gangs as individual- or community-level pathologies and discusses the claimed anachronism of gangs in modern state-level society by approaching the subject onwards from social processes on a local level. Thesis is based on material collected in the course of three months of ethnographic fieldwork in Los Angeles in 2008, socio-scientific literature on the subject, and newspaper articles. The essential theoretical starting point for the work is anthropologist Susan A. Phillips’ observation that interrelations between gangs in Los Angeles are structured in accordance with Evans-Pritchard’s classic theory of segmentary lineage systems. The concept of segmentation applied in the analysis is however based on Paul Dresch’s insights and is understood as a socially constitutive structural principle based on the maintenance of honor between similar parties in a horizontal relationship. In the thesis the neighborhood-based intergenerational gangs in Los Angeles are treated as ahierarchical segmentary groups through which the individual becomes embedded in a historically formed system of social and political interrelations. Segmentation is thus presented as a principle which constitutes the individual actor comprehensively and is manifested in names, tattoos, and a personal sense of honor. The thesis approaches the interrelations between gangs and the state through Gilles Deleuze’s and Felix Guattari’s theoretical observations on the interdynamics between the state and the war machine, which form the second major theoretical underpinning of the study. Based on information garnered through interviews and historical evidence symmetry is drawn between the coercive apparatus of the state and gangs. It is argued that the state becomes a meaningful actor in segmentary politics, inextricable from immanent social relations, through its police force on the street. Outside the segmentary frame of reference the interrelations between the state and gangs in Los Angeles are discussed primarily as the state’s incapability to internalize life on a local level. The existence of gangs is connected in the thesis with economic restructuring and the concomitant neo-liberal turn in the role of the state. While the state secures the workings of the free markets by providing the infrastructure of law and order, the social management of the redundant outcast proletariat is thrust upon the so-called third sector. The community-based non-governmental organizations in Los Angeles are socially legitimate and seemingly extra-political intermediaries in the state’s attempt to govern the effects of larger societal processes on a local level. The segmentary, socially constituting interrelations and the larger societal dynamics are brought together in the thesis in the tattoo removal process, which highlights the different modalities of the state and segmentary groups. The removal of the gang tattoo, inextricable from inclusive social relations on a local level, brings out the hopeless abstractness of the modern free market economy’s main protagonist: the free enterprising individual. The exposure of this paradigmatic abstraction underlying modern self-understanding and the socio-scientific discussion on gangs is a central motive of the thesis. The contradictions experienced by the former gang members interviewed in the study become understandable through an analysis of how local social processes unfurl onto broader institutional and interrelational structures.