‘More Here’: A Tribute to Gang-Research Legend James F. Short, Jr.

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Chicago is a gangster city. The city’s gangs are the stuff of legend and shape Chicago’s image as a violent place. It should be of little surprise, then, that Chicago is also a city of gang research. Since the publication of Fredrick Thrasher’s 400+ page tome in 1929, The Gang: A Study of 1,313 Gangs in Chicago, scholars, writers, and thinkers have turned to Chicago’s gangs and the neighborhoods they inhabit for insights into America’s “gang problem.” And Jim Short was a something of a legend in the world of gang research.

Between 1958 and 1962, Jim designed and implemented one of the most impressive studies of street gangs ever conducted. The Youth Studies Project (YSP) gathered data on more than 20 street gangs and 300 gang members, alongside 22 non-gang delinquent groups and 400 delinquent boys. These gangs and groups came from 10 community areas and they were intentionally selected to represent both white and black and lower and middle-class boys.

Jim’s research from the YSP was among the first to stress that gangs were first and foremost groups, not a collection of individuals with particular pathologies or misfit kids. The key to understanding and doing something about gangs, Jim would argue for decades, was to understand the underlying group processes at work and how they relate to individual and group behaviors.

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