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CHAPTER TWO Methodology

In document Youth gang membership: (Page 41-57)

The primary focus of this chapter is to provide the reader with a detailed outline of the methods used to collect and analyse the data for this study.

Firstly, a description of the participants included in this study will be

discussed. This will include the process used to recruit participants and any ethical issues that needed consideration. Following this, the theoretical orientation of this study will be discussed. Included in this section is an introduction to qualitative research and the benefits and limitations to this approach. Insight into the researcher is also included to highlight any biases she may have had during either the interview process or analysis stage. The research procedure is then outlined, followed by the process used to conduct the data analysis.


Participants were required to be residents of Hamilton, New Zealand to be included in this study. This geographical constraint was put in place in recognition of the different experiences that may be evident for youth gang members in different geographical regions of New Zealand. Like all cities, different demographic profiles reflect different population age groups,

ethnicities, vocational choices, and education levels which may contribute to different experiences of residents. Further to this, it was important to

recognize the differences that may exist between urban and rural youth populations in New Zealand. More specifically, this study aimed to focus solely on male youth currently in a gang. While participation in youth gangs is not exclusive to males, a comparison between male and female youth was beyond the scope of this research project.


For the purpose of this study, youth were defined as being between 16 and 23 years of age. This age restriction was guided by the Ministry of Social Development (2006) study; ‘from wannabes to youth offenders: youth gangs in Counties Manakau’. While there was research to suggest that youth seek gang membership as young as 10 years of age, the researcher believed that the experiences of a 10 year old may be incomparable to those of a 23 year old. As a result, the age range was restricted for this study in an attempt gain a better understanding of the experiences and challenges facing those in a more specified age bracket.

Youth gang members were defined in accordance with criteria presented by Curry and Decker (1998). While there was no universal definition of what constitutes a youth gang member, the following criteria provided some structure in an attempt to exclude youth gang associates or ‘wannabe’ youth gang members from the study. Of most significance was that the participant self-nominated as a youth gang member. The full criteria (Curry & Decker, 1998) are as follows:

1. He can self-nominate to youth gang membership 2. He views the gang as a social group

3. He uses common identifiers or symbols

4. He partakes in both verbal and non-verbal communication to signify his gang affiliations

5. He is part of a gang that has some permanence 6. He has an association with criminal activity

Participant recruitment

Participants were initially recruited for this study through alternative education providers and community agencies in Hamilton, New Zealand. Posters

(Appendix A) were used to advertise the basic intentions of the study and were displayed in community youth centres in Hamilton. Selected Hamilton


school staff and school counsellors were also asked to kindly notify any students who they believed would fit the entry criteria for the study. If the young person demonstrated some interest in participating in the study, an information sheet (Appendix B) was made available which provided further details on the purpose of the study, the requirements and rights of the participant, and information on how to become involved in the study.

Participants could then either fill in their details on the slip at the bottom of the information sheet and post them to the researcher in a prepaid and self-addressed envelope, or give their contact details to the respective staff member who would then contact the researcher. Upon receiving the participant's contact details, the researcher made telephone contact to

arrange an interview date and time. A location for the interview was proposed by the researcher. Interviews were conducted in a neutral location specified by the researcher to ensure her safety. Reception staff or teachers were notified of the interview time and location. These rooms were either on the school premises or within the community agency.

A small number of participants were also recruited by participants informing other youth gang members of the study, a recruitment strategy commonly known as "snowballing" (Noy, 2008). Participants were asked on these occasions to provide other youth gang members who met the entry criteria with an information sheet. If they decided that they too would like to

participate in the study, they were asked to provide the researcher with their details at the bottom of the information sheet and send it in the

self-addressed envelope provided. The researcher then made telephone contact to arrange a time, date and location for the interview to commence. These interviews were conducted at a local community centre.

Participants were informed that they were entitled to bring along a support person if necessary. In the instance of a support person being present, the researcher asked that the details of the support person be known prior to the


interview commencing. Participants were also informed of their entitlement to a $20 voucher as a token of appreciation for participating in the study.

Description of participant group

A total of seven participants were interviewed for this study. Details of the participants’ age, ethnicity, current employment status and age when first affiliated are highlighted in the table below. Participants’ names and any specific details have been made anonymous to protect their identity.

