Understanding gangs: Developing an epistemically pluralist framework for gang research
Gangs are associated with a range of social, criminal, and economic harms. Yet, after almost a century of dedicated research, the development of effective and ethical responses to such harms has proven difficult. Recent attempts to address this have seen the establishment of the Eurogang Program; an international group of gang researchers and practitioners coordinated around a consensus definition of gangs. Since its recent inception, the Eurogang Program has quickly become the dominant framework of research and practice. While much is being staked on the success of the Eurogang Program, the suitability of such a programme for progressing gang research is yet to be thoroughly examined.
In this thesis I therefore conduct a meta-theoretical examination of the state of gang research and particularly the Eurogang Program and its associated practices. By examining the frameworks underpinning gang research and drawing upon insights from the philosophy of science, I characterise the Eurogang approach as an attempt to coordinate gang research through means of unification (i.e., through the privileging of particular research perspectives and strategies to achieve coordination through consensus). I draw attention to some major limitations of these unificatory attempts and emphasise how the consensus Eurogang definition does not appropriately set up researchers to be able to develop the various kinds of conceptual and theoretical understandings of gangs required to improve gang policy and practice.
Instead, I make the case for a framework known as epistemic pluralism, in which researchers do not pursue consensus but rather cultivate multiple systems of knowing to serve a variety of different research purposes. After establishing the benefit of epistemic pluralism, I examine how such a framework may be applied to the gang field. This involves specific discussion of the various aims of gang researchers and the roles that conceptual strategies (i.e., definitional, classificatory, and explanatory approaches) play in providing the pragmatic and epistemic (i.e., knowledge-related) insights required to meet them. These discussions offer a novel perspective on the roles of conceptual strategies in the process of knowledge production and justification.
Having established the general kinds of strategies required for different research purposes, I then consider some specific examples of conceptual strategies that are relevant to meeting the various needs of gang researchers. This takes the form of the Conceptual Framework for Gang Research (CFGR). This novel approach offers greater opportunities for more meaningful kinds of research coordination and maximises the likelihood of establishing the conceptual and theoretical understandings of gangs required to improve gang policy and practice. The value of this thesis as a case study for pursuing epistemic pluralism in the sciences is also discussed.