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Descriptions du produit


Table of Contents

Title Page

Copyright Page





ONE - How Does It Feel to Be Black and Poor?

TWO - First Days on Federal Street

THREE - Someone to Watch Over Me

FOUR - Gang Leader for a Day

FIVE - Ms. Bailey’s Neighborhood

SIX - The Hustler and the Hustled

SEVEN - Black and Blue

EIGHT - The Stay-Together Gang





About the Author


Off the Books:
The Underground Economy of the Urban Poor


American Project:
The Rise and Fall of a Modern Ghetto

Published by the Penguin Group
Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, U.S.A. Penguin Group
(Canada), 90 Eglinton Avenue East, Suite 700, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M4P 2Y3 (a division of
Pearson Penguin Canada Inc.) Penguin Books Ltd, 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England
Penguin Ireland, 25 St. Stephen’s Green, Dublin 2, Ireland (a division of Penguin Books Ltd) • Penguin
Books Australia Ltd, 250 Camberwell Road, Camberwell,Victoria 3124,Australia (a division of Pearson
Australia Group Pty Ltd) • Penguin Books India Pvt Ltd, 11 Community Centre, Panchsheel Park,
New Delhi-110 017, India • Penguin Group (NZ), 67 Apollo Drive, Rosedale, North Shore 0632,
New Zealand (a division of Pearson New Zealand Ltd) • Penguin Books (South Africa) (Pty) Ltd,
24 Sturdee Avenue, Rosebank, Johannesburg 2196, South Africa


Penguin Books Ltd, Registered Offices:
80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England


First published in 2008 by The Penguin Press,
a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.


Copyright © Sudhir Venkatesh, 2008

All rights reserved


Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data


Venkatesh, Sudhir Alladi.
Gang leader for a day : a rogue sociologist takes to the streets / Sudhir Venkatesh.
p. cm.
Includes index.

eISBN : 978-1-594-20150-9

1. Gangs—Illinois—Chicago. 2. African Americans—Illinois—Chicago.
3. Chicago (Ill.)—Social conditions. 4.Venkatesh, Sudhir Alladi. I. Title.
HV6439.U7C46 2008





Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise), without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.


The scanning, uploading, and distribution of this book via the Internet or via any other means without the permission of the publisher is illegal and punishable by law. Please purchase only authorized electronic editions and do not participate in or encourage electronic piracy of copyrightable materials. Your support of the author’s rights is appreciated.

To Autry Harrison


Stephen J. Dubner








I believe that Sudhir Venkatesh was born with two abnormalities: an overdeveloped curiosity and an underdeveloped sense of fear.

How else to explain him? Like thousands upon thousands of people, he entered graduate school one fall and was dispatched by his professors to do some research. This research happened to take him to the Robert Taylor Homes in Chicago, one of the worst ghettos in America. But blessed with that outlandish curiosity and unfettered by the sort of commonsensical fear that most of us would experience upon being held hostage by an armed crack gang, as Venkatesh was early on in his research, he kept coming back for more.

I met Venkatesh a few years ago when I interviewed him for Freakonomics, a book I wrote with the economist Steve Levitt. Venkatesh and Levitt had collaborated on several academic papers about the economics of crack cocaine. Those papers were interesting, to be sure, but Venkatesh himself presented a whole new level of fascination. He is soft-spoken and laconic; he doesn’t volunteer much information. But every time you ask him a question, it is like tugging a thread on an old tapestry: the whole thing unspools and falls at your feet. Story after story, marked by lapidary detail and hard-won insight: the rogue cop who terrorized the neighborhood, the jerry-built network through which poor families hustled to survive, the time Venkatesh himself became gang leader for a day.