Name Age Ethnicity Current

employment status

Age when first affiliated Teine 17 Māori Enrolled in

preparation course


Rapata 16 Māori Unemployed 12

Maui 22 Māori Unemployed 10

Hemi 18 Māori Enrolled in

preparation course


Henare 23 Māori Unemployed 9

Rua 18 Māori Enrolled in

preparation course

13 Taonga 19 Māori Enrolled in

preparation course


Table 2: Demographic profile of participants

In summary, participants all identified as Māori and were aged between 16 and 23 years of age. All participants were living in Hamilton at the time of the interview, however many participants said that as children, they lived in other regions of the North Island of New Zealand. All participants explained that they first became interested in gangs at a very young age, and began to affiliate with local youth gangs while at primary or intermediate school.

Furthermore, all participants identified their youth gang membership as interfering with their future schooling. At the time of the interview, four


participants had returned to an alternative education provider in an attempt to gain their National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA) credits.

The remaining three participants explained that they left school while they were in their early teenage years and were currently unemployed.

Ethical considerations

This study was approved by the University of Waikato ethics committee. All participants were informed of their rights as detailed in the information sheet they were given prior to the interview. Participants voluntarily consented to participating in this study and were encouraged to ask questions at any time throughout the process. All participants were asked whether they would consent to having the interview taped to ensure that their experiences were accurately recorded by the interviewer. Participants were informed that all interviews were kept confidential unless it became apparent that there was risk to either themselves or to others. This confidentiality was important when considering the power imbalance that existed between the researcher and participants. The researcher was aware that youth gang members may have already experienced stigmatisation, especially within the media and society more generally. It was therefore important to emphasise to the participants that confidentiality was paramount to this study. It was hoped that this would alleviate some of the distrust that may have existed within this population when an unknown outsider expresses an interest in understanding their stories. Further to this, the researcher explained and reassured participants both during the initial discussions and throughout the interview process that they were the experts and there were no incorrect answers to any of the questions that may have evolved during the interview. Both transcripts and audio recordings were destroyed after three months as instructed by the participants.

To ensure that the participants were supported both prior to and after the interview, the contact details of relevant youth support organisations in


Hamilton were made available to participants. They were encouraged to utilise these services if they felt that any of the discussions during the interview were unsettling at a later stage.

Introduction to Qualitative Research

Qualitative research is a process of analysing and interpreting texts and interviews in order to find meaningful patterns which describe a particular phenomenon or event (Auerbach & Silverstein, 2003). The purpose of conducting qualitative research is to gain insight into the subjective

understandings of people’s socio-cultural context and the impact this context has on their feelings and behaviours (Yardley & Marks, 2004). Emphasis is therefore placed on understanding the quality of the experience, rather than identifying any cause-effect relationships (Willig, 2001). In order to achieve this, the researcher does not tend to predefine particular variables for the study. This is to ensure that any meaning attributed by the researcher does not impede respondents from expressing their way of interpreting the

phenomenon under investigation (Willig, 2001). Qualitative data is therefore considered to be rich personal information which relates to a particular individual in a particular place and time (Yardley & Marks, 2004).

In order to analyse and interpret this rich qualitative information, it is necessary to align the study with a particular theory or epistemological

position. Epistemology is an aspect of philosophy which is concerned with the theory of knowledge (Willig, 2001). It is a framework which can be used to answer the question; how and what, can we know (Willig, 2001).

Epistemology further requires the researcher to think about the nature of knowledge as a construct and the validity and reliability that claims of knowledge have. There are several different epistemological positions that can underpin qualitative research (Coyle, 2007; Willig, 2001). The

epistemological position that best fits the nature and intent of this study is the relativist social constructionism position (Sullivan, 2010; Willig, 2001). This


position primarily advocates for the existences of multiples ‘knowledges’

rather than a single, overarching ‘knowledge’. This variability in knowledge is theorised to exist as human experience is influenced by varying historical factors, cultural standpoints and expressions of language (Willig, 2001). Due to such diversity, relativist positions do not assume it is possible to determine a ‘truth’, but to merely investigate the subjective realities of individuals who are influenced by their value systems, moral beliefs, culture and the like (Sullivan, 2010). As opposed to viewing ‘truth’ as being something waiting to be found, relativists’ define ‘truth’ as being a phenomenon that we create and develop through the process of making sense of our surroundings (Sullivan, 2010). Language therefore becomes paramount in understanding such realities as it is the medium most commonly used to describe human perception and understanding of the world (Sullivan, 2010).


