LAC Digest 4 Review

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ADAM BAIRD. (2018). “Becoming the ‘Baddest’: Masculine Trajectories of Gang Violence in Medellín.” Journal of Latin American Studies 50.1: 183-210.

This article analyzes the role of masculinities in the reproduction of gang membership in the poor barrios of Medellín, Colombia. Although masculinities are not the sole determinant of gang membership, “it is clear that processes of male socialization in contexts of exclusion are central to understanding why gangs persist.” The author describes Medellín’s gangland mosaic, analyzes the role of barrio masculinities in the ganging process, and concludes that “In Medellín’s comunas populares, the masculinities of gang life are a repository of meaning that narrate the city’s history of violence. Where masculine habitus underlies youths’ urge to be productive and locally valued men, exclusion and poverty collude to block legal and dignified pathways to manhood.” Thus, “there is practical logic to joining the gang which stands out not just as a mechanism for survival, but as a path to demonstrable success, as a capital-rich site for male identity formation.” This study will be of interest to those working on urban violence in Latin America, sociology of crime, queer studies, and identities’ formation.

 Abstract: Drawing upon 40 life-history interviews with gang members in Medellín, Colombia, this paper argues that many young men join gangs to emulate and reproduce ‘successful’ local male identities. The accumulation by the gang of ‘masculine capital,’ the material and symbolic signifiers of manhood, and the accompanying stylistic and timely displays of this capital, means that youths often perceive gangs to be spaces of male success. This drives the social reproduction of gangs. Once in the gang, the youths become increasingly ‘bad,’ using violence to defend the gang’s interests in exchange for masculine capital. Gang leaders, colloquially known as duros or ‘hard men,’ tend to be the más malos, the ‘baddest.’ The ‘ganging process’ should not be understood in terms of aberrant youth behavior; rather there is practical logic to joining the gang as a site of identity formation for aspirational young men who are coming of age when conditions of structural exclusion conspire against them.

Keywords: gangs; urban violence; youth violence; masculinities; masculine capital; Medellín; Bourdieu; Colombia