Although we wrote about Venkatesh in Freakonomics (it was many readers’ favorite part), there wasn’t room for any of these stories. Thankfully, he has now written an extraordinary book that details all his adventures and misadventures. The stories he tells are far stranger than fiction, and they are also more forceful, heartbreaking, and hilarious. Along the way he paints a unique portrait of the kind of neighborhood that is badly misrepresented when it is represented at all. Journalists like me might hang out in such neighborhoods for a week or a month or even a year. Most social scientists and do-gooders tend to do their work at arm’s length. But Venkatesh practically lived in this neighborhood for the better part of a decade. He brought the perspective of an outsider and came away with an insider’s access. A lot of writing about the poor tends to reduce living, breathing, joking, struggling, sensual, moral human beings to dupes who are shoved about by invisible forces. This book does the opposite. It shows, day by day and dollar by dollar, how the crack dealers, tenant leaders, prostitutes, parents, hustlers, cops, and Venkatesh himself tried to construct a good life out of substandard materials.

As much as I have come to like Venkatesh, and admire him, I probably would not want to be a member of his family: I would worry too much about his fearlessness. I probably wouldn’t want to be one of his research subjects either, for his curiosity must be exhausting. But I am very, very happy to have been one of the first readers of Venkatesh’s book, for it is as extraordinary as he is.


I woke up at about 7:30 A.M. in a crack den, Apartment 1603 in Building Number 2301 of the Robert Taylor Homes. Apartment 1603 was called the “Roof,” since everyone knew that you could get very, very high there, even higher than if you climbed all the way to the building’s actual rooftop.

As I opened my eyes, I saw two dozen people sprawled about, most of them men, asleep on couches and the floor. No one had lived in the apartment for a while. The walls were peeling, and roaches skittered across the linoleum floor. The activities of the previous night—smoking crack, drinking, having sex, vomiting—had peaked at about 2:00 A.M. By then the unconscious people outnumbered the conscious ones—and among the conscious ones, few still had the cash to buy another hit of crack cocaine. That’s when the Black Kings saw diminishing prospects for sales and closed up shop for the night.

I fell asleep, too, on the floor. I hadn’t come for the crack; I was here on a different mission. I was a graduate student at the University of Chicago, and for my research I had taken to hanging out with the Black Kings, the local crack-selling gang.

It was the sun that woke me, shining through the Roof’s doorway. (The door itself had disappeared long ago.) I climbed over the other stragglers and walked down to the tenth floor, where the Patton family lived. During the course of my research, I had gotten to know the Pattons—a law-abiding family, it should be said—and they treated me kindly, almost like a son. I said good morning to Mama Patton, who was cooking breakfast for her husband, Pops, a seventy-year-old retired factory worker. I washed my face, grabbed a slice of cornbread, and headed outside into a breezy, brisk March morning.

Just another day in the ghetto.

Just another day as an outsider looking at life from the inside. That’s what this book is about.


How Does It Feel to Be Black and Poor?

During my first weeks at the University of Chicago, in the fall of 1989, I had to attend a variety of orientation sessions. In each one, after the particulars of the session had been dispensed with, we were warned not to walk outside the areas that were actively patrolled by the university’s police force. We were handed detailed maps that outlined where the small enclave of Hyde Park began and ended: this was the safe area. Even the lovely parks across the border were off-limits, we were told, unless you were traveling with a large group or attending a formal event.

It turned out that the ivory tower was also an ivory fortress. I lived on the southwestern edge of Hyde Park, where the university housed a lot of its graduate students. I had a studio apartment in a ten-story building just off Cottage Grove Avenue, a historic boundary between Hyde Park and Woodlawn, a poor black neighborhood. The contrast would be familiar to anyone who has spent time around an urban university in the United States. On one side of the divide lay a beautifully manicured Gothic campus, with privileged students, most of them white, walking to class and playing sports. On the other side were down-and-out African Americans offering cheap labor and services (changing oil, washing windows, selling drugs) or panhandling on street corners.

I didn’t have many friends, so in my spare time I started taking long walks, getting to know the city. For a budding sociologist, the streets of Chicago were a feast. I was intrigued by the different ethnic neighborhoods, the palpable sense of culture and tradition. I liked that there was one part of the city, Rogers Park, where Indians, Pakistanis, and Bangladeshis congregated. Unlike the lily-white suburbs of Southern California where I’d grown up, the son of immigrants from South Asia, here Indians seemed to have a place in the ethnic landscape along with everyone else.