The key benefits of conducting qualitative research are that it allows researchers to explore the complex meanings that participants attribute to various phenomena. In this regard, Coyle (2007) noted that the researcher has the ability to explore the participants’ context and consider the influence this has on their attitudes and beliefs. She defined an individual’s context as being far greater than their background, but further refers to the relationships they maintain with partners, family and friends, their occupational networks, their gender, social class, ethnicity, and sexuality. By emphasizing the importance of this information, researchers can begin to understand how it feels to experience particular conditions and the types of coping strategies participants employ in certain situations (Willig, 2001). The capacity to conduct research in such a manner is particularly beneficial when studying minority subcultures like youth gangs due to the lack of scientifically validated data that exists (Hughes, 2005). This lack of data makes it difficult for

researcher to discuss, with any certainty, the antecedents to youth gang


membership or factors that maintain youth gang membership. An exploratory study then allows participants the freedom to discuss the meanings they attribute to their chosen lifestyle without being constrained by any truths that are assumed by the researcher or existing scientific data (Hughes, 2005).


While there are many benefits to conducting qualitative research, there are also known weaknesses to this approach. It may be assumed based on the ideals of qualitative research that the researcher has automatic access to all personal recollections of the research participants (Coyle, 2007). While it may be the focus of qualitative research to access this personal information, the processing of any accounts are conducted within the interpretive framework of the researcher (Coyle, 2007). The researcher must therefore be reflective, critical and honest about their role in the interpretation of the participants’

dialogue. In light of this weakness, qualitative research also requires researchers to be as objective and non-judgmental during both the

information gathering process and data coalition phase. However, an element of subjectivity is unavoidable in any study and perhaps in qualitative research in particular as there is a level of interest and personal attachment between the researcher and topic area (Diefenbach, 2009). Even in instances where the researcher does not consider themselves as being either theoretically, emotionally or practically attached to the topic, they still determine what is being researched and how this will occur (Diefenbach, 2009). It is therefore unrealistic to completely eradicate the influence of human factors in

qualitative research, but one can minimize the impact of the researcher by being explicit about assumptions, interests and objectives of the research project (Diefenbach, 2009).

The way in which qualitative data is gathered and collated has further created some debate over the ability of consumers to evaluate the worth of qualitative


research (Coyle, 2007). Unlike quantitative research, which is evaluated on the basis of statistical calculations, qualitative research relies on a number of different methods and tools that can be used to analyse a data set

(Diefenbach, 2009; Forrester, 2010). Commonly discussed qualitative methods include grounded theory, discourse analysis, interpretive

phenomenological analysis and thematic analysis (Forrester, 2010). It is this variety that concerns some researchers who believe that the lack of a single process contributes to a lack of rigour (Diefenbach, 2009). Authors of these commonly used qualitative methods have however created thorough and descriptive guides on how to analyse data sets in a consistent manner.

Despite the intentions of the authors, weaknesses may arise when researchers fail to follow through with the explicit instructions of a given qualitative approach (Diefenbach, 2009).

The Researcher

As discussed, the efficacy of qualitative data collection and analysis is partly dependent on the researcher being able to critically evaluate their attitudes and assumptions around the topic area. After lengthy periods of reflection, the researcher became aware of several pre-existing belief and value systems that may have prompted a desire and degree of enthusiasm to better understand the youth gang subculture.

As a child, I spent a number of years living and travelling around third world countries primarily in South-East Asia and the Middle East. During this time, I was exposed to the hardships and daily struggles of populations who had few opportunities compared to those I knew and enjoyed as a child in New

Zealand. During this time abroad, I also became very aware of the coping strategies and alternative ways living that were utilised by large populations to ensure their survival in times of hardship, war, political unrest and general poverty. These memories have remained with me today, and have in some


respects framed my vision and opinion for how change can be achieved for different populations here in New Zealand today.

My experiences suggest that many dominant populations create change by either verbally informing minority groups of their wrongdoings, or by giving them access to resources with the expectation they will be embraced. I have however observed that without understanding the history, circumstances and context of different subcultures, there may be a resistance to change and resentment towards the dominant population when change in enforced seemingly unnecessarily.

