IRRC No. 878

Understanding gangs as armed groups

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Gangs have long been considered a source of violence and insecurity, but they are increasingly identified as a cause of instability and a threat to the state. Yet gangs operate mainly in non-conflict settings, raising questions about whether applying a conflict lens to understand gangs is appropriate. Marked differences appear between armed groups and gangs when considering concepts of ungoverned spaces, the state, violence, and sustainability. Few gangs reach the threshold of posing a direct challenge to the state; this makes comparisons with other armed groups difficult and suggests the need for a more specific analytical lens.

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