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Gang Leader for a Day: A Rogue Sociologist Takes to the Streetsby Sudhir Venkatesh
Synopses & Reviews
Every morning Chicagoans wake up to the same stark headlines that read like some macabre score: and#147;13 shot, 4 dead overnight across the city,and#8221; and nearly every morning the same elision occurs: what of the nine other victims? As with war, much of our focus on inner-city violence is on the death toll, but the reality is that far more victims live to see another day and must cope with their injuriesand#151;both physical and psychologicaland#151;for the rest of their lives.and#160;Renegade Dreamsand#160;is their story. Walking the streets of one of Chicagoand#8217;s most violent neighborhoodsand#151;where the local gang has been active for more than fifty yearsand#151;Laurence Ralph talks with people whose lives are irrecoverably damaged, seeking to understand how they cope and how they can be better helped.
Going deep into a West Side neighborhood most Chicagoans only know from news reportsand#151;a place where children have been shot just for crossing the wrong streetand#151;Ralph unearths the fragile humanity that fights to stay alive there, to thrive, against all odds. He talks to mothers, grandmothers, and pastors, to activists and gang leaders, to the maimed and the hopeful, to aspiring rappers, athletes, or those who simply want safe passage to school or a steady job. Gangland Chicago, he shows, is as complicated as ever. Itand#8217;s not just a warzone but a community, a place where peopleand#8217;s dreams are projected against the backdrop of unemployment, dilapidated housing, incarceration, addiction, and disease, the many hallmarks of urban poverty that harden like so many scars in their lives. Recounting their stories, he wrestles with what it means to be an outsider in a place like this, whether or not his attempt to understand, to help, might not in fact inflict its own damage. Ultimately he shows that the many injuries these people carryand#151;like dreamsand#151;are a crucial form of resilience, and that we should all think about the ghetto differently, not as an abandoned island of unmitigated violence and its helpless victims but as a neighborhood, full of homes, as a part of the larger society in which we all live, together, among one another.
First introduced in "Freakonomics," here is the full story of Sudhir Venkatesh, the sociology graduate student who infiltrated one of Chicago's most notorious gangs.
Given the way news is reported these days, the image of the inner city many of have is that of drug-infested ghetto plagued with crack houses and roaming addicts. Waverly Duck is here to tell a different story and give us a new image of the inner city. He conducted fieldwork in a medium-size East Coast city where the drug scene is controlled by a local group of black men who sell cocaine to white suburbanites. In this community, located outside Philadelphia, the drug dealers are not outsiders, but long-term residents, integrated with their neighbors (a diverse lot, some old, some young, some long-time homeowners, many working-class families, but many others without jobs or external social support). Duck considers their survival strategies, living in a place where they feel accepted and which they understand, like no other place. They have no way out. Duck shows us the kind of social order and morality that holds sway on Lyford Street, and that enables people to survive. He introduces a cast of characters in Bristol Hill, his citys pseudonym, highlighting the viewpoints of these residents and their codes of interaction with each other. That code ensures a daily life lived in relative safety, despite risks from the embedded drug trade (and Duck also shows us the particular pathway by which young men become drug dealers). Duck himself grew up in poverty (in Detroit), and his own life story contrasts rather dramatically with that of Alice Goffman, the well-heeled young white woman whose account of drug dealers on the run from police created a sensation, and with that of Scott Jacques, the coauthor of our forthcoming book on drug-dealing in the suburbs (in an all-white milieu). What emerges in No Way Out is an important new perspective on the culture of the urban poor, comprehensive in the range of issues it considers and revelatory in the interaction orders it uncovers.
In 2005 Waverly Duck was called to a town he calls Bristol Hill to serve as an expert witness in the sentencing of drug dealer Jonathan Wilson. Convicted as an accessory to the murder of a federal witness and that of a fellow drug dealer, Jonathan faced the death penalty, and Duck was there to provide evidence that the environment in which Jonathan had grown up mitigated the seriousness of his alleged crimes. Duck’s exploration led him to Jonathan’s church, his elementary, middle, and high schools, the juvenile facility where he had previously been incarcerated, his family and friends, other drug dealers, and residents who knew him or knew of him. After extensive ethnographic observations, Duck found himself seriously troubled and uncertain: Are Jonathan and others like him a danger to society? Or is it the converse—is society a danger to them?
