Jane Addams founded Hull House in the 1890s, a community-building and resource centre that applied studies of the neighbourhood to guide social reforms. Observations gleaned especially in fieldwork and participant observation that included subculturists’ subjective understandings of what they do, led to social reforms in Chicago (Haenfler, 2014, p. 3).
By setting up a community space in Hull House, social workers could talk directly with individuals. Social workers could consider the reasoning why individuals acted in the way they did. Theorists such as William Foote Whyte at the Chicago School saw that crime and poverty were not a product of individuals’ personal, moral, and psychological failings per se. They were, instead, results of the social environment. Social problems such as deviance are a symptom of the chaotic social environment that rapid social change creates. In rapid social change, social disorganisation happens where people are uprooted and relocated and forced to live in new areas, which leads to social problems. When there are high unemployment, poverty and a rapid turnover of inhabitants, more disorganisation, and more social problems (Haenfler, 2014, p. 4), clarifying that rapid social change leads to social problems must consider these causes. The result of different individuals being mixed up through such conditions of urbanisation can only result in the forming of new relations or segregation once individuals and families have resettled in new neighbourhoods. It is instinctive for humans to create relations as a means to survive and protect themselves from the other; humans can sense they are stronger as a group. It is, therefore, understandable that young males gather together in gangs to find safety in a group, and they find the commonality within the group through sharing their experiences of social, financial or racial segregation. Due to the lack of supportive community in newly urbanised areas, their actions may be misguided. This may lead them to take actions that are considered deviant to the law of the land, and they are, therefore, labelled as delinquents. Through this reasoning, the Chicago School could work with communities to implement support and guidance for delinquent gang members even though the term ‘subculture’ was coined at the Birmingham School in the 1940s to denote ‘uniformed’ gangs of delinquents. Environmental and class factors draw parallels between gangs and subcultures that are both a by-product of the urbanisation of the time and were, for that reason, both deemed dangerous through the eyes of societal hegemony. The pages above have identified that forming gangs or subcultures is, to a great part, the result of environmental factors. Is it then not as equally valid that the environment can have a positive result on individuals and the forming of positive subcultures? That would define the difference between gangs of delinquents with subcultures of subculturists whose behaviour has the potential to be deemed beneficial to urban societies. If the city has the environmental potential to create gangs or subcultures, what then is a city? What can one perceive ‘the city’ to be?