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Caught up : How urban violence and peer ties contribute to high school noncompletion

Abstract

While research shows growing up in urban neighborhoods increases the likelihood of not completing high school, it remains unclear what mechanism facilitates this process and why some youth are more vulnerable than others. This study addresses this gap by drawing on interviews with male, Latino high school graduates and noncompleters in Los Angeles. Interviews reveal urban violence is the most salient feature of urban neighborhoods and consequential for school completion. In an effort to avoid victimization male youth exposed to urban violence draw on male peer ties for protection. Inherent in these social ties, as in other forms of social capital, are expectations and obligations. I find that an orientation that privileges these expectations and obligations-and not specifically an anti-school orientation-gets male youth "caught up" in behavior counterproductive to school completion, like being truant with peers and getting expelled for "backing them" in a fight. I find not all urban youth adopt this orientation because youth are differentially exposed to the neighborhood. Family and school institutional factors limit some youth's time in the neighborhood, buffering them from urban violence. These youth then bypass the opportunity and need to draw on male peer ties for protection. Not having to employ these "strategies of action," they avoid getting "caught up" and experience higher chances to graduate. This study argues that to understand the cultural orientation that guides behavior that contributes to school noncompletion requires accounting for how the threat of violence punctuates and organizes the daily lives of male urban youth. © 2014 by Society for the Study of Social Problems, Inc.

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