Date of Award:


Document Type:


Degree Name:

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Sociology, Social Work, and Anthropology


Gary Kiger


This dissertation uses the case of youth gangs in the Mormon Cultural Region to present a synthetic, dialectical theory of social problems, bridging the perspectives of social constructionism and objectivism. The primary assertion of this dissertation is that communities use social problems as tools to establish and maintain social boundaries and to protect the core values and beliefs of the established communal order.

The case of youth gangs in Utah, core of the Mormon Cultural Region, demonstrates that both social problems and the organizations involved with social problems follow a natural-history cycle similar to that reported in social movement literature. Anti-gang organizations, youth gangs, and the gang movement all seem to change forms as they progress through this cycle. Further, the relationship between the claims-making and the ontological increase in social problems is dialectical.

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