Duck’s short stay in Bristol Hill quickly transformed into a long-term study—one that forms the core of No Way Out. This landmark book challenges the common misconception of urban ghettoes as chaotic places where drug dealing, street crime, and random violence make daily life dangerous for their residents. Through close observations of daily life in these neighborhoods, Duck shows how the prevailing social order ensures that residents can go about their lives in relative safety, despite the risks that are embedded in living amid the drug trade. In a neighborhood plagued by failing schools, chronic unemployment, punitive law enforcement, and high rates of incarceration, residents are knit together by long-term ties of kinship and friendship, and they base their actions on a profound sense of community fairness and accountability. Duck presents powerful case studies of individuals whose difficulties flow not from their values, or a lack thereof, but rather from the multiple obstacles they encounter on a daily basis.
No Way Out explores how ordinary people make sense of their lives within severe constraints and how they choose among unrewarding prospects, rather than freely acting upon their own values. What emerges is an important and revelatory new perspective on the culture of the urban poor.
A New York Times Bestseller
Foreword by Stephen J. Dubner, coauthor of Freakonomics
When first-year graduate student Sudhir Venkatesh walked into an abandoned building in one of Chicagos most notorious housing projects, he hoped to find a few people willing to take a multiple-choice survey on urban poverty--and impress his professors with his boldness. He never imagined that as a result of this assignment he would befriend a gang leader named JT and spend the better part of a decade embedded inside the projects under JTs protection. From a privileged position of unprecedented access, Venkatesh observed JT and the rest of his gang as they operated their crack-selling business, made peace with their neighbors, evaded the law, and rose up or fell within the ranks of the gangs complex hierarchical structure. Examining the morally ambiguous, highly intricate, and often corrupt struggle to survive in an urban war zone, Gang Leader for a Day also tells the story of the complicated friendship that develops between Venkatesh and JT--two young and ambitious men a universe apart.
"Riveting." --The New York Times
"Compelling... dramatic... Venkatesh gives readers a window into a way of life that few Americans understand." --Newsweek
"An eye-opening account into an underserved city within the city." --Chicago Tribune
"The achievement of Gang Leader for a Day is to give the dry statistics a raw, beating heart." --The Boston Globe
"A rich portrait of the urban poor, drawn not from statistics but from viivd tales of their lives and his, and how they intertwined." --The Economist
"A sensative, sympathetic, unpatronizing portrayal of lives that are ususally ignored or lumped into ill-defined stereotype." --Finanical Times
Sudhir Venkateshs latest book Floating City: A Rogue Sociologist Lost and Found in New Yorks Underground Economy--a memoir of sociological investigation revealing the true face of Americas most diverse city--was published in September 2013 by The Penguin Press
About the Author
Sudhir Venkatesh is professor of sociology and African American studies at Columbia University and the author of the bestseller Gang Leader for a Day. His writings, stories, and documentaries have appeared in The American Prospect, and on PBS and National Public Radio's This American Life. He lives in New York City.
Table of Contents
PART ONE and#8224; The Injury of Isolation
INTRODUCTIONand#160; and#8225;and#160; THEand#160; UNDERSIDE OF INJURY OR, HOW TO DREAM LIKE A RENEGADE
Field Notes: Late Death
1 and#8225; Development
OR , WHY GRANDMOTHERSand#160; ALLYand#160; WITH THE GANG
Field Notes: early Funerals
2 and#8225; Nostalgia
OR, THE STORIES A GANG TELLS ABOUT ITSELF
Field Notes: Inside Jokes
3 and#8225; Authenticity
OR, WHY PEOPLE CANand#8217;T LEAVE THE GANG
PART TWO and#8224; The Resilience of Dreams
Field Notes: Getting In
4 and#8225; Disability
OR, WHY A GANG LEADER HELPS STOP THE VIOLENCE
Field Notes: Resilience
5 and#8225; Disease
OR, HOW A WILL TO SURVIVE HELPS THE HEALING
Field Notes: Framing
CONCLUSION and#8225; THE FRAME
OR, HOW TO GET OUT OF AN ISOLATED SPACE
POSTSCRIPT and#8225; A RENEGADE DREAM COME TRUE
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