The label gang has been applied to various groups including outlaws of the nineteenth-century American West, prison inmates, Mafioso and other organized criminals, motorcyclists, and groups of inner city youths. Despite its diverse application, the term gang almost always connotes involvement in disreputable or illegal activities.
Social scientists use the term gang most frequently when describing groups of juveniles. This tendency dates back to Frederic Thrasher 's The Gang: A Study of 1,313 Gangs in Chicago (1927). According to Thrasher, social conditions in the United States at the end of the nineteenth century encouraged the development of street gangs. In this period, many immigrants settled in ethnic enclaves in inner-city neighborhoods characterized by several features: a large, culturally diverse population; deteriorating housing; poor employment prospects; and a rapid turnover in population. These conditions resulted in socially disorganized neighborhoods where social institutions and social control mechanisms were weak and ineffective. The lack of social control encouraged youths to find other means of establishing social order, which they did by forming gangs.
Thrasher 's research has influenced most subsequent theory and research on gangs. Albert Cohen (1955) theorized that gangs emerge from a subculture created by lower socioeconomic youths in response to their exclusion from mainstream middle-class culture. These youths recognize that they are unlikely to