I was particularly interested in the poor black neighborhoods surrounding the university. These were neighborhoods where nearly half the population didn’t work, where crime and gang activity were said to be entrenched, where the welfare rolls were swollen. In the late 1980s, these isolated parts of the inner cities gripped the nation’s attention. I went for many walks there and started playing basketball in the parks, but I didn’t see any crime, and I didn’t feel particularly threatened. I wondered why the university kept warning students to keep out.

As it happened, I attracted a good bit of curiosity from the locals. Perhaps it was because these parks didn’t attract many nonblack visitors, or perhaps it was because in those days I dressed like a Deadhead. I got asked a lot of questions about India—most of which I couldn’t answer, since I’d moved to the States as a child. Sometimes I’d come upon a picnic, and people would offer me some of their soul food. They were puzzled when I turned them down on the grounds that I was a vegetarian.

But as alien as I was to these folks, they were just as alien to me.



As part of my heavy course load at the U of C, I began attending seminars where professors parsed the classic sociological questions: How do an individual’s preferences develop? Can we predict human behavior? What are the long-term consequences, for instance, of education on future generations?

The standard mode of answering these questions was to conduct widespread surveys and then use complex mathematical methods to analyze the survey data. This would produce statistical snapshots meant to predict why a given person might, say, fail to land a job, or end up in prison, or have a child out of wedlock. It was thought that the key to formulating good policy was to first formulate a good scientific study.

I liked the questions these researchers were asking, but compared with the vibrant life that I saw on the streets of Chicago, the discussion in these seminars seemed cold and distant, abstract and lifeless. I found it particularly curious that most of these researchers didn’t seem interested in meeting the people they wrote about. It wasn’t necessarily out of any animosity—nearly all of them were well intentioned—but because the act of actually talking to research subjects was seen as messy, unscientific, and a potential source of bias.

Mine was not a new problem. Indeed, the field of sociology had long been divided into two camps: those who use quantitative and statistical techniques and those who study life by direct observation, often living among a group of people.

This second group, usually called ethnographers, use their firsthand approach to answer a particular sort of question: How do people survive in marginal communities? for instance, or What makes a government policy work well for some families and not for others?

The quantitative sociologists, meanwhile, often criticized the ethnographers’ approach. They argued that it isn’t nearly scientific enough and that the answers may be relevant only to the particular group under observation. In other words, to reach any important and generalizable conclusion, you need to rely on the statistical analyses of large data sets like the U.S. Census or other massive surveys.

My frustration with the more scientific branch of sociology hadn’t really coalesced yet. But I knew that I wanted to do something other than sit in a classroom all day and talk mathematics.

So I did what any sensible student who was interested in race and poverty would do: I walked down the hallway and knocked on the door of William Julius Wilson, the most eminent living scholar on the subject and the most prominent African American in the field of sociology. He had been teaching at the U of C for nearly twenty years and had published two books that reshaped how scholars and policy makers thought about urban poverty.

I caught Wilson just in time—he was about to go to Paris for a sabbatical. But he was also about to launch a new research project, he said, and I could participate if I liked.

Wilson was a quiet, pensive man, dressed in a dark blue suit. Although he had stopped smoking his trademark pipe long ago, he still looked like the kind of professor you see in movies. If you asked him a question, he’d often let several long moments of silence pass—he could be more than a little bit intimidating—before offering a thoughtful response.

Wilson explained that he was hoping to better understand how young blacks were affected by specific neighborhood factors: Did growing up as a poor kid in a housing project, for instance, lead to worse educational and job outcomes than if a similarly poor kid grew up outside the projects? What about the difference between growing up in a neighborhood that was surrounded by other poor areas and growing up poor but near an affluent neighborhood? Did the latter group take advantage of the schools, services, and employment opportunities in the richer neighborhoods?

