Who You Claim

Performing Gang Identity in School and on the Streets

272 pages

February, 2010

ISBN: 9780814732137



Also available in



Part of the Alternative Criminology series


Robert Garot is Assistant Professor of Sociology in the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, City University of New York.

All books by Robert Garot

2011 Honorable Mention for the American Sociological Association Community and Urban Section's Robert E. Park Book Award

The color of clothing, the width of shoe laces, a pierced ear, certain brands of sneakers, the braiding of hair and many other features have long been seen as indicators of gang involvement. But it’s not just what is worn, it’s how: a hat tilted to the left or right, creases in pants, an ironed shirt not tucked in, baggy pants. For those who live in inner cities with a heavy gang presence, such highly stylized rules are not simply about fashion, but markers of "who you claim," that is, who one affiliates with, and how one wishes to be seen.

In this carefully researched ethnographic account, Robert Garot provides rich descriptions and compelling stories to demonstrate that gang identity is a carefully coordinated performance with many nuanced rules of style and presentation, and that gangs, like any other group or institution, must be constantly performed into being. Garot spent four years in and around one inner city alternative school in Southern California, conducting interviews and hanging out with students, teachers, and administrators. He shows that these young people are not simply scary thugs who always have been and always will be violent criminals, but that they constantly modulate ways of talking, walking, dressing, writing graffiti, wearing make-up, and hiding or revealing tattoos as ways to play with markers of identity. They obscure, reveal, and provide contradictory signals on a continuum, moving into, through, and out of gang affiliations as they mature, drop out, or graduate. Who You Claim provides a rare look into young people’s understandings of the meanings and contexts in which the magic of such identity work is made manifest.


  • “Path breaking and precedent-setting. Robert Garot has appreciated what no one has before, the essential shadow quality of urban gangs, which are not so much things one can be in as they are things danced around, avoided, played with, and very occasionally, practically invoked.”

    —Jack Katz, author of How Emotions Work

  • “Written with the ink of theory, passion, fine attention to method and ethics, Garot represents with dignity the complex and strategic maneuverings of youth in gangs as he represents with humility the equally complex negotiations of a white guy ethnographer working with, for and beside urban youth.”

    —Michelle Fine, co-author of Silenced Voices and Extraordinary Conversations: Re-Imagining Schools

  • “Garot has provided deep insight into an inner‒city alternative school showing how self identity can change and adjust to the surrounding circumstances and why gang identity is a variable that defies a fixed characterization.”

    —Diego Vigil, author of The Projects: Gang and Non‒Gang Families in East Los Angeles

  • "I cannot recommend this book enough. I should add that it is highly readable at undergraduate levels. They should make it mandatory reading for criminologists and law enforcement members."

    Global Sociology Blog

  • “Garot should be commended for his well-written, exceptionally insightful school ethnography... I teach graduate courses on cultural differences and educational research, and plan to use this book as an example of how to design, execute, and present exemplary research, and most importantly, how to represent historically marginalized young people accurately, ethically, and in a manner that reveals their humanity in dehumanizing circumstances.”

    —Annette Hemmings, Teachers College Record

  • “[A] beautifully complex picture of youth identity….Who You Claim is a ‘must-read’ for scholars interested not just in gangs, but also in youth identity, education, urban neighborhoods, and violence more generally.”

    —Andrew V. Papachristos, Contemporary Sociology