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Sidewalkby Mitchell Duneier
Synopses & Reviews
An exceptional ethnography marked by clarity and candor, Sidewalk takes us into the socio-cultural environment of those who, though often seen as threatening or unseemly, work day after day on “the blocks” of one of New Yorks most diverse neighborhoods. Sociologist Duneier, author of Slims Table, offers an accessible and compelling group portrait of several poor black men who make their livelihoods on the sidewalks of Greenwich Village selling secondhand goods, panhandling, and scavenging books and magazines.
Duneier spent five years with these individuals, and in Sidewalk he argues that, contrary to the opinion of various city officials, they actually contribute significantly to the order and well-being of the Village. An important study of the heart and mind of the street, Sidewalk also features an insightful afterword by longtime book vendor Hakim Hasan. This fascinating study reveals todays urban life in all its complexity: its vitality, its conflicts about class and race, and its surprising opportunities for empathy among strangers.
Sidewalk is an excellent supplementary text for a range of courses:
INTRODUCTION TO SOCIOLOGY: Shows how to make important links between micro and macro; how a research project works; how sociology can transform common sense.
RACE AND ETHNIC RELATIONS: Untangles race, class, and gender as they work together on the street.
URBAN STUDIES: Asks how public space is used and contested by men and women, blacks and whites, rich and poor, and how street life and political economy interact.
DEVIANCE: Looks at labeling processes in treatment of the homeless;
interrogates the “broken windows” theory of policing.
LAW AND SOCIETY: Closely examines the connections between formal and informal systems of social control.
METHODS: Shows how ethnography works; includes a detailed methodological appendix and an afterword by research subject Hakim Hasan.
CULTURAL ANTHROPOLOGY: Sidewalk engages the rich terrain of recent developments regarding representation, writing, and authority; in the tradition of Elliot Liebow and Ulf Hannerz, it deals with age old problems of the social and cultural experience of inequality; this is a telling study of culture on the margins of American society.
CULTURAL STUDIES: Breaking down disciplinary boundaries, Sidewalk shows how books and magazines are received and interpreted in discussions among working-class people on the sidewalk; it shows how cultural knowledge is deployed by vendors and scavengers to generate subsistence in public space.
SOCIOLOGY OF CULTURE: Sidewalk demonstrates the connections between culture and human agency and innovation; it interrogates distinctions between legitimate subcultures and deviant collectivities; it illustrates conflicts over cultural diversity in public space; and, ultimately, it shows how conflicts over meaning are central to social life.
Forrest Stuart gives us a new framework for understanding life in criminalized communities throughout America. The idea of and#147;community policingand#8221; and of stop-and-frisk and broken windows is just part of the picture, which includes people on both sides of the issue of keeping order in Skid Row communities. Stuartand#8217;s is a dramatic demonstration of how to understand the daily realities of Americaand#8217;s most truly disadvantaged, an understanding that requires a sharp focus on the pervasive role and impact of the police. Policingand#151;and#147;zero toleranceand#8221; models in particularand#151;is reshaping urban poverty and marginalization in 21st-century America. Stuart immersed himself for several years in the notorious and#147;homeless capital of America,and#8221; which is to say, Skid Row in Los Angeles. It has the largest concentration of standing police forces anywhere in the United States. On their side, the police practice what Stuart calls and#8221;therapeutic policingand#8221;and#151;a form of virtual social work that is designed to and#147;cureand#8221; the poor of individual pathologies. On the side of the homeless, Stuart finds a cunning set of techniques for evading police contact, which he dubs and#147;cop wisdomand#8221; and which the poor use for intensifying resistance to roustings by the police. The police are tasked with day-to-day management of the growing numbers of citizens falling through the holes in the threadbare social safety net. We see daily patrol practices and routines that amount to and#147;hyper-policingand#8221; in skid row districts. The continuous threat of punishment aims to steer homeless individuals away from self-destructive behaviors while providing incentives to drug recovery, employment, and life skills (in nearby meta-shelters). Minority upheavals now underway across America underscore the divide between cops and the urban poor (almost all of whom are black or Latino). Stuart joins Alice Goffman in revealing the underlying, and often tragic, dynamics.
About the Author
Mitchell Duneier is an associate professor of sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the University of California at Santa Barbara. His first book, Slim's Table, received the 1994 Distinguished Publication Award from the American Sociological Association.
Ovie Carter, a photographer for the Chicago Tribune, has received the Pulitzer Prize and multiple awards of Excellence from the National Association of Black Journalists.
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