UCLA » College » Social Sciences » Anthropology
December 5, 2019
12:15pm to 1:45pm
352 Haines

To date, most US gang research focuses on foreground dynamics to explain gang-related violence. It stresses how in-the-moment interpretations, along with the search for dominance and thrills, can lead to bloodshed. When it does include a larger social context, it seldom links it directly to a gang’s meanings and behavior. In this talk, I use field research on the Maravilla gangs in East Los Angeles to link their violence experiences to larger social transformations within California prisons. In addition, I show how such salient historical moments shape the meanings of violence over a gang member’s life course. I conclude that critically linking history, social structure, and biography can improve our understanding of how gang members experience violence and make sense of their lives.

Randol Contreras is an assistant professor in the Department of Media and Cultural Studies at the University of California, Riverside. He is the author of the multiple-award winning book, The Stickup Kids: Race, Drugs, Violence and the American Dream, which examined the lives of violent drug robbers in the South Bronx. He has also done research in South Los Angeles, where he examined the ethnic tensions between Mexicans and African Americans. Currently, he is studying aging Mexican gang members in East Los Angeles, documenting their struggles with substance abuse, homelessness, and income earning strategies. A common theme in his work is the intersection of history, social structure, and biography, an intersection that sheds light on how criminal phenomena emerge and how they shape and influence the behavior and meanings of people.


Culture, Power, and Social Change is concerned with a broad range of issues in sociocultural anthropology. As the name of the group suggests, we are particularly interested in how the workings of culture, and of different forms of power and inequality, play out in the contemporary world. And behind these two issues are questions of social change, that is, of the ways in which the rapidly changing world of today impacts people’s lives, and in turn, how people in different circumstances seek to bring about change in the world. CPSC I hosts talks by both in-house faculty members and visiting post-doctoral and faculty level scholars; CPSC II hosts talks by advanced graduate students. All CPSC events are open only to UCLA faculty, students, and invited guests.