Spotlight on Street Violence in a Cross-Cultural Comparison

  • Simon Howell
  • Abdul Rauf
  • Muhammad Zaman
  • Steffen Zdun
Open Access


In addition to the code of the street, we identified some emerging themes across three cases that spotlight the street culture of risky neighborhoods. Success, role of the family, new technologies as well as the perception of the police were the important themes that emerged from the storylines of the youth from these neighborhoods. Interestingly, most of the aspirations of these adolescents are aligned to middle-class values.


Cross-cultural comparison Youth violence Code of the street Urban sociology 

After the comparison of the elements of the code of the street, as proposed by Anderson, further findings need to be discussed. In addition to the code of the street, themes emerged from empirical data that assist at arriving at better understanding of the street and the violence phenomena confronting male juveniles. One the one hand, the coding process can explain these patterns, but can also be explained via the specific context, on the other hand. In-depth discussion by the entire team of the codes and coding strategy prevented bias in the coding, which indicates that the different patterns are evident of more contextually specific aspects of violence-related norms. In all, four codes were found that are similar across all the countries. Below these elements of the street will be compared as well. They are success, the role of the family, new technologies, and perceptions of the police.

10.1 Comparison of Success

Anderson (1999) provides multiple accounts of success among young men in the inner-city neighborhood of Philadelphia. Success is gauged by various standards among families and peer groups in the neighborhoods. In what is deemed to be decent families, parents are committed to instill middle-class values and align their careers goals accordingly. Contrary, young men hailing specifically from what is defined as street families see successful drug dealers as their role model who have a lavish lifestyle. Weighing up their choices and abilities, young men set these as the goals for their success. The street-oriented youth who embrace the street code and work in the drug economy idealize success as being a successful drug-dealer. Also, success is dignified by successful sexual counters (Anderson 1999: 75). In this vein, our study participants mentioned school achievements, family life, and house. Interestingly, the accounts of young men showed tension between individual aspirations and participation in street culture. Though the participants reported their involvement in violent events on the street, they expressed a strong desire for a conventional family life. In the interviews, success to the many youths meant completing their studies, finding a job, and having a family.

  • Germany

The German sample, especially, showed the desire for a conventional, middle-class life, usually including a wife, an own house and a car and perceived themselves as the breadwinners of the family:

I imagined a simple family house, a small garden or something and then being a permanent employee. Well, I didn’t imagine anything big. Well I imagined a comfortable life. (Duisburg-Marxloh 9)

Ah, success, for me success is to have a calm, modest life, That’s already success, I think. Well, for sure, I would like to make a lot of money, but don’t have to become rich or something. If I get a good wage, house, a car, that’s enough. (Dortmund-Nordstadt 4)

Some even have particularly high aspirations:

Study medicine, work, start a family. I don’t study for fun because, but because I know later I will marry and want to take care of my children, my wife, so they would have the best life possible. (Berlin-Neukoelln 6)

Yes, I want that he [brother] does something with his life. (..) He really wants a Lamborghini. I say, […] maybe you afford it someday, if you have a proper, study if you like. Do any, but most importantly come to grips with your live. (Berlin-Neukoelln 7)

Importantly, some of them clearly distance themselves from criminal careers:

Be able to stand on my own two feet. Make real money. Not false money, well with, no idea, drugs, such things. Real money, honestly earned money. With work. (Berlin-Neukoelln 9)

Work, through hard work one can earn money. Not only through shortcuts. (Duisburg-Marxloh 3)

The rejection of criminal activities for future success partly also included religious beliefs, but not necessarily based on them:

Well, there is success in the religion, well there you must be successful. Well I am in my religion, Islam, well it forbids us all, well all that crime. And all, all that has nothing to with Islam I would say. And success is, when I fulfil all my religious duties, when I am successful in life. (Berlin-Neukoelln 10)

All the interviewees claimed a safe future with a good job and stable family-relations to be of utmost importance. They seem to perceive a clear link between this dimension, indicated by their own explanations of current family conflicts and their dissatisfaction with their current lack of financial freedom:

First, when my parents are proud of me, […] when they tell me, I’m proud of you. [Then] I have a good feeling in my heart, then I know, I have done nothing wrong. […] best my father, because he says to me, I am proud of you my son. Then you think boah, wow, ok I have achieved something. (Duisburg-Marxloh 1)

Well, for me success actually is if I have for instance no stress. If I simply have my life, if my family is happy, school is good, true friendships, or working, earning money, most importantly my family is doing well. (Duisburg-Marxloh 6)

A particular difficulty here is partly their concept of achieving success. While some youths were more or less realistic about attaining the careers of the ordinary person in society or studying for better careers, others built their hopes on much more random options in the music business or in sport.

[…] study and the I want to become a mechanical engineer and then I want to start my own company for that. (Dortmund-Nordstadt 2)

I, well of course in peace. Of course, no more fucking up and something, but I definitely want to become a rapper. I am really into it. I set this goal to myself and I don’t have bad, I have good prospects. I know and I have good producers who also produce for rappers. (Dortmund-Nordstadt 1)

My success, for example, I play football and I want to be a football star like Ronaldo. And I play in the first class team Dortmund, for instance. That it is success for me. (Berlin-Wedding 5)

  • Pakistan

In Pakistan, adolescents who conformed to wider social mores, frequently mentioned their school achievements, job, owning a house or to be a gentleman as a great achievement. Nondeviant youth mentioned school grades as their achievements. They were also of the view that a white-collar job is their dream and they consider it as a big achievement. People with a respectable job are termed “gentlemen”, as a respondent reported:

For me any respectable job is an achievement. If I have a job people would consider me as noble (shareef). There is another thing about which I have always thought and that is to serve the poor people. It is difficult but if one is committed then I do not think it is difficult for that individual. (Islamabad-Bari Imam 18)

