Islands in the Street: Gangs and American Urban Society
Date of publication: 1991
Publisher: University of California Press.
Sánchez- Jankowski’s approach is unusual because he brings an organizational analysis approach to studying gangs and teen delinquency in low-income neighborhoods. Moreover, Sánchez-Jankowski used an ethnographic approach to study more than 30 gangs in three cities (Los Angeles, Boston, and New York) over a ten year period. It is one of the largest, most systematic studies I know about studying voluntary associations, their relationship to the communities in which they are embedded, and the ways that being embedded has an impact on organizational structure in terms of the way the gangs operate. I like thinking about this book in the context of nonprofit organizations and voluntary associations because it so much exemplifies the interest David Horton Smith has recently expressed in deviant nonprofits. Sánchez-Jankowski does an outstanding job of showing that while the gangs he studied engaged in large amounts of illegal activity and violence, that their actual dynamics are rarely presented by the media in an accurate way since television and newspapers so much have a self-interest in providing sensationalized accounts. Much of what the gangs do in normal day-to-day affairs involves recreation and community service so that while they foster crime this is not necessarily the main theme of their existence. Or, more accurately, Sánchez-Jankowski suggests that in low income urban communities huge amounts of crime go on as a normal way of life, and thus gang illegality is part of an overall community ethos of danger, war with the dominant society, and actions elites consider illegal. From an organizational standpoint, Sanchez-Jankowski makes a nice distinction between gangs that are organized in a hierarchical fashion with a rationally defined roles, somewhat reminiscent of bureaucracy, gangs that have a horizontal power structure due to their tight integration with their parent community, and gangs built around charismatic leadership. Since the field of voluntary organization studies offers few alternative models of organizational structure that are motivated by significant amounts of comparative data, Sánchez- Jankowski’s theoretical contributions are very welcome.
– Carl Milofsky