Date of Award

Spring 2021

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Political Science & Geography


Graduate Program in International Studies

Committee Director

Jesse Richman

Committee Member

Peter Schulman

Committee Member

Randy Gainey

Committee Member

Jingwei Huang

Committee Member

David Earnest


Despite the significant contributions from location-based gang studies, the network structure of gangs beyond localized settings remains a neglected but important area of research to better understand the national security implications of gang interconnectivity. The purpose of this dissertation is to examine the network structure of gangs at the macro- and micro-level using social network analysis. At the macro-level, some gangs have formed national alliances in perpetuity with their goals and objectives. In order to study gangs at the macro-level, this research uses open-source data to construct an adjacency matrix of gang alliances and rivalries to map the relationships between gangs and analyze their network centrality across multiple metrics. The results suggest that native gangs are highly influential when compared to immigrant gangs. Some immigrant gangs, however, derive influence by “bridging” the gap between rival gangs. Mexican Drug Trafficking Organizations (MDTOs) play a similar role and feature prominently in the gang network. Moreover, removing MDTOs changes the network structure in favor of ideologically-motivated gangs over profit-oriented gangs. Critics deride macro-level approaches to studying gangs for their lack of national cohesion. In response, this research includes a micro-level analysis of gang member connections by mining Twitter data to analyze the geospatial distribution of gang members and, by proxy, gangs, using an exponential random graph model (ERGM) to test location homophily and better understand the extent to which gang members are localized. The findings show a positive correlation between location and shared gang member connections which is conceptually consistent with the proximity principle. According to the proximity principle, interpersonal relationships are more likely to occur in localized geographic spaces. However, gang member connections appear to be more diffuse than is captured in current location-based gang studies. This dissertation demonstrates that macro- and micro-level gang networks exist in unbounded geographic spaces where the interconnectivity of gangs transpose local issues onto the national security consciousness which challenges law and order, weakens institutions, and negatively impacts the structural integrity of the state.


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