- Gang Life in Two Cities: An Insider’s Journey by Robert J. Durán
Durán’s study is an ethnographic and historical analysis of gang life in Ogden, Utah, and Denver, Colorado. Durán begins by criticizing gang definitions that include “crime” in the definition as scholarship that is insufficiently distinguished from law enforcement and media views. He then critiques quantitative work by arguing that the only way to fully understand gang life is through ethnographic methods. Durán’s viewpoint is expressed throughout the book with his frequent use of sources, such as Diego Vigil and Joan Moore, who share his perspective. That being said, there are many positive aspects of his study that deserve to be highlighted.
In chapters 3 and 4 Durán outlines a compelling history of how gangs developed in response to racial oppression and continue to experience it in Denver and Ogden. He primarily accomplishes this using newspaper and other archival data. Capitalizing on his experience as a former gang member, he is able to supplement his analysis with the stories and experiences of Ogden veteran gang members and other individuals who were part of these oppressed communities, a tactic both interesting and informative.
Chapter 6 is an intriguing description of the persistence of gang ideals and a discussion of what unifies a gang. One core gang ideal identified by Durán is loyalty. He argues that through the oppression experienced by individuals of Mexican descent, the gang assists in uniting these individuals under a common cause. He rightfully coins the term “entrenched solidarity” to show how important loyalty is in holding a gang together. Entrenched solidarity demands that gang members display loyalty despite instances of wrongful behavior from fellow members of the gang. Durán then makes an intriguing comparison to the ideals of gangs and how they are actually quite similar to those of many other social groups.
Lastly, in chapter 7 Durán uses his findings to formulate a unique programmatic approach to gangs and to dispute against crime and violence as the foundation of gangs as proposed by researchers such as Malcolm Klein and Irving Spergel. He makes an argument for cultural empowerment by challenging societal inequalities and identifies programs such as Denver’s Crusade for Justice and Utah’s Spanish-Speaking Organization [End Page 91] for Community, Integrity, and Opportunity as examples of effective programs. However, the chapter lacks references to actual program evaluation. He simply suggests that certain programs in these cities have been effective and outlines the design of a gang program based on his research. Without alluding to programs that have been evaluated and/or proposing program evaluation to strengthen his claims, though, the argument is limited.
Overall Durán’s Gang Life in Two Cities: An Insider’s Journey is an informative and compelling read with a unique approach to gangs. Durán delivers an inside look based on his personal experiences, which enables him to compare and contrast the experiences of gang members in Ogden, Utah, to his descriptions of gang members in Denver, Colorado. His application of critical race theory and colonialism is fascinating in explaining the development of gangs over time and how racial oppression and marginalization played a role in gangs forming in two cities that are not generally known for their gang activity.
University of California, Irvine