Book Review: Gangs & Crime: Critical Alternatives

Published date01 September 2018
Date01 September 2018
Book Review
Gangs & Crime: Critical Alternatives, Alistair Fraser (London: SAGE Publishing, 2017), ISBN 9781473911901, 272
pp., £26.99
Reviewed by: Mohammed Rahman, Birmingham City University, UK
DOI: 10.1177/2032284418795779
An established authority within his discipline, Alistair Fraser’s latest book – Gangs & Crime:
Critical Alternatives – is a holistic text tha t offers rich blends of classical and contempor ary
perspectives on the phenomenon of gangs. In doing so, Fraser includes all relative approaches
and discriminates none. So too, naturally this book becomes the ‘go to’ textbook for those who
have a vested interest in acquiring a comprehensive understanding of gangs, the cultures they
inhabit and their criminal identities. Before providing thoughts of chapters in this timely book, it is
first worth noting that Fraser has developed a unique tec hnique of unpacking complex social
problems through a rare combination of resolve and modesty. Gangs & Crime develops from
Fraser’s (2015) highly accredited and award-winning Urban Legends study, which was packed
with rich ethnographic information and cutting-edge theoretical paradigms. While this book is not
an ethnography, forward-thinking concepts, theories and rich ideas remain. Indeed, this reduces
readers to think beyond narrow and superficial accounts of gangs.
The book starts off by exploring what Fraser calls the ‘genealogy of gang research’ (p. 4).
Immediately he offers insight on groundbreaking research and texts which are often misinter-
preted. Fraser then addresses key philosophies that are configured to make sense of crime, harm
and crime control within the context of criminal groups. Indeed, constructionist frameworks tend
to be the most prevalent in gang research, however, Fraser rightly discusses realist approaches,
namely ultra-realism (p. 15) – a burgeoning paradigm which in recent years has become a more
persuasive notion for providing deeper and convincing analysis on harmful subjects. After defining
gangs, he moves on to the methodologies of researching criminal fraternities. Interestingly, Fraser
alludes that there is no homogenous or unified approach when conceptualizing gangs. Rather, he
charts several multifaceted approaches that facilitate the production of knowledge of criminal
Fraser continues critical perspectives of gangs within the context of history. The history of
youth and gangs is much welcomed, as historiography informs readers through pioneering scholar-
ship that fluctuations in criminal trends are not the exclusive prerogative of the modern world. The
reason being, aspects of criminality, albeit predatorily or entrepreneurially have featured in society
for many centuries, and have been around well before euphemisms like urban street gangs and
gangs. One of the several admirable aspects of this book is Fraser’s explicit recognition of
symbiotic relationships between gangs and society. By taking a transnational approach, he takes
New Journal of European Criminal Law
2018, Vol. 9(3) 423–425
ªThe Author(s) 2018
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