To earn money and give it to the family is one of the biggest responsibilities for these adolescents. A respondent mentioned:

I have been working for a long time and I am happy with my life. There is not much pressure on you if you are working because it gives satisfaction. If there is expectation from the family, then it is the work that can help in the satisfaction of the family […] I want to have more and more experience in my life. It will be my experience that will help me in my life. The rest is in the hand of God who is responsible to provide for the needs to every single individual. (Islamabad-Bari Imam 24)

Another respondent wanted to move abroad in search of a job and money. For him, if he could work abroad, he would have sufficient money and could then build his own house. In the Pakistani cultural context, if a person does not own a house, and lives in rented accommodation, he is of low social status. Owning a house means that the young person is ready to get married, otherwise, he has to wait till his family arranges a house for him. As a respondent reported:

We work at different places. We want to have experience so that we can move abroad to earn money. If a person has money, he can make home for himself and live a happy life. An individual should do every kind of work in order to have experience and without experience and skills it is difficult to find any job. (Islamabad-Bari Imam 22)

All of the respondents believed that getting married would be the milestones in their life narratives and contexts, as is more widely understood throughout the country. It is pertinent to mention that marriage is one of the big dreams for an adolescent, as physical relationships are only possible, as per the rules of Pakistani society, after marriage. Premarital relationship must be hidden, are illicit and illegal, and if the relationship comes about outside of the family context, often has serious consequences. Such relationships are thus secret, meetings are clandestine, and are disclosed only to the closest friends and preferably among non-cousins. Should a cousin know, the person will have difficulty in getting a spouse, as most of the marriages are arranged among close cousins.

School, college and university education are all also considered as significant achievements. Those who achieved higher academic grades are considered brilliant persons. They earned a lot of respect. Similarly, a person with a Quranic education is of high repute and people give them respect and honor. Being able to memorize complete or large proportions of the Quran was of considerable importance for a number of respondents. As a respondent stated:

Yes, they have only read the Quran, but our sister has some education. I want her to get higher education. We were unable to study due to our deprived situation, but I want her to study. I know people here do not like women getting educated but I don’t care about people. Why should I care about people; when we were in severe need of help from the people, no one was there to help us. (Islamabad-Bari Imam 1)

However, some of the youngsters have another perspective of success. For those who were deviant, in line with Anderson’s argument, success came in the form of multiple girlfriends at the same time, having influence and honor. A respondent explains:

For me I want to get a good job and make my parents happy, but most of the boys in our neighborhood give importance to having relationships with girls. They consider it an achievement in their life to have a long list of girlfriends. Also those boys, who are good at fighting, are considered as achievers among their peer group. Some of the boys also want to get some kind of experience in the market which can help them in going abroad. They think this is how they can earn a respectable position in society […] I think I am working and not wasting time like other boys of my age. My family and parents are happy from me and that’s a big achievement for me […] I don’t belong to a wealthy family and I have nothing that I can show off in the streets. I don’t have a car or expensive smart phone. To me status is nothing. I don’t care if someone has billions of rupees. For me, the most important thing is that I earn with my own hands, and I never ask anybody for any money. (Islamabad-Bari Imam 2)

Thus, getting an education, securing a job, building a house, respect, and honor from the elders in their community is deemed to be and understood as indicative of success in the Pakistani cultural context among conformist youth. For deviant youth, winning fights, instilling fear and having multiple girlfriends are the sign of success.

  • South Africa

For the participants in South Africa, success was understood in both material and immaterial ways. Moreover, success was understood to be a function of the combined achievements that an individual may have reached, and which include aspects of many of the codes noted above. Success then is itself a complex code and one which changes over time. It should, however, be noted that the structural parameters discussed severely restricted what success might be thought of for many of the participants. These limitations made themselves felt both unconsciously—through the limiting of the horizons which the participants could imagine—and consciously—through participants realizing that their dreams would remain largely unachievable, not because they as individuals could not potentially achieve them but because their contexts prevented them from doing so. One participant noted for example:

I can define success as a time when you have achieved all your goals. All your dreams have come through. You have everything that you have wished for in life. Although I know that as people we always wish for more. But there are times when you can see that some people have achieved what they were wishing for. Some people wanted to become doctors and they have achieved that. They have also wished that they could get married and now they are married. It is having everything that you have wished for. I see that as success. (Durban-KwaMashu 5)

Another noted, touching on both material and immaterial forms of success, that education is a means of obtaining success:

Success is when you wish for something in life and you end up getting it after you have worked so hard for it and to achieve it, like going to university you study and then get your degree you have succeeded not that you have succeeded but what you have always wanted you have finally got it. (Durban-KwaMashu 6)

It is important to note that when the participants were first interviewed in groups, they expressed their understanding of success in terms which they thought the interviewer might like or adhere to. Thus, for example, many spoke of becoming sports stars, furthering their education, and so on. However, when they were interviewed individually, they would not necessarily express the same goals, but would rather draw on a more limited set of objectives. This is important to note, as it reveals that the expression of what an individual may perceive to be a norm is as much a function of their own understanding as it is a product of what they think the person listening might expect to hear.

