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Alex Clarkson

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Urban Tribes: Subcultures and Political Conflict in West Berlin, 1945-1991

Throughout the 1980s, the police and security services controlled by the West Berlin city government were confronted with a variety of urban youth groups who demonstrated a willingness to use violence to achieve their political aims. This article will examine the factors that shaped contradictory state perceptions of these emerging patterns of political behavior in West Berlin. It argues that a lack of an underlying understanding of the goals and social structures of emerging radical left milieus within elements of the West Berlin security services fostered a tendency to conflate political violence with juvenile delinquency, undermining any attempt to develop cohesive strategies of repression or accommodation until the Mainzer Strasse riots in 1991. It also demonstrates how the internal conflicts within West Berlin state institutions between those who defined spasms of street violence purely in terms of juvenile delinquency and those who emphasized the political dimension enabled various radical youth networks to take advantage of state confusion and solidify their hold over subcultural enclaves within West Berlin until the fall of the Berlin Wall.

squatters’ movement, West Berlin, security services, juvenile delinquency, social control, radical left

Citation: Social Justice Vol. 38, No. 4 (2011): 71-90

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