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Gangster, victim or both? The interdiscursive construction of sameness and difference in self-presentations

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e-mail: sveinung.sandberg@sos.uib.no

Abstract

The paper conceptualizes two contradictory discourses, both used by ethnic minority drug dealers in a street drug market in Oslo, Norway. Oppression discourse includes personal narratives of unemployment, racism and psycho-social problems, often combined with stories about the government and city council being unwilling to help. Drug dealers use the discourse to justify drug dealing and violence, both for themselves and in meetings with welfare organizations. Gangster discourse, on the other hand, includes a series of personal narratives emphasizing how hard, smart, and sexually alluring the young men are. Drug dealers use this discourse to gain self-respect and respect from others, and it dominates interactions on the street. An important argument in this paper is that the discursive practice of criminals inspires theoretical perspectives on criminal practice. Oppression and gangster discourses have inspired, respectively, neutralization and subculture theory. When the same people use both discourses, however, the picture becomes more complicated. The ‘bilingual’ discursive practice of the street drug dealers reflects the ambivalent role of the researcher, and a Scandinavian institutional and social context where street drug dealers have extensive contact with a welfare state apparatus. The paper still suggests that similar interdiscursivity may have been sacrificed in previous research to produce more coherent theoretical frameworks.

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