Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Departmental Honors


Political Science


This paper uses the Cultural Topography framework employed by the intelligence community to assess cultural factors of the MS-13 (Mara Salvatrucha) gang organization that have policy relevance to US national security. MS-13, though originally founded in the 1980s in a small sector of LA, has evolved into an international gang with a reputation of ultraviolence with a recent increase in gang activity. By striving to explore components of MS-13's identity, values, norms of behavior, and perceptions, this research can be used to create a more timely and effective strategy in combatting the present MS-13 threat within the United States. After studying the recruitment techniques, history, rituals, and integrated traits of MS-13, this paper concludes that the US may be better able to tailor US strategy against MS-13 by changing how the US refers to MS-13, encouraging retention strategies of deported gang members, and exploiting key vulnerabilities evident in the cultural traits defined by the cultural topography method. The purpose of this paper is to convey that, by understanding the cultural implications of the MS-13 gang, it will become possible to tailor US strategy in a more effective manner.



Faculty Mentor

Jeannie Johnson

Departmental Honors Advisor

Veronica Ward

Capstone Committee Member

Veronica Ward