Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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Redefining Gangsterism: Social Change Agents in the Black Power

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posted on 2022-11-23, 10:37 authored by Davis, Mara

The war on gangs in Aotearoa New Zealand seems to be a never-ending battle. Sensationalist rhetoric in the media and anti-gang political discourse fosters a range of negative stereotypes about gangs and those within them, presenting them as fundamentally criminal organisations. This thesis challenges the dominant narrative on gangs by instead exploring their evolving social movement potential. Drawing on participatory action research and collaborative partnerships established within the Black Power rōpū – one of the most well-known ‘gangs’ in the country – it shows members taking up important roles as agents of social change. The research found members reinterpreting in a localised context the anti-racist symbolism of the global Black Power movement, along with adopting practices and techniques more commonly associated with social movements. Through the kōrero of members themselves, this research shows how the rōpū are actively redefining the very meaning of the terms ‘gang’ and ‘gangster’. The research not only challenges prevailing public stereotypes within Aotearoa New Zealand, but contributes to the wider field of gang research by developing a collaborative methodology that works with not on the community that is ‘the gang’ and by demonstrating the roles these collectives play in grassroots projects of social transformation.


Copyright Date


Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Rights License

Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline


Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Master of Arts

Victoria University of Wellington Unit

Institute of Criminology

ANZSRC Socio-Economic Outcome code

280123 Expanding knowledge in human society

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code

1 Pure basic research

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Social and Cultural Studies


Martin, Liam