Date of Award

Fall 2008

Project Type


Program or Major


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

First Advisor

James E Tucker


Violence committed by racist skinheads has often been characterized as being motivated by racial hatred and by white supremacist ideology. This ideological aspect has been used to make a distinction between the violent acts committed by racist skinheads and violent acts committed by other groups of young males. Recent research on skinheads has indicated that this distinction may have been overstated. Researchers doing fieldwork with skinheads have found that racist skinheads are involved in violent conflicts with a variety of opponents, and that this violence often lacked an overtly ideological character. Building on this emerging research, I hypothesized that racist skinhead violence was a product of both the skinhead subculture and the social structure of the conflicts in which skinheads are involved. In order to examine the dynamics of skinhead conflict, I conducted 30 face-to-face interviews with current and former racist skinheads in the northeastern United States and Eastern Canada. The subjects in the sample were, or had been, members of five different skinhead groups. These interviews yielded detailed accounts of 211 separate conflicts in which the skinheads had been involved. These accounts were used to create models of events with violent outcomes and events with nonviolent outcomes. By comparing across cases I was able to identify some factors that seemed to limit the use of violence and others that seemed to promote violent outcomes. The majority of these conflicts were not with members of minority groups or homosexuals, but with other young white males. Most of these adversaries were other skinheads or were affiliated with other youth subcultures. The likelihood of skinheads engaging in violence varied with the social structure of the conflict. The presence of skinhead allies and a lack of crosscutting social ties between the parties involved in a conflict increased the likelihood of violent outcomes. The findings suggest that the social structure of a conflict plays an important role in determining whether conflicts will be handled violently or in other ways.