In the context of New Zealand, youth gang membership has constantly been bought to my attention through media sources, police statistics and public debate and discussion. I feel that the population majority of New Zealand has identified the youth gang subculture and all that it entails as a social problem that requires remedial action. This decision to remedy youth gang

membership may have been done prematurely as there seems to be a lack of awareness and insight into the function youth gang membership serves for a subgroup of young people in New Zealand. Without young people having a forum to discuss the hardships and adversity they face, and the rationale for their existence, few alternatives can be effectively developed for youth. It must be acknowledged that the purpose of this study was not to explicitly advocate for all youth gang members who choose to partake in this study. In this sense, it is not my role to tailor the questions to best highlight the

adversity faced by respective youth, but instead to allow young people to discuss antecedents to youth gang membership which are most salient to them.

Further to this, the researcher’s distinct interest in clinical psychology has allowed her to become informed of some of the theories pertaining to youth gang membership and antisocial or delinquent lifestyle choices more


generally. I was however aware of the bias this may have posed in initially determining questions and latter in analysing the data. While the awareness of existing theories and international research is unchangeable, I developed a semi-structured interview format to allow the participants to discuss factors that are most salient to them with a degree of flexibility. Further to this, I was aware of the multitude of factors that may have influenced youth gang

membership across numerous different facets of life. I was therefore open and willing to tailor the interview to best suit the participants' set of

circumstances. Furthermore, I detailed a process for data analysis to ensure that my interpretation and influence on the raw data set was minimised.

The influence that I had on participants and the way in which they responded during interview must be also be considered. I am a Pākeha female in my early 20s. I have also attended university for the past 6 years. This was distinctly different to the participants in this study who were young Māori men between the age of 16 and 23 years. In recognising these differences, I consulted with a variety of different professionals who worked regularly with young Māori men. I also consulted with local Māori elders to ensure the interview structure and process was appropriate for these young men. From these discussions, it was considered appropriate to provide participants with food and drink prior to beginning the interview. During this time prior to the commencement of the interview, I re-introduced myself and made casual conversation with the young people.


Prior to the interview taking place, the researcher asked participants whether they had any questions about the details provided on the information sheet.

Participants were then reminded by the researcher of what was going to be asked during the interview and were again reminded of their rights during the interview process. Participants were also asked whether they would consider


having the interview recorded. The researcher explained that this was

important to ensure their story was recorded in the most accurate way. While the researcher explained that all participant details would be made

anonymous, participants were given the option to use an alias if they were concerned about the recorder being used. Once participants agreed that they were happy with the research procedure, they were asked to sign the consent form.

A semi-structured interview was utilised to gain insight into the experiences of youth gang members and the culture of these youth gangs in New Zealand.

This specific form of qualitative interviewing allowed the researcher to gain authentic accounts of the individuals’ experiences in a flexible yet structured manner (Seale, 1998). Further to this, it allowed the interviewer to enquire further about any unique and interesting leads that become apparent in the interview (Seale, 1998). The interview (Appendix C) was guided by certain topics that had previously been formulated prior to the interviews

commencing. This structure was important for a number of reasons, particularly as the experiences disclosed needed to be relevant to the research. It was further necessary to have had topic areas formulated to ensure that the interview could proceed smoothly to another area of relevance once a topic had been exhausted.

During the study, participants switched between topic areas as they became more comfortable with the interview process and felt compelled to share more personal information. Towards the end of the semi-structured interview,

demographic information from each participant was collected to give further depth and context to the experiences of each interviewee. Interviews lasted anywhere from half an hour to an hour depending on how many different facets were considered to be important in contributing to youth gang


membership. The interview covered the following main areas as suggested within the literature that has previously been discussed;

1. Background information relevant to first time gang involvement a) Neighbourhood factors influencing gang membership b) Family factors influencing gang membership

c) School factors influencing gang membership d) Cultural factors influencing gang membership

e) Criminal requirements influencing youth gang membership 2. Current youth gang involvement and influential factors

a) Drug and alcohol behaviours b) Criminal behaviours

c) Friendship networks

3. Maintaining factors for youth gang membership 4. Demographic information

a) Age b) Ethnicity

c) Current employment

d) Age when first affiliated to a youth gang

After the interview had been conducted, participants were either posted or e-mailed a copy of their transcripts if they so wished. If it was requested that transcripts be sent, they were sent with a post-paid return envelope. A cover letter describing ways in which they could make changes if deemed

necessary was attached to the transcripts. Participants were informed that they had two weeks to return the transcripts. If they are were not returned, it was assumed that the information was correct.

In document Youth gang membership: (Page 41-57)