Date of Award

Fall 12-13-2021

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Wendy Simonds

Second Advisor

Rosalind Chou

Third Advisor

Tomeka Davis


Typically, when most people hear the word “gangs,” the usual connotation is that of boys and men. However, recent studies show that women and girls make up about 30% of the gang population and that most gangs are mixed-gender (Curry 1998, Miller and Brunson 2000, Sutton 2017). The experiences of gang-affiliated women remain under-theorized and understudied. Moreover, studies in criminology often dehumanize gang members and advance archaic ideas of inherent criminality. By utilizing a critical race theory (CRT) framework, I analyze how gang membership results from the intersection of racist practices and U.S. laws (Bell 1995, Crenshaw 1995, Ladson-Billings and Tate 1995, Solórzano, Ceja and Yosso 2000). This exploratory study demonstrates the complexities of how minoritized neighborhoods create a climate ripe for gang membership. By centering gang narratives, I highlight the myriad ways that people living in Southeast San Diego navigate gang culture and identity, gender expectations, and criminalization. Through a feminist standpoint lens, I employ the “docent method,” a qualitative place-based approach, to accompany 30 men and women gang members and affiliates on a walking or driving interview (Chang 2017). My work challenges the one-sided, male-dominated research seen in gang literature. Black women gang members use their gang-affiliated identities as a tool to navigate violence within their neighborhoods. I argue that place-identity, shared gang identity, and "Black extraordinary adolescent trauma" bonds young men and women into "gang kinship networks." In addition, I offer alternative narratives to the stereotype of violent gang members. While on the one hand, there are instances where men gang members adopt conventional patriarchal norms of masculinity, on the other hand, they can exhibit caring attitudes towards people within their gang kinship network. Finally, I argue that low-income minoritized youth are subject to “legal violence” routinely practiced by local law enforcement (Menjívar and Abrego 2012). The legal jurisdictions of gang documentation, gang injunctions, and policing practices interlink with social conditions to cause social suffering (Menjívar and Abrego 2012). These punitive laws create additional barriers for documented gang members, trapping them in the cycle of re-offending, and blocking Black and Latinx youth from upward mobility.


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