One participant noted for instance that success was the result of overcoming forms of hardship, and had little to do with material gains. As he noted:

Let me talk about my success before my success was passing matric which is grade 12 with good results got a distinction in isiZulu, another thing also was the athletics that I participate in not at school but at home I managed to get in different positions but I need to talk about my first game the sun was too hot and I got affected but I tried my best to be position number 10 even though it was hard but I tried 10 km it was, and now I want to talk about my success now I think it would be all the things I do now will all depend on how much I want to push and work hard which is going to determine where I will be in the future and whether I will be happy there too or not with what will be the end results then, not everything that I can call success has happened I am still hustling eventually I will make it and prove to myself that I can do even better and also like here in Varsity I am trying to study so that I can see my success where it is. (Durban-KwaMashu 7)

Finally, it is important to note that many of the participants engaged with the paradox of being able yet limited in their achievements through defining success in negation—they defined success not as something that could be achieved but as the normative measure of what they were at least not. One participant noted, for example:

I can say that from home, it is my mom, my dad, in reality I can say the whole family because there is somebody whom I don’t ask for help in my house. I can even ask from my brother in-laws. But I still say one should not rely on other. The thing with me is that I do not beg a person, I don’t. (Durban-KwaMashu 1)

Similarities: The idea of success was reported in a similar way across the sites and between the countries. In all the cases, education and a family and one’s own household were clearly seen as success in life—at least when spoken of in public or when participants were conscious of the interviewers perceived expectations. These ideas follow middle-class values, even in risky neighborhoods and are formulated by male juveniles, despite engaging in criminal careers to a greater or lesser extent or are confronted with the normative structure of the street. This is clearly opposite to Anderson’s findings in Philadelphia in the 1990s.

Difference: Only marginal differences were shown to be represented. Juveniles in Pakistan are closer to the binary logic between understandings of what constituted “the street” and “the decent”, as Anderson suggests. In South Africa, such aspirations were limited by the context and socio-spatial structure of the participants’ lives, with becoming a sports star one of the primary means by which they viewed success. In all instances, however, such conceptions of success may be as much a product of the participants’ perceptions of what the interviewers might expect them to say as representations of their own understandings of success itself. This is itself emblematic of a particular conception of success, in which the participants strategically drew on their knowledge and preconceptions of the expectations of others to articulate a position which they themselves believed would be successful.

10.2 Comparison of the Role of the Family

Family was an integral part of an individual’s life, particularly in Pakistan and South Africa. It is the family that controls the behavior of an individual in the private and public sphere. Young people care about their family expectations; to earn money, to look after the needs of the family. Family members provide care services and assistance in times of crises. The individual was also responsible for protecting family honor and respect by whatever means, including violence. As mentioned earlier, Anderson (1999) described the types of families and the importance of embracing the code of the street. The street family socializes youngsters for violent behavior on the street. On the other hand, family disorganization, a lack of sense of community, and an uncertain future also become important factors for engaging in street culture.

  • Germany

In the narrations of the adolescents, the family was an important theme, particularly talking about mothers. Some of them mentioned that conflict situations arise when someone shows disrespect towards their family members. In the German case, a sample with diverse family backgrounds was part of the study: it included single parents, extended families, and families with a migration background. The participants appreciated the efforts of their family to provide them with education and security in the neighborhoods. They mentioned that they hide their street activities from their families. The narrations of respect and success are associated with family. While talking about his success a young footballer:

Yes, my family, I think it’s like for everybody, it’s the most important. Thanks to them, I am where I am now. Thanks to them I am doing what I am doing. They helped me actually since I was a child. My mother, my father of course too. Yes, family is of course the most important thing. Without family actually you cannot reach anything, I think […]. (Duisburg-Marxloh 7)

A similar account was narrated by another interviewee from Neukoelln in Germany:

Well my family actually means everything to me. So, if I didn’t have a family, I would end up on the street and God knows what would happen to me, I couldn’t imagine. (Berlin-Neukoelln 2)

While discussing the role of friends and family to embrace street culture, a young participant from Neukolln said:

Family is the most important thing in life, that is with you in bad times. Do you know what I mean? And yes such things, well if nobody is with you but for sure the family is with you. (Berlin-Neukolln 4)

  • Pakistan

A dichotomy of relationships within the family system was noted in Pakistan. On the one hand, families have a very strong hold over an individual and they observe and control the behavior of the young people, especially those who were non-deviant. Deviant adolescents, on the other hand, were beyond the control of their families, and in some cases, family members encouraged their adolescents to get involved in deviancy. A respondent mentioned the importance of his family and how a person is dependent on his family in the Pakistani cultural context. He said:

For me, my family is the most important thing, I can’t listen to anything against them, some guys abuse each other’s family members in fun but I do not tolerate this as well. I told you before that I don’t have any girlfriend and neither do I want any. I will marry whoever my parents want me to marry. (Islamabad-Bari Imam 1)

Another respondent revealed his conformist behavior within the family. He observed and followed his religion as a justification of family authority. He mentioned familial control and he reported:

My family is very strict and religious. My father strictly emphasizes on offering prayers on time and also told me not to wander outside the home at night. (Islamabad-Bari Imam 1)

Everyone in the family is expected to show his loyalty to his family. He has to protect his family by gaining and maintaining honor and respect. For this, they were ready to go to any extreme and become violent. This explains the honor killing. There is a cultural logic to justify their violent actions. A respondent mentioned:

Anything which could cause us shame and harm our honor and dignity cannot be tolerated. Family honor is the most important thing for me. The people who kill their daughters, sisters and brothers in the name of honor, I think it’s not easy for them to do it. A person could only kill a close kin, brother, sister or daughter in extreme situations [of the violation of honor]. (Islamabad-Bari Imam 27)

It may be worthwhile to mention that family in Pakistan consists of family members of both the matrilineal and the patrilineal and their extended family in rural and urban slums. This may be different in the economically well-off families, where the nuclear family is the norm. Even grandparents have authority to control the behavior of adolescents. This especially applied to non-deviant young people. A respondent reported his story:

Reality is that when someone becomes mature enough then it is his will to do whatever he wants. In our family, my father has no such authority, but my grandfather holds great authoritative position and he has always kept me free as he really loves me. That is the reason that no one can say anything to me at home. My family got aware of the incident, but I didn’t receive any punishment, however, my mother used some harsh words to scold me as she always keeps telling me what I should do and what I should not. Thanks God my father is not like her. (Rawalpindi-Dhok Matkial 4)

