Outlaw Bikers and Patched Street Gangs: The Nexus Between Violence and Shadow Economy

Author: Bradley, C
Published in National Security Journal, 15 May 2020

In assessing Merton’s five adaptations, rebellion and innovation can be applied to explain individual gang membership. Rebellion is the response in which individuals, or in this case potential gang members, substitute their own cultural goals and institutional means in place of the conventional ones.23 The initial response by individuals was to rebel against the dominant society and the means of attaining the symbols of success within the society. Whether conscious or not, rebellion would take on meaning to respond to the realisation that the cultural norms and goals for financial success were beyond reach. Anti-social behaviour would constitute one form of outward rebellion and rejection of the mainstream society that represented all that was expected yet denied. The symbols of gang membership, once formed and adopted in the characteristic signifiers such as the back patch, would act as the manifestation of rebellion. In this way, while separated from the mainstream by clear signifiers of behaviour and outward appearance, they would still, through innovative responses remain an economic part of their host communities.

Merton’s rebellious response would explain why cliques of young men form small groups in which to become involved in the shadow economy by pursuing crime to attain the material and financial benefits post-industrialised society has to offer. Small group cohesion, combat experience gained from conflict with other groups of young men, and the para-military structures adapted from the outlaw bikers from North America meant that these groups, as they grew in confidence and strength, would move to control the criminal business in the shadow economy. And they would do this through the ability to use or threaten violence. From rebellion some within these groups would innovate to align and gain the financial rewards of contemporary society.

Looking at crime as an alternative reaction to neo-liberal economic ideology of the 1980s and 1990s, Merton’s second adaptation, innovation can help explain how some moved to gain access to the benefits of shadow economics. Merton states that innovation comes from those who accept the culturally defined goals of modern society, but they lack the institutional means to achieve them, and as such resort to other innovative means to attain them, in this case crime.24 While many within mainstream society accepted such markers of success, some gang members finding the institutional avenues blocked, responded by innovating their response to wealth attainment through alternative means, crime being just one such pathway.25 Gangs fit within Merton’s typology but before such an innovative response there would have been a rejection of the cultural norms of social behaviour. Suffice to say that gangs, who occupy a place in the shadow economy, show innovative responses to the