Murder by Structure: Dominance Relations and the Social Structure of Gang Homicide

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Murder by Structure: Dominance Relations and the Social Structure of Gang Homicide

Category: Homicide|Journal: American Journal of Sociology (full text)|Author: A Papachristos|Year: 2009

Most sociological theories consider murder an outcome of the differential distribution of individual, neighborhood, or social characteristics. And while such studies explain variation in aggregate homicide rates, they do not explain the social order of murder, that is, who kills whom, when, where, and for what reason. This article argues that gang murder is best understood not by searching for its individual determinants but by examining the social networks of action and reaction that create it. In short, the social structure of gang murder is defined by the manner in which social networks are constructed and by people’s placement in them. The author uses a network approach and incident-level homicide records to recreate and analyze the structure of gang murders in Chicago. Findings demonstrate that individual murders between gangs create an institutionalized network of group conflict, net of any individual’s participation or motive. Within this network, murders spread through an epidemic-like process of social contagion as gangs evaluate the highly visible actions of others in their local networks and negotiate dominance considerations that arise during violent incidents.

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