Adolescents are expected to study in school or take up technical or vocational training. If they are unable to get an education or acquire vocational or technical skills, they are expected to work as a manual laborer in order to contribute to the household income. A respondent reported:

My family thinks that young should not be idle. If an individual [boy] is not studying in school, then he must do work for his family. It is not a pressure from the family rather it is a part of their socialization. I have been sometime told by my parents to go out there for work. (Islamabad-Bari Imam 12)

Another respondent also confirmed the above argument. He mentioned:

I told them that I cannot continue my studies. I have no interest in studying and I have to do work. They agreed because if you can work, it is always in favor of them. Now I am earning through my work and contributing in my family income. (Islamabad-Bari Imam 14)

Some youngsters who have ‘discovered freedom’ follow deviant ways, but outwardly showed conformity. They wandered the streets and engaged in deviant acts, such as drugs and making friends with other deviant people in urban neighborhoods. A respondent mentioned:

When I used to do work, I had a lot of money at that time, but now I am totally dependent on my family for everything. My family does not know that I am a drug user, if they come to know they will throw me out of the home. […]These guys have no check and balance on them from their families. They can do whatever they want. I am not a good guy myself, but my family is very strict. I can’t smoke charas (marijuana) in front of them. […] I really respect my family, my parents, though they are unhappy from me these days due to my joblessness, but I care about them so much. (Rawalpindi-Dhok Matkial 5)

In some cases, families use different techniques to force their deviant adolescent to conform. They may start by giving the youngster a chance to conform through prohibitions and withholding physical and emotional support. If that fails, they may punish the juvenile physically. A responded narrated his story:

They told me to continue my studies, but I am not good in studies. That’s why I don’t want to study anymore. My family members are angry with me. They didn’t talk to me for a long time. My father also does not talk to me. He told me to continue studies otherwise he told me to get a job. But I have no interest in any sort of work here as well. Now I even avoid spending most of the time at home. (Islamabad-Bari Imam 3)

Another respondent explained how he was caught behaving badly and that his family punished him severely, which he just had to tolerate. He explained:

Few days ago, my friends made a plan of visiting Murree. I also went with them and ditched the school. I don’t know who told my family that I was missing from school. When I came back home, my brother asked me whether I was in school or not? When I said yes, I was in school, he caught me and beat me so harshly which I can’t describe in words. I am still in search of that guy who told my brother regarding my absence from school. I will teach him a lesson whenever I come to know about him. (Islamabad-Bari Imam 3)

Strong social control is exercised by the family, and violence from and by elders (grandparents, parents/uncle/aunt, and elder brother/sister) is an accepted norm. It is not perceived as violence but as a corrective act, which they must bear. Rather, they might self-harm to release the anger. Thus, another respondent mentioned that he fought with his brother over friendships with girls and boys. He was rebelling against the family norms. He explained his story of the physical punishment from his elder brother:

When my brother slapped me, I stopped his hand. Then he beat me. He told me not to avoid the vulgar boys. You should do your work. You are wandering here and there. I got angry over it and that led to severe conflict between us. Other people also came and asked about the reason. I said ask him what he has done. Then the family member settled the issue and I moved away from my home. At that time I wanted to go to a place where there was nobody around. I injured my head too on that day because I was not able to control my anger. Then I used a knife to cut and the blood flowed with a sound Chirr. When I cut my wrist with knife, the blood streamed out on my face. When the blood streamed from my head, my anger was released. After this event nobody ever said anything to me. If I went home late at night, they wouldn’t say anything. (Islamabad-Bari Imam 25)

The adolescents believed that it was the right of the parents to control their behavior. They think that their parents take action against their children only to be corrective because they wanted to see their children become successful person. Once the youngster conforms, harsh behavior is abandoned. A respondent narrated his experience and said:

At first, they [parents] used to scold me too much, but now I have started my work. So now they are happy and giving me some respect as well. […] I think the first right of parents upon their children is that they will give them respect and I also do the same. For my parents it is not important how tough I am. For them the only thing which matters is that I earn for them through legal ways and do not create any problem for them by engaging in conflict with others or start using drugs like other boys in the street. […] Sometimes there are domestic problems. They become normal and I think they exist in all families. It is important to accept all things and decision from parents because they are the sole authority at homes. If you do not accept them, there is a possibility of conflict even between the parents and their children. In my family I have never disobeyed my elders and they are also there for me at every time. (Islamabad-Bari Imam 8)

Relationships with girls was a primary flashpoint in family relationships. A respondent reported that due to sexual needs, some of the boys deviated from family norms. Others became drug addicts to avoid increased sexual frustration. The families remain unaware of the deviant behavior of their youngsters, or if they know, they try to change their deviant behavior. He mentioned:

The boys have gone crazy after girls. They can even beat their mothers for girls. They cannot accept their sisters because of girls. The girls have dominated the mind of boys.

