Qualitative Sociology

, Volume 41, Issue 4, pp 497–519 | Cite as

Drawing Boundaries or Drawing Weapons? Neighborhood Master Status as Suppressor of Gang Violence

  • Marta-Marika UrbanikEmail author


Criminological scholarship on gangs has documented that attempts to take over territory and drug markets under the control of another gang is a primary motivation of inter-gang violence. However, little is known about situations where competition over territory and drug markets comes from within the territory, or about instances where gang competition does not lead to violence between criminal groups. Drawing on over 140 interviews and over nine months of ethnographic fieldwork in Canada’s oldest social housing project—Regent Park—this article describes and analyzes the changing nature of the neighborhood’s gang landscape as a result of neighborhood redevelopment. In particular, it examines why the emergences of a rival gang within Regent did not incite violence as the literature would expect. The article outlines how the emergence of a new rival gang within a territory previously dominated by established criminal groups did not result in the type of violence, in part because the two groups shared a “master status” of being Regent residents, which served to buffer inter-gang violence. Further, it argues that instead of drawing weapons, the established criminal groups expressed their frustration with the loss of their territorial monopoly to emerging groups by morally distinguishing themselves from the new groups. This article concludes by casting a scholarly spotlight on the means through which boundary work develops between criminal groups, and how cultural contexts affect identities and discourses in physical space.


Gangs Gang Violence Disadvantaged Neighborhoods master status boundary work 



My analysis benefited from the contributions of many individuals. I would like to thank my colleagues at the Department of Sociology at the University of Alberta for their feedback on an earlier version of this draft. Special thanks are due to Sandra Bucerius, Kevin Haggerty, Luca Berardi, and William Schultz for their unparalleled support while writing this piece. I would also like to extend my gratitude to the anonymous reviewers whose helpful comments improved this piece. This work was supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (grant number: 767-2015-1881).


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of SociologyUniversity of AlbertaEdmontonCanada

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