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FORREST STUART, University of Chicago

  • When: October 25, 2017, 12 pm
  • Where: ABF Woods Conference Room, 750 N. Lake Shore Drive, 4th Floor, Lakeside, Chicago IL 60611

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Urban Violence in the Digital Age

According to recent reports, gang-affiliated youth increasingly use social media platforms such as Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook to taunt rivals, boast of crimes, and coordinate retaliation in ways that lead to offline, physical violence. In order to combat this phenomenon, police departments across the country have launched dedicated “social media units” to drag a wide net over social media platforms in search of aggressive statements, photos of firearms, and other putatively gang-related content. The escalating online surveillance of black and brown teens has led some observers to dub it “the new stop-and-frisk.”

Despite the long-standing research on urban violence, as well as the growing public alarm and intensified policing surrounding digital social media, there is virtually no empirical research about how social media are actually implicated in urban violence and to what consequence. Academic and media accounts remain primarily speculative, based on limited or no data.

In order to address this lacuna, this article provides one of the first empirical case studies to examine the role played by digital social media in gang conflicts and urban violence more generally. Drawing on two years of ethnographic fieldwork alongside gang-affiliated youth on Chicago’s South Side, I offer a conceptual framework for analyzing and understanding precisely how digital communication technologies mediate urban violence. Empirically, I identify the primary ways in which gang-involved youth exploit the unique affordances of social media to challenge rivals, perpetrate attacks, and build status. I also demonstrate how social media influence youths’ capacities to de-escalate conflicts in the short term, desist from violence in the long term, and attain fair criminal justice outcomes. 

Courtesy of Forrest Stuart

Forrest Stuart's research investigates how recent developments—specifically mass incarceration, zero-tolerance policing, digital social media, and new forms of music—have reshaped the social fabric of disadvantaged neighborhoods in the twenty-first century. This agenda has led to number of original research projects, community organizing efforts, and intervention programs. His research has been published in Urban Studies, Law and Social Inquiry, Souls, Annual Review of Law and Social Science, Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, and other venues. Throughout his work, Stuart make efforts to embrace the ideals of public sociology, which enlists community members as valuable co-producers of knowledge. He also enjoys collaborating with graduate students throughout the data collection and writing processes. He is currently accepting graduate students who share his research interests and approaches.

Stuart's first book, Down, Out, and Under Arrest: Policing in Everyday Life in Skid Row (University of Chicago Press, 2016) is an in-depth ethnography of Los Angeles' Skid Row district, an area long regarded as the "homeless capital of America." He is currently conducting research for his second book, which investigates the intersections of poverty, culture, digital social media, and hip-hop on Chicago's south side.

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