Wilson’s project was still in the planning stages. The first step was to construct a basic survey questionnaire, and he suggested I help his other graduate students in figuring out which questions to ask. This meant going back to earlier studies of black youth to see what topics and questions had been chosen by earlier sociologists. Wilson gave me a box of old questionnaires. I should experiment, he said, by borrowing some of their questions and developing new ones as needed. Sociologists liked to use survey questions that their peers had already used, I learned, in order to produce comparable results. This was a key part of the scientific method in sociology.

I thanked Wilson and went to the library to begin looking over the questionnaires he’d given me. I quickly realized I had no idea how to interview anyone.




Washington Park, situated just across Cottage Grove Avenue from the U of C, is one of Chicago’s stateliest parks. Designed in the 1870s by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, it has a beautiful swimming pool, indoor and outdoor basketball courts, dazzling flower gardens, and long, winding paths that crisscross its nearly four hundred acres. I liked to go running on the clay track that encircled the park, a track that decades earlier had hosted horse and auto races. Until the 1940s the surrounding neighborhood was mainly Irish, but when black families started buying homes nearby, most of the white families moved away. I was always surprised that the university actively dissuaded its students from spending time in Washington Park. I failed to see the danger, at least in the daylight.

After my run I sometimes stopped by the broad, marshy lagoon in the middle of the park. The same group of old black men, usually a half dozen or so, congregated there every day—playing cards, drinking beer, fishing for bass and perch in the lagoon. I sat and listened to them for hours. To this point I had had little exposure to African-American culture at all, and no experience whatsoever in an urban ghetto. I had moved to Chicago just a year earlier from California, where I’d attended a predominantly white college situated on the beach, UC San Diego.

I had been reading several histories of Chicago’s black community, and I sometimes asked these men about the events and people of which I’d read. The stories they told were considerably more animated than the history in the books. They knew the intricacies of machine politics—whom you had to befriend, for instance, to get a job or a building permit. They talked about the Black Panther Party of their youth and how it was radically different from today’s gangs. “The Panthers had breakfast programs for kids, but these gangs just shoot ’em and feed ’em drugs,” one man lamented. I already knew a bit about how the Panthers operated in Chicago during the civil-rights era. What little I knew about modern gangs, however, came from the movies and newspapers—and, of course, the constant cautions issued by the U of C about steering clear of certain neighborhoods.

I was particularly intrigued by the old men’s views on race, which boiled down to this: Whites and blacks would never be able to talk openly, let alone live together. The most talkative among them was Leonard Combs, a.k.a. Old Time. “Never trust a white man,” he told me one day, “and don’t think black folk are any better.”

Old Time came to Washington Park every day with his fishing gear, lunch, and beer. He wore a tired beige fishing hat, and he had lost so many teeth that his gums smacked together when he spoke. But he loved to talk, especially about Chicago.

“We live in a city within a city,” he said. “They have theirs and we have ours. And if you can understand that it will never change, you’ll start understanding how this city works.”

“You mean whites and blacks will never get along?” I asked.

A man named Charlie Butler jumped in. “You got two kinds of whites in this city,” he said, “and two kinds of blacks. You got whites who’ll beat you if you come into their neighborhood. They live around Bridgeport and on the Southwest Side. Then you got another group that just won’t invite you in. They’ll call the police if you come in their neighborhood—like where you live, in Hyde Park. And the police will beat you up.”

Charlie was a retired factory worker, a beefy man with tattooed, well-developed arms, a college football star from long ago. Charlie sometimes came to Hyde Park for breakfast or lunch at one of the diners where other blacks hung out, but he never stayed past sun-down and he never walked on residential streets, he said, since the police would follow him.

“What about blacks?” I asked.

“You got blacks who are beating their heads trying to figure out a way to live where you live!” Charlie continued. “Don’t ask me why. And then you got a whole lot of black folk who realize it ain’t no use. Like us. We just spend our time trying to get by, and we live around here, where it ain’t so pretty, but at least you won’t get your ass beat. At least not by the police.”

“That’s how it’s been since black folk came to the city,” Old Time said, “and it’s not going to change.”

“You mean you don’t have any white friends?” I asked.

