Gangs, Globalization, and Critical Security Studies: Teaching Counternarratives to Public Audiences

  • Susan Phillips Temple University Press


Working on gang issues as a whole demands that I, as a scholar, engage different scales that collapse individual and community, local and global, and that make action and study into indistinguishable partners. It is not just that we need to facilitate one woman’s path toward finding an academic who will help her husband and their family; we need to work on the bigger thing and ask the Department of State to hold itself to at least the same (flawed) standards as domestic law enforcement regarding the use of tattoos to determine gang affiliation. I do not know if this particular push will be successful, because of the heightened security that I discuss below. But being involved in the struggle is itself transformative, because it creates new narrative threads and strengthens possibilities and openings that can lead to change. Sanyika Shakur, also known as Monster Kody, is a former gang member who wrote, “I am a gang expert—period. There are no other gang experts except participants.” His assertion raises a bigger question about study and embodied identity. Whether or not expertise exists in the manner that Shakur is talking about, the need for “expertise” as a putative legal category is evident in the many intersections of gang membership and the law, which are increasingly playing out on transnational stages like the one between the United States and Mexico. The question then becomes how an academic can use purported “expertise” without strengthening the oppressive systems that created those categories in the first place.