Encounters with Outsiders: An Examination of White Habitus in a Gang Intervention Site
Garcia, Adriana Lizette
Ecklund, Elaine H
Master of Arts
Although law enforcement agencies have utilized incarceration as a means of incapacitation, mass incarceration has not made great strides in impeding gang entry. In response, religious and nonprofit organizations have created community programs and assessment-based approaches to gang intervention and prevention. Few studies have examined the various ways volunteers implement such interventions to a contemporary social problem. Drawing on two years of ethnographic research (2012-2014) as well as 27 semi-structured interviews, this thesis examines how affluent, white mainline Protestant volunteers construct and participate in gang intervention work. I argue that the gang intervention volunteers possess a “white habitus” which inhibits their encounters with gang-affiliated youth. This white habitus, described as predispositions which condition whites’ racial tastes and views on racial matters, informs their perceptions about gang culture in a way that either reproduces whiteness or leads to an unsuccessful relationship between mentor and mentee. Instead, volunteers create “reaffirmed outsiders”, as they reapply stereotypes and generalizations and offer limited perspective on gang intervention solutions. These results provide a more nuanced account of gang intervention implementation and just as importantly, of race and its pernicious effects on the everyday efforts of well-intentioned people and programs.
gang intervention; race; white habitus