This paper summarizes and analyzes an article by Ruble and Turner (2000), entitled “A Systemic Analysis of the Dynamics and Organization of Urban Street Gangs.” The authors discuss how street gangs, which are highly complex, open and ongoing social systems with structures, processes and functionality, can be compared to family systems using a systemic and holistic perspective in order to provide professionals with a better understanding and more effective intervention. They discuss many of the motivations that individuals have to join gangs such as looking for closeness, cohesion, and acceptability as well as obtaining a sense of esteem, stability ...view middle of the document...
Family subsystems are discussed as having interdependence and mutual influence among their members (Nichols & Everett, 1986) and are identified as spousal, parental, and sibling (Minuchin, 1974). These subsystems are visible in gangs in the form of cliques that are fluid and connected to one another and to the gang as a whole. The suprasystems concept in family therapy states that all systems are embedded in a larger system (Nichols & Everett, 1986). The suprasystems that are most likely to affect and be affected by the street gangs are the community and law enforcement (Ruble & Turner, 2000). In systems theory, a system that is either too open or too closed is considered to be dysfunctional and is described as being in a state of entropy (Becvar & Becvar, 1982). Gangs experience entropy when they are too organized or not organized enough and require new information or energy to be introduced into the homeostatic system in order to affect change and ensure survival.
Boundaries is an important systems theory concept that establishes structure and function. Boundaries are characterized by the physical and emotional barriers that distinguish individuals and families and regulate the amount of contact occurring among them (Minuchin, 1974). Furthermore, boundaries delineate where one system stops and another begins (Nichols & Everett, 1986). Street gangs, tend to have rigid boundaries that regulate membership and information.
In systems theory, communication occurs continuously through verbal and nonverbal interactions (Minuchin, 1974). This is easily observed in street gangs through verbal cues and especially in nonverbal symbolic language such as graffiti, color and type of clothing and hand signals to name a few. Finally, Ruble and Turner (2000), discuss the family systems concepts of homeostasis and morphogenesis. While gangs can be either homeostasis or morphogenesis in nature, gangs that survive tend to be morphogenesis as they are more receptive to change and allow new information to enter the system in order to resist entropy.
Points of Disagreement with Systems Theory
Because the intent of this article is to apply the concepts of systems theory as they relate to street gangs, Ruble and Turner (2000) stay closely aligned with a holistic and systematic perspective in their theoretical applications. In the final section of their paper, they discuss the clinical implications of their work and recommendations for family therapy intervention which can be utilized by researchers and practitioners in order to create more effective prevention and intervention programs. For example they provide a utility of systems concepts in the areas of functionality, power balance, cohesion, and dysfunctional systems and give examples of ways to address these areas.
Furthermore, specific recommendations for family therapy interventions are made. These recommendations include...