“You have any black friends?” Old Time countered with a sly grin. I didn’t need to answer. “And you may want to ask your professors if they have any,” he said, clearly pleased with his rebuke.

From these conversations I started to gain a bit of perspective on what it was like to be black in Chicago. The overriding sentiment was that given how the city operated, there was little chance for any significant social progress.

This kind of fatalism was foreign to me. When you grew up in affluent Southern California, even for someone as politically disengaged as I, there was a core faith in the workings of American institutions and a sustaining belief that people can find a way to resolve their differences, even racial ones. I was now beginning to see the limits of my narrow experience. Nearly every conversation with Old Time and his friends wound up at the intersection of politics and race. I couldn’t follow all the nuances of their arguments, especially when it came to local politics, but even I could see the huge gap between how they perceived the world and how sociologists presented the life of urban poor people.

One day I asked Old Time and his friends if they’d be willing to let me interview them for Professor Wilson’s survey. They agreed, and I tried for a few days. But I felt I wasn’t getting anywhere. Most of the conversations ended up meandering along, a string of interruptions and half-finished thoughts.

Charlie could see I was dejected. “Before you give up,” he said, “you should probably speak to the people who you really want to talk to—young men, not us. That’s the only way you’re going to get what you need.”




So I set out looking for young black men. At the U of C library, I checked the census records to find a tract with poor black families with people between the ages of sixteen and twenty-four. The Lake Park projects looked good, at least on paper, and I randomly chose Building Number 4040, highlighting on my census printout the apartments where young people lived. Those were the doors I’d be knocking on. Old Time told me that I could go any day I wanted. “Most black folk in the projects don’t work,” he said, “so they don’t have nowhere else to be.” Still, I thought a weekend would be the best time to find a lot of people.

On a brisk Saturday afternoon in November, I went looking for 4040 South Lake Park, one of several high-rise projects in Oakland, a lakefront neighborhood about two miles north of the U of C. Oakland was one of the poorest communities in Chicago, with commensurately high rates of unemployment, welfare, and crime. Its population was overwhelmingly black, dating back to the early-twentieth-century southern migration. The neighborhood surrounding the Lake Park projects wasn’t much of a neighborhood at all. There were few people on the streets, and on some blocks there were more vacant lots than buildings. Aside from a few liquor stores and broken-down bodegas, there wasn’t much commerce. It struck me that most housing projects, even though they are built in cities, run counter to the very notion of urban living. Cities are attractive because of their balkanized variety: wandering the streets of a good city, you can see all sorts of highs and lows, commerce and recreation, a multitude of ethnicities and just as many expressions of public life. But housing projects, at least from the outside, seemed to be a study in joyless monotony, the buildings clustered tightly together but set apart from the rest of the city, as if they were toxic.

Up close, the buildings looked like tall checkerboards, their dull yellow-brick walls lined with rows of dreary windows. A few of the windows revealed the aftermath of an apartment fire, black smudges spreading upward in the shape of tombstones. Most of the buildings had only one entrance, and it was usually clogged with young people.

--Ce texte fait référence à l'édition Broché .

Revue de presse

"Gang Leader for a Day is not another voyeuristic look into the supposedly tawdry, disorganized life of the black poor. Venkatesh entered the Chicago gang world at the height of the crack epidemic and what he found was a tightly organized community, held together by friendship and compassion as well as force. I couldn't stop reading, and ended up loving this brave, reckless young scholar, as well as the gang leader J.T., who has to be one of the greatest characters ever to emerge from something that could be called sociological research." -- Barbara Ehrenreich "Gang Leader for a Day is an absolutely incredible book. Sudhir Venkatesh's memoir of his years observing life in Chicago's inner city is a book unlike any other I have read, equal parts comedy and tragedy. How is it that a naòve suburban kid ends up running a crack gang (if only for a day) on his way to becoming one of the world's leading scholars? You have to read it to find out, but heed this warning: don't pick up the book unless you have a few hours to spare because I promise you will not be able to put it down once you start." --Steven D. Levitt, co-author, Freakonomics "This extraordinary book features the fascinating research of a brilliant young sociologist. Sudhir Venkatesh spent several years closely interacting with crack-selling gang members and struggling poor residents in a large and very dangerous public housing project in Chicago. His riveting portrait of day-to-day life in this poor community, including the challenges confronting parents in a drug-infested and violent social environment, is disturbing. But, Gang Leader for a Day is rich with original information and insights on poor families, drug dealers and even the police. It will leave an indelible impression on readers." ---William Julius Wilson, Harvard University Lewis P. and Linda L. Geyser Professor "Whether you enjoy fiction, history, or biography you'll be drawn to Venkatesh's gripping retelling of his experiences in the Robert Taylor Homes. Gang Leader for a Day poignantly reminds us that there continue to be separate and unequal Americas that ultimately impact us all." --Congressman Jesse L. Jackson, Jr. (D-IL)

