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Youth violence remains an important topic in urban sociology and sociologists seek explanation to investigate the link between space and action. Furthermore, youth violence is associated with disorganized communities and risky neighborhoods as well as to individual socio-demographic factors. However, the scope of this chapter is on the interplay between individual norms and influences of risky neighborhoods. Therefore, literature about violence-related norms and the code of the street, as a specific concept, which takes the social and spatial environment into account, is reviewed. The goal is to formulate empirical markers of the code of the street, for use in the empirical section of the study.
Many studies cite, criticize, or use the code as an analytical framework. It is not our intention to contribute to the discussion if the code exists, but to test if it works outside of the US. If it is true that it is a general rule, we should be able to find the code, as Anderson describes it, in different countries. Otherwise, we will find more culturally specific parts of a street code and that the original theoretical description of the street code, with its elements of the code of the street, is limited to specific contexts only.
At an early age, children go through social shuffling processes on the street that challenge the early socialization at home. Subsequently, children from decent families become familiar with the code of the street and change their personal orientations toward street culture. Children observe the street dynamics and are fascinated with reputation, which is based on toughness and the willingness to fight (Anderson 1999: 135). In the inner-city poor neighborhood, the environment is conducive to learning, street code (Anderson 1999: 137). In these contexts, children learn to anticipate the situation and react accordingly. Sometimes it leads to conflicts. Later, adolescents feel insecure on the street and try to contract identities by abusive talk and outright aggression or violence. Similarly, the street-oriented home environment reinforces what they learn on the street. Older family members educate them about how to protect themselves in a different situation, even punishing children if they are unable to show aggression in public (Anderson 1999: 142).
In poor inner-city neighborhoods, street culture diffuses across the boundaries of schools within neighborhoods. The school environment induces children to learn street knowledge for personal safety (Anderson 1999: 139). Over time, children are apt to embrace the street code as it is in compliance with the school environment and prevails in most of their society. Consequently, schools become primary staging areas for children in neighborhoods. School environments equally affect children from decent and street-oriented families. However, family background, peer association, and role models are strongly associated (Anderson 1999: 142). These settings reinforce the beliefs of street-oriented children, whereas children from decent families learn to switch codes, which means that they follow the code of the street in one situation and are able to exhibit more decent manners in another. In the beginning, children adopt the street code for self-defensive in their schools and neighborhoods. Over time, adolescents internalize the street code and street peer association encourages involvement in street activities. Mingling in school makes encounters with street-oriented children inevitable. In some severe cases, street-oriented children may bring knives and guns to school to threaten people (Anderson 1999: 192). A competitive environment emerges where children campaign for respect. In impoverished neighborhood schools, children seek respect on the street rather than through academic achievement. Children are prepared to fight and defend themselves in any situation. Consequently, violence is always a possible way to resolve the matter. Moreover, material goods are important for self-esteem and young people show a particular lifestyle to maintain respect. In school, decent children also follow street-oriented lifestyle and it is difficult for teachers to differentiate among decent and street children. Hence the school teachers regard them all as street oriented (Anderson 1999: 193).
It is the staging area, a spatial character of inner-city neighborhoods, where the code of street sprouts and develops among youth. It is a place of self-representation that is mainly dominated by young male residents of neighborhoods, where they hang around. Anderson (1999) mentioned three different types of staging areas. It might be the local liquor store and bar and the staging area might be inside or outside on the corner of street. The second type is small business areas in neighborhoods and the third an event activity, including multiplex sports events and concerts. Even young people from other neighborhoods come to the staging area to present not only selfhood, but to present their neighborhoods. In staging areas, people incite each other and some respond to insults with violence. In the clash, challenging statements make situations worse; participants want to draw back. In this situation, when bystanders are not willing to break up the standoff, there is the risk of knife and gun use. Most of the time, the conflicts are not resolved on the spot. In most of the cases, the victim may wait to become better off and then retaliate for the disrespect of the past.
Before diving in detail into a discussion about the code of the street, one structural finding of the studies, using the street code approach, needs to be mentioned. Anderson describes in different parts of his book the specific circumstances under which those codes occur and talks carefully about the elements he found in his data, on the one hand. On the other hand, in some parts of the book he claims generalizability of his concepts, without having the material at hand to do that, which limits this thesis to an assumption, which needs to be proved. Now the structural finding is that the street code concept was often used unquestioned or with just a minimum of reflection and more of a pragmatic concept worthy of study. For example, some studies are using the street code concept, only with neighborhood data, like the percentage of African American males, aged 35 years and older who are currently married, out of the total African American male population aged 15 years or older (Parker and Reckdenwald 2008: 718). However, the moral believes, which are the most important part of the theoretical approach, are not considered, neither these studies take into account in what kind of household children live. For example, it is often not discussed if it is a single-parent family where the child grows up, if the parents even take care of their children or if the child grows up with its grandparents, etc. All these factors need to be assumed but cannot be measured with data about the social structure of a neighborhood only. Furthermore, those indicators can differ significantly in their meaning between neighborhoods, cities or countries. Other scholars leave the street completely and try to find out if the code operates among 245 undergraduate students (Intravia et al. 2017: 964). We do agree that the street code concept as articulated by Anderson is a useful approach to explain violence, but, as Anderson claims himself, that the social structural and normative context matters for the code of the street, and its explorative power is embedded in the interplay of space, peers and individual beliefs and circumstances.
Brookman et al. (2011) examined the elements of street culture in the UK by interviewing convicted violent offenders. The study was designed to capture a variety of aspects of street violence by using purposive sampling in six prisons. The sample consisted of a diverse group of respondents, including 80 males and 30 females with an average age of 28 and 24 years, respectively. The findings suggested the major factors resulting in the adoption of violence in street culture, being: street justice for disrespect, as a safeguard against perceived retaliation, the confidence to revenge personal matters, and maintaining the street culture reputation through violence. In the study, the narratives of offenders supported the existence of the code of street in UK streets, as suggested by Anderson (1999) in Philadelphia, USA. The study broadens the generalizability of code of the street outside the USA and extends it to both males and females.
In his work, Anderson argued that the adoption of the street code increases safety and prevents future victimization in distressed contexts. According to the street code, adolescents show violent behavior not only to gain respect but to deter others to prevent future victimization. Stewart et al. (2006) aimed to understand the relationship between the street code and victimization in socially disadvantaged neighborhoods. Their study used a longitudinal sample of 720, mixed gender African American adolescents from 259 neighborhoods collected through the FACHS in 1997 and 1999. Findings show that there is a positive relationship between the code of the street and victimization in high-violence neighborhoods. However, the level of violence in neighborhoods mediates the level of victimization. Findings thus negate the thesis of Anderson, which states that adoption of the code may reduce the level of victimization. Similarly, Matsuda et al. (2013) demonstrated that gang membership and adherence to a violent belief system are linked. Using a diverse sample of 2216 respondents in seven cities, the researchers attempted to understand gang membership and behavior outcome. Results showed that gang membership is significant to the adoption of a violent belief system and leads to violent behavior among youth. Matsuda et al. concluded that adoption of the code makes youth more vulnerable. 2b1af7f3a8