Understanding the Factors Contributing to the Absence of Street Gangs in Milton Keynes: A Negative Aetiology

Conway, Steve (2019). Understanding the Factors Contributing to the Absence of Street Gangs in Milton Keynes: A Negative Aetiology. PhD thesis The Open University.


This thesis is concerned with accounting for the apparent absence of street gangs in the new town of Milton Keynes. As a large urban area, with rapid population growth and pockets of extreme deprivation – the borough could reasonably be expected to feature such groups. Addressing the apparent absence, and subsequently formulating explanations involved qualitative interviews with two distinct groups. In the first instance, insights were sought from a range of local professionals who had direct and ongoing contact with the local community. Subsequently, interviews were held with local young people, in order to capture their lived experience in relation to issues which correlate with street gang development in affected areas: deprivation; territoriality; nature and extent of contact with counterparts from neighbouring areas; relationship with the urban space; and identity construction. Young people also took part in a short quantitative mapping exercise, designed to generate insights into the range and character of their urban movement. This mapping exercise is conceived as a meaningful proxy indicator of street gang allegiances, which can be transposed to other urban areas.

Four distinct though related themes emerged from the research, which are posited as contributing to the apparent absence of street gangs: historical settlement patterns in the development of the new town; protective elements relating to school catchment areas and civic design; population density and the abundance of space characteristic of the most deprived communities; the availability of alternative identity sources. It is proposed that these factors could be extrapolated to formulate possible approaches to preventing the development of street gangs in other areas; and the alleviation of these issues in communities where they currently exist.

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