--Ce texte fait référence à l'édition Relié .

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Détails sur le produit

  • Broché: 320 pages
  • Editeur : Penguin (5 février 2009)
  • Collection : PENG.PRESS NF
  • Langue : Anglais
  • ISBN-10: 0141030917
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141030913
  • Dimensions du produit: 12,9 x 1,8 x 19,8 cm
  • Moyenne des commentaires client : 5.0 étoiles sur 5  Voir tous les commentaires (2 commentaires client)
  • Classement des meilleures ventes d'Amazon: 39.351 en Livres anglais et étrangers (Voir les 100 premiers en Livres anglais et étrangers)
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1 internautes sur 1 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile  Par Philippe Korda le 13 mars 2014
Format: Format Kindle Achat vérifié
L'auteur décrit et décortique le fonctionnement d'un gang mais surtout, plus largement, de tout un quartier déshérité de Chicago dans les années 90 avec ses trafiquants, ses chômeurs, ses squatters, ses toxicos, ses prostituées - ces catégories étant loin d'être exclusives l'une de l'autre -, mais aussi retraités, petits commerçants, "notables", services sociaux, police... La tableau est parfois un peu désespérant quand on comprend à quel point tout le monde en vient à tenter de profiter de tout le monde pour survivre.

La grande force du livre vient de l'histoire incroyable mais vraie de l'auteur, jeune étudiant en sociologie plongé - presque par hasard - au coeur de la vie d'un gang et qui, sur plusieurs années, va nouer des relations de grande proximité avec les individus qu'il est venu observer.