I myself have been in this type of conflict with my family members. There was girl and we had understanding. Then there came another person who told the matter to the brothers of the girl. They came to my brothers and told them about the issue. After that my family member told me to stay with my brother. Thus, I started to live in his house. That girl didn’t marry even today. She wants to marry me. (Islamabad-Bari Imam 24)

Some of the respondents blamed the family of deviant youngsters for such behavior, claiming that such families did not care for or provide socialization for their adolescents. They believed either that such parents wanted their children to be deviant or they were incapacitated to provide proper socialization to their young adolescents. A respondent argued:

The parents are themselves responsible for it. It is not difficult to control one’s own children. They do not care about them. Thus, they come to these streets where there is nobody to stop them. They are involved in drug use and all the other bad habits. (Islamabad-Bari Imam 13)

Another respondent says the parents of deviant adolescents are often involved in deviant behavior as well:

They don’t listen to their parents even if their parents forbid them from involving in these activities. But many parents are also involved in drug usage and gambling, so they can’t forbid their children either. (Islamabad-Bari Imam 3)

A respondent was of the view that parents do not want their children to become deviant. Rather, the choice to become deviant rests on the young themselves. Youngsters earn money for the family and in return enjoy autonomy and choose to become deviants. He reported:

If it is not acceptable for parents, how are they doing it? These [deviant] boys are less concerned about parents. They are not scared of their parents, because they earn money for their families. When they are young their parents send them for work. They think that these children are the source of money for them. Thus, they are spoiled at their early age by their parents. […] Parents are also poor and they are unable to meet all the needs. Thus, these children are fulfilling the needs of the family along with their fathers. The parents usually do not intervene in their personal activities. Probably, it is a lack of socialization from the parents. (Islamabad-Bari Imam 15)

Contrarily, a deviant respondent mentioned that families are not aware of the poor behavior of their adolescents and do not know what they were doing outside of the home. He was able to engage in deviant activities without the knowledge of his parents, who therefore had no reason to suspect him of bad behavior. He said:

No, the families are not involved in our own daily matters. Usually they remain unaware about our activities. If they become aware of our activities, we make them believe that it was not our fault. (Islamabad-Bari Imam 22)

Another respondent said:

If my family becomes aware of my activities what I do outside the home. For example, if they come to know that I use heroine, they might kick me out of the home. Therefore, the time I smoked, before entering home I washed my mouth and never kept cigarette in my pocket. (Rawalpindi-Dhok Matkial 26)

Overall, family is an important social institution in Pakistan and it is responsible for adolescents. The family does not only provide the everyday needs of youngsters, but they also control their behavior. These young people are expected to provide assistance, obey their elders and respect and protect the family.

  • South Africa

In South Africa, the concept of the family and its role was decidedly differently understood between the two sites from which the respondents were drawn. For participants from the site in Durban, family was understood as an integral and important node in the chain of being in which they stood at the bottom and the ancestors stood at the pinnacle. Family is frequently conceptualized as an anchor, or idealized as a perfect state from which they have in the modern, urban life, transgressed in multiple ways. This conception of transgression, ironically, is borrowed from a Christian ethos but has become interwoven with the traditional cosmology so as to create a hybrid narrative. For instance, one participant noted that:

So many people die because of so many people being arrogant until I see the thing of aids maybe then I will respect it and then, going back to the roots of my family, roots of my family will remind me of what respect it but I am not even at home because I lost my respect. (Durban-KwaMashu 8)

Such an understanding is furthermore frequently also seen as a limiting or constraining normative barrier, to which they may either conform or rebel. Another participant noted, in terms of the symbolic discussion around tattoos, that:

I do not have tattoo, my family does not believe in them. (Durban-KwaMashu 5)

The family may also be seen as a safety net or place of refuge in times of conflict or trouble. Such a conception of the family places it in diametric opposition to that of violence, for it is seen as a sanctuary. One participant further noted:

I can say that from home, it is my mom, my dad, in reality I can say the whole family because there is somebody whom I don’t ask for help in my house. I can even ask from my brother in-laws. But I still say one should not rely on other. The thing with me is that I do not beg a person, I don’t. (Cape Town-Hanover Park 12)

In saying this, the family is mentioned very little by participants from the other site in South Africa, primarily because so few had any family members that were either not alive or in prison. Family, finally, is also related to narratives of success, through a process of mythologization and actualization. As one participant noted:

There is one that I can talk about. You see this one is educated, she is around 39 years or more. But I can say that she is still young. But she is successful. She is highly educated. She has many things in life. Married. She has everything but she still wants more but personally I can say she is successful. (Cape Town-Hanover Park 4)

Similarities: Family is a safety net in Pakistan and South Africa. It provides not only care during childhood or old age but also provides financial assistance, moral support, and social capital and thus forms a safety net. It is like a shelter, where members feel comfortable, relax and feel free of threats. They get almost every kind of support from the family. Similarly, family is also important in German context where the people feel proud to be part of their family. Particularly, the mother was considered to be the most significant person in the family.

Differences: Pakistani data reflected that family was a kind of total institution or state within a state which look after the needs of the members. They provide the safety, welfare, and security for the members. In the absence of a welfare system in the country, the family enjoys coercive authority. It has authority to mold, change and regulate the behavior of the members of society. The Pakistani familial control may be close to Anderson’s conception of the descent or street families, but cannot be completely labeled as such. However, the notions of descent and street families are not clear in the German and South African data. In Germany, where the welfare system as well as state role is clear, the space for the family institution is limited and families do not have complete control. Middle-class values are dominant, even among deviant male juveniles. Thus, the theoretical approach of the code of the street cannot apply to the realities of the three countries.

10.3 Comparison of Modalities of Technology

In the study, the modalities of technology, particularly social media, was accentuated by young participants. Youths described that various uses of technology have become commonplace to find girlfriends. Because the youth of these risky neighborhoods face geographical discrimination, by virtue of being resident in such neighborhoods, they used social media to renounce their neighborhoods. Thus, the development of technology and use of social media provides a new space for street culture. In this respect, our findings should provide some insights into how young men from risky neighborhoods use technology in everyday life and negotiate their identity on social media. During Anderson’s fieldwork in the 1990th, this technology, particularly the Internet, was not part of everyday life. Nowadays youth opt for the Internet, particularly social media, to communicate and interact.

