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Gangs of Russia

From the Streets to the Corridors of Power

By: Svetlana Stephenson
12th November 2015
published by
: Cornell University Press

Hardback – 978-0-8014-5387-8 – £53.50
Paperback – 978-1-5017-0024-8 – £15.50
E-book: £13.95

Book's frontpage

When we think of a gang, many of us will conjure up the image of uneducated, violent young men living in the shadows of society. But what if those same young men turn out to be university educated with mainstream careers and aspirations? What if the police, rather than preventing their criminal activity, are working for them, on the side? And what if the country’s ruling elite, including the President, display an affinity with, and uses the language of gang culture?
In her eye-opening new book, Svetlana Stephenson transports us to Kazan, a city 500 miles from Moscow where gang culture is deeply entrenched. Drawing on a wealth of research and in-depth interviews with gang members, law enforcement and local residents (many carried out personally), she uncovers the evolving history, structure and practice of Russia’s street gangs from the early 1990s to the modern day.
In discovering what it takes to be a gang member (discipline, a respect for hierarchy, loyalty to one’s own), how they make their money (protection, consultancy, security, mediation services, money laundering, to name a few) and why, despite the crime and violence, gangs see themselves as upholders of justice, superior to the “amoral, egotistical and undisciplined relations of the outside world”, one thing becomes clear. Far from being socially isolated, Russian gangs have become embedded into the wider community, their connections and culture stretching right up to the top echelons of today’s Russian state.


Table of contents

Introduction – In the Shadow of the State
1 – Street Organizations and Gangs in Russia
2 – The Transformation of Gangs in the 1990s
3 – The Business of Bandit Gangs: From Predation to Assimilation
4 – Gang Organization
5 – Street Trajectories
6 – The Gang in the Community
7 – Life according to the Poniatiia: The Gang’s Code
8 – Navigating the World of Violence
9 – Gang Culture and the Wider Russian Society
Conclusion: Out of the Shadows?
Appendix: Development of the Tatarstan Gangs, Three Examples
Key to Interviewees/Methodological Note/Glossary/References/Index

About the Author

Svetlana Stephenson was born in Moscow. Her first degree was in history and she gained a PhD in sociology at the Institute of Sociology of the Russian Academy of Sciences. From 1988 she worked as a researcher in the All-Russian Centre for Public Opinion Research (now known as the Levada Centre). In 1996 Svetlana moved to the UK and is now Reader in Sociology at London Metropolitan University. She is the author of Crossing the Line: Vagrancy, Homelessness and Social Displacement in Russia and co-editor of Youth and Social Change in Eastern Europe and the Former Soviet Union and her research has involved interviewing street children, homeless people, sex workers and members of youth gangs and organized crime networks in Russia. She has been investigating life in the “shadows” of Russian society for over 20 years.


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