Il s'agit d'un récit haletant, captivant, avec de l'intelligence mais aussi du suspense, de l'humour, de l'horreur parfois, raconté avec intelligence et honnêteté par un auteur qui ne se donne pas toujours le beau rôle.
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Par ManiO le 2 septembre 2015
Format: Broché
Je connaissais pourtant déjà bien le sujet, m'intéressant beaucoup aux gangs de rue (à leur histoire, fonctionnement, culture etc) mais ce livre m'a carrément ouvert les yeux sur de nombreux aspects de ce phénomène si complexe, effrayant et intriguant.
Une histoire vraie, une expérience de vie incroyable d'un étudiant qui débarque dans l'un des pires ghettos-US et ce en pleine épidémie de crack. Pour rédiger sa thèse en sociologie il choisi les populations pauvres, principalement noires de Chicago et lors de sa première expédition hasardeuse en territoire hostile il va y faire la rencontre de sa vie. Manquant de peu de se faire lyncher ou tuer par des soldats du gang des Black Kings (qui le pensaient à tort mexicain d'un gang ennemi), il va avoir la chance in-extremis de tomber sur un des chefs de ce gang, qui intrigué par sa démarche va le prendre sous son aile pour l'aider dans ses recherches et lui faire découvrir la vie dans le quartier...
Prêt de 10ans de travail sociologique est donc condensé ici sous forme de journal intime, on suit les péripéties du jeune Sudhir parmi cette jungle dangereuse et fascinante. J.T. va lui faire progressivement découvrir le fonctionnement de son gang de dealers et leur main-mise totale sur leur territoire. Tout passe par le gang et ses associés, la violence et la corruption sont omniprésents bien sur mais on découvre aussi une formidable entre-aide communautaire, un véritable système sociétal alternatif.
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Amazon.com: 324 commentaires
239 internautes sur 258 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
Interesting read that left me conflicted 16 mars 2008
Par Tethys - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Relié
This book is definitely an interesting read, particularly if you are not from the wrong side of the tracks. For most middle and upper class readers, I believe this is an insightful and voyueristic view of the lives that are so often forgotten about in this country.
Having grown up on the wrong side of the tracks and having lived in the projects for a time, I found myself deeply conflicted by the author's portrayal of others and himself. In the end he is only somewhat honest with himself about being the biggest hustler of all in the book. How exactly do you eat people's food and sit on their couches and follow them around for six years and in the end say you weren't even friends? Is this simply artificial distance inserted to make himself seem more scholarly, or does he really feel this way about the people who greatly contributed to his career? He tries to distinguish himself from the very people he interacted with and at times participated in morally questionable behavior with by describing himself as dressing appropriately for an Ivy League professor while returning to visit the ghetto. This description of himself at the end of the book brought home sharply to me the reality that most people will take a look at this world, like the author, and then put it down and walk away from the very real needs that real Americans have and it left me frustrated and angry. For every person who makes it out, there are hundreds left behind and most people are unwilling or unable to do anything except close a book and forget. I highly question that anything will be done as a result of this work to significantly improve impoverished Americans' situations, a view that the author confirms.
For all of the conflicting statements about various individuals moral choices in the book, the real heroes are the people who are trying to make the best of a bad situation. J.T., the drug dealer who gave the author the unprecendented access, reflects the true complexity of his environment and the ways in which people rationalize what they have to do in order to make a life for their families. And in many ways all of the people who spoke with and participated in the author's journey through American poverty reflect the same principles and values that the rest of America have. We all make choices and do what we have to do to get by, no matter how cultured we pretend to be.
So while I am frustrated by the author's need to distinguish himself from the people who shared so much with him, I hope that this book makes people think about the people around them and the very real suffering that occurs in our own country. I know from having lived in a place not to far removed from what the author describes, I cannot turn away and forget. While other people see a middle class girl now, in many ways I will never be separated from that life and I know that even this book does not begin to address the long-term difficulties involved in irradicating poverty in this country. And the main reason for this is in this book: you can leave the projects, but it never really leaves you and thus many people end up back there no matter how hard they work to get out.
Gangleader for a day, therefore, should represent a reality check for America, especially as our economy slows.
131 internautes sur 142 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
"Sudhir, you're getting into something you shouldn't be messing with..." 11 janvier 2008
Par Kerry Walters - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Relié
Thus Reggie, a Chicago gang member, warned the author of this book. Thank goodness, Venkatesh wasn't frightened away, and the consequence is this narrative about a Chicago crack-dealing gang.

I first learned something about life in a Chicago housing project when I read David Isay's heartbreaking Our America: Life and Death on the South Side of Chicago (1999), and something about the street drug trade in David Simons and Edward Burns' grueling The Corner: A Year in the Life of an Inner-City Neighborhood (1998). Both have become classics. Sudhir Venkatesh's Gang Leader for a Day is, I believe, destined to join them as an on-the-spot narrative of gang culture of Chicago. Some of the people whose lives he tracks--J.T., Clarisse, Mama and Pops Patton, Reggie, Millie, T-Bone--grow on you until you feel as if you actually know them.

While a graduate student at the University of Chicago, weary of cold statistical analysis, Venkatesh began hanging out with the Black Kings, a crack-selling gang who headquartered in the Robert Taylor Homes projects. He wanted to get in touch with the gang subculture through direct observation. He entered into the project pretty naive and just a bit too full of himself. Seven years later, after following the Black Kings and establishing a relationship with their leader, one J.T., the things he'd seen and heard made him a lot more streetwise and a little less cocky.