  • Germany

In Germany, the participants reported that social media is part of everyday life and the forum used to communicate with their peers, as well as for verbal violence to present a tough image of themselves. For instance, one participant from Marxloh described that those who exaggerate their ruthlessness on social media are in fact cowards in reality:

[…] they all write on Facebook, yes if I grab him, I will beat him to death, I put him into the hospital. I bet with them for hundred thousand euros, [in actual confrontation] they will run away. (Duisburg-Marxloh 5)

The narration of a participant showed that there is incoherence between what is presented on social media and an actual situation. Similar accounts were mentioned by other participants:

Many are very, very aggressive on Facebook, on internet. But if you face them, they have no balls. (Berlin-Wedding 5)

Sometimes social media becomes the avenue where conflict arises, which leads to serious confrontation. Adolescents mentioned that online disrespect instigates violence and confrontation, particularly with people from outside the neighborhood. Moreover, young people face verbal violence and bullying on social media.

There is also verbal violence, of course insulting someone or something. Or on the internet too. Let’s say bullying and stuff. (Berlin-Wedding 6)

Other themes echoed in the narrations of young participants was online discrimination because of the reputation of their neighborhoods. The territorial discrimination based on a resident’s address is visible online.

[…] Why does anyone say Hamborn, no-go [area]? Why crap, as, as I read this stuff on Facebook, this bank robbery in Hamborn [a district close to Marxloh]. Immediately, I read in the comments below, it would have been someone from Marxloh. Immediately, I read that. I also instantly commented below. I said […] did you plan that or what? Then this other person said to me: Certainly, you are one of the guys from Marxloh. I told him: Yes, I am from Marxloh. Do you have any problem with that? (Duisburg-Marxloh 5)

In some cases, residents tried to defend their neighborhoods. In defense of his neighborhood, the above young interviewee went on:

They said only: Marxloh no-go area, ha ha ha. That’s the problem for us. They think, they believe that stuff, what the upper people, the big ones believe. […] But they know nothing. (Duisburg-Marxloh 5)

However, others from risky neighborhoods distance themselves from their neighborhoods on social media particularly when they meet a girl online on a dating website. Owing to the bad reputation of their neighborhood they will avoid mentioning where they live and will meet outside their neighborhoods.

For instance, when I chat with her, I don’t tell that [I am from Marxloh], because the other girls are afraid of coming here. Girls are scared to come here. They are scared to enter Marxloh. They think all people from Marxloh are criminal. I write I am somewhere from Duesseldorf, from somewhere there or I meet in the city. I don’t meet in my own district. (Duisburg-Marxloh 1)

  • Pakistan

Young adolescents in Pakistan are well connected on social media. Particularly, the use of Facebook and WhatsApp is ubiquitous. WhatsApp, Instagram and other social media apps like Twitter serve to keep in contact with each other. YouTube is used for music and to watch action and violent movies. Facebook is used to attract girls, see their photos, and chat with them. If a person is known to them, their social media platforms will show decent behavior. However, they also have fake accounts on Facebook, where they abuse and bully each other in the virtual world.
In case of emergency, they will call each other on their mobile phone directly and ask for help. Alternatively, they send a message and a group member comes to the place of the emergency. There they will strategize and fight their enemy. A respondent mentioned:

When an issue arises, it becomes important to call the friends. Sometimes issues become severe if the man from rival group finds out that you are alone. At that particular time it is mobile phone which helps. Text messages and telephone calls are the source of communication in any situation. (Rawalpindi-Dhok Matkial 24)

It is mobile phone. At present there is no other medium of communication that is as quick as mobile phone. It has brought convenience in the life of people. (Rawalpindi-Dhok Matkial 25)

I communicate with my friends through mobile phone. I load super card every month in which I receive minutes and SMS and use it. (Islamabad-Bari Imam 2)

Use of social media also causes violence. For instance, one of the respondents from the France Colony mentioned that his friend used the photos of his sister and posted them on social media. In response to this, the brother fought with his friend. He rebuffed his friend and in revenge posted the photos of his erstwhile friend’s sister on social media. In order to avoid escalation, influential local community members intervened and settled the issue. But for the two young men involved further communication was at an end due to this conflict.

  • South Africa

In South Africa, access to the Internet, in general, is extremely limited and the cost of data very high. As such, few of the participants regularly used social media or narrated much of their identity through online profiles or accounts. Participants were, however, aware of and aimed to emulate those individuals who were seen as leaders of the entertainment industry, as one noted in relation to codeine addiction:

I met him two weeks ago his actually the most creative guy I have ever met in my life he doesn’t sleep I was with him like now I was with him, his a perfectionist in every single way he raps I think his the best rapper I have ever heard he doesn’t think that yet but he wants to win a 100 Grammys from this and he walked through. (Cape Town-Hanover Park 3)

Similarities: Use of technology is common in the three countries. The use of cell phone and social media has brought about cyberbullying, abuse and virtual violence due to Internet connectivity.

Differences: Social media is widely used in Pakistan and Germany, but limited data usage and connectivity was found in South Africa. Virtual violence (e.g. cyberbullying) was common in Germany and Pakistan. We also found fake social media accounts in Pakistan. However, we did not notice cyberbullying and virtual violence in South Africa.

10.4 Comparison of Police and State Institutions

It has been mentioned that youths of risky neighborhoods have little trust in state institutes, particularly the police. In all the cases, the participants mentioned geographical discrimination based on the bad reputation of their neighborhoods. The ambivalent image of police was represented by the young participants. However, police violence was one of the major themes of their storyline. Anderson (1999) describes similar findings; that people of inner-city neighborhoods question the morality and authority of state institutions. They believe that police profile their neighborhood negatively and treat inhabitants adversely. The same was found to be the views of the participants of our study. They believe that the police are incompetent to handle situations in these neighborhoods, and thus keep police away from everyday matters and try to solve problems themselves.

