Term Project-Book Report Gang Leader for a Day
By Sudhir Vankatesh
San Joaquin Delta College
Gang Leader for a Day
The story starts out as Sudhir Vankatesh starts his first-year as grad student at the University of Chicago, in the fall of 1989. He had just moved there from the suburbs of Southern California, particularly U.C. San Diego. He gives detail about the environment he was now living in. Here he was on the prestigious grounds of the University, yet his very back yard, was a poor black neighborhood that was far from prestigious. During the first few weeks he explains how he had orientations. They were warned not to walk outside the areas that were not patrolled by the Universities police. They were even given detailed maps on where they should not go for safety reasons. Even the parks right across the street was considered off limits by the school. This was the South West edge of Hyde Park, where the University housed most of it grad students. He says that he soon realized the Ivory Tower was more of an Ivory fortress. These areas were divided and for good reason. On one side was a beautifully manicured Gothic campus, with privileged students which were mostly white. On the other side were down and out African Americans offering cheap labor, selling drugs or pan handling. The differences were night and day. When he got there he did not have many friends so he liked to take walks. He enjoyed getting to know the city and as a sociologist he was interested in the different ethnic neighborhoods. For starters Sudhir, like many new students wanted to impress his professors and figure out what his research interests might be. He began attending seminars where Professors asked the normal questions… how an individual’s preference develops, can we predict human behavior, what are the influence of education etc. The standard way of answering these questions was to conduct surveys and break them down into statistical data .This was discussed in chapter 1 of our texts. A survey is defined as a poll in which the researcher gathers facts or attempts to determine the relationship among facts (Kendall, D. 2010 p.33). He talks about how sociology is separated into two different categories, those who use quantitative and statistical data and those who study life by direct observation called ethnographers. These were also discussed in chapter 1 of our texts. Sudhir was leaning towards the side of those that used direct observation as sitting in a classroom discussing statistics did not seem as interesting to him. He decided he was going to go talk personally with one of the professors, Mr. Bill Wilson, a prominent African American scholar at the University. Wilson was about to start a new project and invited Sudhir to help. His goal was to better understand how young blacks were affected by specific neighborhood factors. Wilson gave him the job of coming up with a survey questionnaire and then take the surveys to some poor black neighborhoods in Chicago. Sudhir was looking for people to take a multiple-choice survey on urban poverty, so he went into an abandoned building in one of Chicago's poorest housing projects with a handful of surveys. Little did he know what he was walking into! This 23 year old who wanted only a few answers on what it meant to be poor and black in America, was taken hostage by a local gang. They thought he was a “Mexican” from a rival gang. He was held in the stairwells of this abandoned housing project the entire night until the gangs leader would arrive to decide what to do with him. This was Sudhir first meeting with the Black Kings gang leader J.T. After what was probably a scary yet interesting night J.T finally decided to let him go, but not without some words of advice. He told Sudhir that he would never learn anything with these surveys, if he wanted real answers he would have to spend time with these people. Apparently...
References: Venkatesh, S. A. (2008). Gang leader for a day: A rogue sociologist takes to the streets. New York: Penguin Press.
Levitt, S. D., & Dubner, S. J. (2005). Freakonomics: A rogue economist explores the hidden side of everything. New York: William Morrow
Kendall, D. (2010) Sociology in our times: The essentials 8th ed.
Ohio: Wadsworth,Cengage Learning
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