Connie McGuire, anthropology graduate student, has received a $20,000 doctoral dissertation fellowship from the John Randolph Haynes and Dora Haynes Foundation to study policies designed to combat gangs from Los Angeles to San Salvador. Findings from her research may contribute to the identification of future, more effective strategies for reducing gang violence in the Americas.

“Current U.S. federal policy defines Mexican and Central American gangs as a ‘transnational, criminal problem’ requiring coordinated enforcement, intervention, and prevention efforts,” says McGuire. “Decades of social science research, however, show gangs to be neighborhood-based phenomena requiring local, community-based responses.” 

At the heart of the debate is Los Angeles, a city cited by gang experts as both the location of the most pressing gang problems and as the source for models on how best to address gang problems globally, she says. 

“The federal gang policy I study formalizes and expands cooperative law enforcement practices between Los Angeles and El Salvador as a key solution to the problem, despite evidence that heavy handed anti-gang strategies have failed in Central America and efforts have been uneven, at best in L.A.” she argues.

Through interviews with gang experts, youth advocates, and governmental officials in the U.S., Mexico and Central America, she is studying how the meaning of gangs is being reconfigured from a local problem to a transnational problem and resulting in large scale, federally enforced, law enforcement solutions, which her preliminary findings show to be very costly and difficult to implement. 

“Some policymakers in Central America and the U.S. propose looking at gangs as social, human rights, education or development problems, rather than as issues best solved through transnational law enforcement,” she says.  “These alternative views may make more effective solutions to gang violence possible.”

Learn more about McGuire’s previous gang-related work which is being used as a resource manual by attorneys working to influence U.S. policy toward Latin America.

With support this summer from the Haynes Foundation, McGuire will finish her 14 months of ethnographic fieldwork. Her findings will contribute to her dissertation, “Transnationalizing Gangs in the Americas: Expertise, Advocacy, and the Politics of Policymaking,” which she will complete by June 2011. 

In addition to the Haynes Foundation award, McGuire’s graduate research has been funded by the National Science Foundation's Division of Law and Social Science, UC Institute for Mexico and the United States, UC Regents, UCI Center for Global Peace and Conflict Studies, and UCI Department of Anthropology.


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