  • Germany

In the German context, the image and role of police is ambivalent. Some participants appreciated the police presence in their neighborhoods. However, others mentioned police misconduct. Regular police patrols are a routine activity in these neighborhoods. During the patrols, the adolescents are searched and ill-treated by police. An interview partner from Neukoelln mentioned police violence and the usual routine:

Violence? Yes. Violence. There is a lot. […] There is also police violence here. […] Once. On a 1st May festival. Yes. I didn’t do anything. I was just standing there. A policeman came to me with a shield and stuff. Just kicked me, I fell down. Just like that, because I had my foot on this railing. (Berlin-Neukoelln 9)

He went on about police violence and believed that people face excessive use of force from police due to the neighborhood’s image and the violence there. Other young participants particularly from Marxloh and Neukoelln reported police misconduct and abuse during police patrolling. An interviewee from Dortmund stated:

[…] a friend was brought to the police station with a police car to and, still in the police car, they beat him up. […] Yes, next day he could leave. Well the boy got into the car, one policeman left, on policeman right and then, but the boy didn’t have anything [no bruises]. Then, next day, when we saw him agaun he was beaten black and blue, in any case. (Dortmund-Nordstadt 10)

After a series of adverse encounters, these young people refuse to involve police in their matters. Thus, a participant describes a confrontation between two groups in the neighborhood like this:

No matter who loses, who wins, now it is over. Now we simply must go, so that there is no stress with the police. […] It also happened, we were fighting, the one called the police. One heard it, said: Police is coming. Then we have, we ran away. (Berlin-Wedding 6)

The storylines of interviewees show that police violence is commonplace in the neighborhoods. Owing to a neighborhood’s bad reputation and high levels of reported violence, youths of the risky neighborhoods reported a high level of coercion by police.

In my opinion, if you confront with the police you can expect that harassments and other things will happen. For example, once we were in Blücherpark, just stood there, maybe a little bit louder and were talking, that’s common among us young people. And then it happened that the police came, because of complaints. And probably one of our friends hid the weed as he saw they were coming. And I stood at least 15 meters away from that and the policeman says: yes, you have been that [with grass]. Then I say: No, I wasn’t. Then he says: Come on, don’t take the piss out of me. Give me your remaining grass, then I’ll turn a blind eye. Though I had nothing to do with it, you know? It’s those things, you don’t expect anything bad and then someone just tries, because he had a bad day or just doesn’t like the people from this area, he searches for a reason to teach you a lesson. (Dortmund-Nordstadt 3)

  • Pakistan

Among the youth in Pakistan the police are perceived as the enemy. It was also perceived as criminal and engaged in corruption and nepotism. The adolescents stated that the police take bribes from them. A respondent mentioned:

Police here always keeps an eye on people’s pockets. If someone has a lot of money and he shares a part of it with the police, then he is free to do anything in this area. Powerful people have advantage in everything. If we face any trouble from someone and I go to the police, they ask for money that’s why no one trusts the police these days, because they favor only those who could give them money. (Rawalpindi-Dhok Matkial 26)

Another respondent narrated his story and told how a friend was released from custody through a bribe to the police. He said:

All of a sudden, he appeared and hit one of the boys from the opposite group on the head with a metal rod. The boy fell on the ground and started to bleed. Seeing this, other boys of the opposite group covered us from all direction. I asked my friend to run, but he didn’t. Before the other group could attack us, the police came, arrested my friend and took him to the nearby check post. This time the officer was new, but he knew me. I went to the check post to get my friend released and settle down the issue. But, the police refused to release him and said that he had committed a serious crime, attempted murder. My friend was shifted to police station and was handed over to one of the officials named “Qazi” (judge) for police remand. Fortunately, I had acquaintance with the Qazi, so I requested him to be lenient. Meanwhile, I called my friends to collect some amount for the bail. We collected around 14000 rupees and paid to the officials and got “Shaarti” released. (Islamabad-Bari Imam 29)

The police do not provide protection. The adolescents mentioned that police make them criminal:

I have a friend and he was in prison for two years. He was caught by police under allegations of using drugs (Chars-marijuana). He was with his friend when the police followed them. At that time his friend ran away. When the police caught my friend, they immediately found the drug (Chars) from his pocket which was slipped in his pocket by his friend before running away. In this way he became the criminal in the eyes of police and was kept in prison for two years. (Islamabad-Bari Imam 27)

He further added:

The major reason is that no one trusts the police, they are only for poor people to torture and to beat. But they do not take any action against the powerful rather they help them in their dirty activities. Another major reason is the culture of nepotism and bribe among the police. (Islamabad-Bari Imam 27)

Corruption, bribery and the violent behavior of the police officials bring about low trust in police among the young. As a result, they settle their issues through traditional methods of the conflict resolution. Consequently, a large portion of conflict and violent incidents is not reported to the police.

However, we also noticed changes in the behavior of the police officials. The police, as an institution, is struggling to make its image friendly. Some of the respondents reported some structural changes and added that training in soft skills has had an impact on the behavior of the police officials. These changes have come about due to persistent criticism from the civil society organizations and the changing role of civil institutions.

  • South Africa

In meeting their respective legislative mandates, the regulation/policing of illegal substances in South Africa has been ineffective, scattershot and piecemeal. Drug-related arrests are the most significant arrest type and have remained so for the last five years, with 258,472 incidents occurring in 2014, 266,902 in 2015, and 259,165 in 2016. Despite this, conviction rates remain extremely low—aggregated convictions relating to cannabis (the most widely used illegal substance in the country) have remained below 3% of arrests (2.71% in 2012, 2.25% in 2013, and 2.12% in 2014). Moreover, there are massive disparities in the arrest and conviction levels between population groups, with cannabis-related convictions of white women standing at just 0.0038% in 2014. At the same time, the availability and affordability of the primary illegal substances continue to increase. While the nominal value of the primary drugs of use in South Africa has only decreased marginally over the course of the last decade, as a result of rapid inflation the real value of these substances has decreased greatly—methamphetamine is 181.7% more affordable, heroin some 317.4% more affordable, and cocaine 159.7% more affordable than ten years ago.

