A World of Gangs

Armed Young Men and Gangsta Culture

by John M. M. Hagedorn, Mike Davis

Series: Globalization and Community (No. 14)

A World of Gangs: Armed Young Men and Gangsta Culture

“Street gangs mirror the inhuman ambitions and greed of society’s trendsetters and deities even as they fight to the death over scraps from the table of the international drug trade.  But John Hagedorn, characteristically, also finds hope in the contradictory values of outlaw youth—selflessness, solidarity, and love amid cupidity and directionless rage—and he maintains the hope that a culture of resistance will ultimately prevail over the forces of self-destruction. Whether one shares his optimism or not, he makes a compelling case that the future of the world will be determined on the streets of our cities.” —Mike Davis, from the Foreword


“A World of Gangs is an illuminating journey around the cultures, lives, tragedies, and dreams of millions of rebellious youth around the planet. It is an indispensable work to understand the world we live in and essential reading for students of cities and communities.” —Manuel Castells



For the more than a billion people who now live in urban slums, gangs are ubiquitous features of daily life. Though still most closely associated with American cities, gangs are an entrenched, worldwide phenomenon that play a significant role in a wide range of activities, from drug dealing to extortion to religious and political violence. In A World of Gangs, John Hagedorn explores this international proliferation of the urban gang as a consequence of the ravages of globalization.


Looking closely at gang formation in three world cities-Chicago, Rio de Janeiro, and Capetown-he discovers that some gangs have institutionalized as a strategy to confront a hopeless cycle of poverty, racism, and oppression. In particular, Hagedorn reveals, the nihilistic appeal of gangsta rap and its street ethic of survival “by any means necessary” provides vital insights into the ideology and persistence of gangs around the world. This groundbreaking work concludes on a hopeful note. Proposing ways in which gangs might be encouraged to overcome their violent tendencies, Hagedorn appeals to community leaders to use the urgency, outrage, and resistance common to both gang life and hip-hop in order to bring gangs into broader movements for social justice.


John M. Hagedorn is associate professor of criminal justice at the University of Illinois, Chicago. He is editor of Gangs in the Global City and author of the highly influential People and Folks: Gangs, Crime, and the Underclass in a Rustbelt City.


MacArthur fellow Mike Davis is the author of many books, including Planet of Slums and, most recently, Buda’s Wagon: A Brief History of the Car Bomb.