A sociologist looking at gangs from the functionalist perspective would try to determine whether gangs contribute to social stability or detract from it. They might see gangs as a stabilizing force because they serve as a way to force society to create more forms of social control. Because there are gangs, the argument goes it is easy for us to see that our society is endangered and that we must create more ways of controlling deviants. However, this sociologist might also say that gangs show that society has failed to give the gang members a legitimate way to pursue socially acceptable goals.
By contrast, a conflict theorist would look at how the presence of gangs is proof of conflict between parts of the society. Such a scholar might look for ways in which gangs are caused by the dominant forces in society oppressing the subordinate groups. From this point of view, gangs might be caused by the dominant group's unwillingness to spend on education or social programs that would help prevent gangs from forming.