I would go so far as to say that it is organize, because of the kind of the money on the table when you engage with car hijackings and house robberies, a couple of thousand Rand for each event, it now becomes a structured part of your life, where you may have to do this once a week or every couple of days […] I think it is partly to do with unemployment, but I also think that it becomes a viable alternative way of earning a living. (Durban-KwaMashu, Police expert)

While high-arrest or conviction rates are not indicative of effective regulation, they are symptomatic of significant structural challenges in the police services, most prominent of which are corruption/racketeering driven by very low salary levels and the lack of significant career opportunities, traumatic working conditions and a lack of counseling/support structures, and a numeric performance measurement matrix, which mandates for the meeting of ‘quotas’ at the station level. Indeed, evidence exists of officers specifically not arresting local dealers so that the ‘pool’ of users that purchase substances from them is maintained within their jurisdiction, and which can be drawn upon in the fulfilling of these numeric objectives. Despite this, many officers are aware of these challenges and of the ineffectiveness of the policing model but lack the scope and space to voice such concerns, for fear of being persecuted by colleagues or for being charged with dereliction of duty. The overall result is that the regulation of illegal drugs is uncoordinated and marred by systemic obligations that preclude effective responses. The police, in the present context, has become seen as the enemy of the people rather than their protectors. Such a description is in line with one participant’s description of violence, when they argued that

You find that sometimes a person responds to you with very heavy words or painful. I can call that violence. It also includes beating up a person, that’s violence, especially when there is no need. (Durban-KwaMashu 3)

Similarities: State institutions in general, but police particularly, have the lowest popularity and trust among these adolescents. They feel that the police are their enemy and hardly helps any person. Rather, in all three countries of the study, the police used violent behavior to handle these juveniles.

Differences: In South Africa and Pakistan, the state institutions are perceived as colonial institutions and perceived as untrustworthy. However, the German sample has ambivalent relations with their police. Although German police are not saddled with a colonial legacy, they were nonetheless perceived as the enemy.

10.5 Patterns of Street Violence in a Cross-Cultural Comparison

We identified and then analyzed four further elements of street culture, which are important for juveniles in all countries: success, the role of the family, new technologies, as well as perceptions of the police. The similarities and differences are described in detail element by element. However, a closer look at the patterns of who said what exactly shone a light on differences that stand out when one goes beyond an analysis of the code alone. These are personal experiences of violence as an offender. Only few differences were found between deviant and non-deviant juveniles. They all attach utmost importance to their family, which is contrary to the findings of Anderson. In fact, they have values close to what Anderson called middle-class values. They want to get an education, employment and then have a family and a decent life. However, many of them remain on the verge of the poverty, discrimination, and inequality in the three countries.

Besides differences between the countries, we also see differences between highly deviant males and those who rather stay out of trouble. For example, highly deviant adolescents were of the view that success came with fights and dominance over their enemies. Moreover, in Pakistan deviant youth estimated having multiple girlfriends as success whereas non-deviant youth attached high importance to their belief system.

Anderson distinguished descent and street families in the USA. However, we were unable to find this pattern in the countries studied. The adolescents never termed themselves or others as coming from street or descent families. Rather, they mentioned either lose or tight social control by their families. Family was very important in every country. Whether deviant or non-deviant, juveniles were inclined to respect and honor the family. Some of them referred to this as a part of their belief, especially in Pakistan and Germany.

Anderson’s code of the street was silent about technological advancements, as his work was carried out in the 1990s before the emergence of the internet and social media. We discussed this code and found variations in the responses. In Germany and Pakistan, we noted cyberbullying. However, in the interviews from Pakistan, the intensity or perhaps the realization of it as a part of violent behavior was not noted. Though we found excessive usage of social media (Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, and WhatsApp) in Pakistan, it was used less for violence and abuse. Rather, it was used for direct telephone communication and short messages (SMS) to friends in time of need or when deviant adolescents wanted to fight with each other or even with the non-deviant young people.

Police and state institutions (judiciary and prison etc.) were further important elements. It was found that the police enjoy almost no trust among the youth of the three countries examined. It was perceived as being violent in Germany, whereas less or no complaints were made regarding other state institutions. In Pakistan the police were considered corrupt and it was reported that they take bribes. It was violent and was also reported to be part of criminal activities. The police also suffer from the stigma of being a legacy of colonialism.

Nonetheless, it was clear that Anderson’s code of the street has limited application across continents and societies. It may be visible in some societies or it may have partial application. It could be irrelevant in other societies.


  1. Anderson, E. (1999). Code of the street: Decency, violence, and the moral life of the inner city. New York: Norton.Google Scholar

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Authors and Affiliations

  • Simon Howell
    • 1
  • Abdul Rauf
    • 2
  • Muhammad Zaman
    • 3
    • 4
  • Steffen Zdun
    • 5
  1. 1.Institute of CriminologyUniversity of Cape TownCape TownSouth Africa
  2. 2.Institute of Interdisciplinary Research on Conflict and ViolenceBielefeld UniversityBielefeldGermany
  3. 3.Department of SociologyQuaid-I-Azam UniversityIslamabadPakistan
  4. 4.Institute of Interdisciplinary Research on Conflict and ViolenceBielefeld UniversityBielefeldGermany
  5. 5.Institute of Interdisciplinary Research on Conflict and ViolenceBielefeld UniversityBielefeldGermany

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