During his seven-year study, "Mr. Professor," as J.T.'s mother initially called Venkatesh, learned that Chicago gangs, or at least J.T.'s outfit, lived in a culture of violence and machismo, but also functioned in an unexpected way as police in their own territory. From the perspective of society, they were lawbreakers. But at Robert Taylor Homes, they were also lawmakers, keeping a tight rein on adventitious violence and, through acts of "philanthropy," keeping the local economy fueled with drug money.

He discovered about halfway through his research with the Black Kings that he'd witnessed or heard about so many gang and drug deal activities that he'd do well to seek legal advice. When he did, he discovered (to his discomfort) that there was no such thing under the law as "researcher-client confidentiality," and that he was in a vulnerable legal position. At one point during his project, he actually worried that "he was falling into a hole [of criminality] I could never dig myself out of" (p. 250)

He realized that getting wounded in gang violence nine times out of ten meant either that nobody would call an ambulance for you, or if they did, that no ambulance would make a run into the inner city war zone to pick you up.

He learned that there's a city-wide organization and hierarchy when it comes to many Chicago gangs, including the Black Kings.

And from spending all this time with pushers, junkies, gangsters, civilians, hookers, and cops, and learning firsthand about their lives, he learned that it's risky to make holier-than-thou comparisons. When he bade J.T. farewell, for example, Venkatesh mentioned to the gangleader that he wasn't sure he was ready to jump into another longterm research project. J.T. cannily observed that there was little else Venkatesh was qualified to do. "You can't fix nothing, you never worked a day in your life. The only think you know how to do is hang out with n-----s like us" (p. 281).

An excellent, fascinating book, sometimes frightening, at other times unspeakably sad, and at still others funny: but always with the feel of authenticity and never sentimental. Highly recommended, as is his American Project: The Rise and Fall of a Modern Ghetto (2002) and especially his recent (2006) Off the Books: The Underground Economy of the Urban Poor. In fact, the latter book could easily be read as a companion volume to Gang Leader for a Day.
86 internautes sur 108 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
Fascinating But Flawed... 21 juillet 2009
Par Snugs McKay - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Broché
Ever loved a song so much, you wish it had been written by a better band? That's what reading this book is like: Venkatesh gets three stars on the strength of his premise alone, but it only takes him about 4 chapters to spoil what he began. Here's what you can expect, once that 100 page honeymoon is over...

1.) Dialogue so false it makes George Lucas sound like a naturalistic writer. No disclaimer can excuse the dead ear Venkatech reveals whenever called upon to recount spoken words. The people with whom he interacts are voiced as sitcom-level caricatures; we meet the wise old woman who takes no guff, the insecure young tough, the smooth elder thug who maintains his rep with almost professional detachment, etc.

2.) A total lack of Academic responsibility. I'm not talking, as others have, about the moral questions raised by the author's witness of so many crimes - that's something you either forgive or not, before picking up the book. I'm talking about the fact that, for any given phenomenon, he only really entertains one theory, or one frame of explanation. The view of ghetto life he formed in the classroom is not one he's prepared to change, and he's really only interested in gathering details to fill out that view. But such is the problem - if you're not ready to change your mind on fundamental questions, then don't call it "research".

3.) An often shocking whiff of upper-middle class condescension. There is no easy way to this, so I'll just say it: the author treats his mostly black subjects with a smugness that is sometimes quite disgusting. It's a disguised, liberal kind of smugness, but it reveals what kind of expectations Venkatesh brought with him to the experience. He fawns over his subjects (never worse than with Ms. Bailey) so excessively, that it can only be the product of genuine surprise. Time and again, he seems to say: "Look at these wretches, how startling and cute it is when they say something clever!"

Now, in writing this I probably picked up a bit of steam, and overstated my case. No doubt about that, but in the interest of balancing so much uncritical praise, I'll let this stand...
12 internautes sur 15 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
A Naive Graduate Student Learns about Life in the Projects 6 février 2008
Par Donald Mitchell - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Relié
This book is as riveting an academic research report as you are ever likely to read.

In Freakonomics, many people were fascinated by a section that described how most crack cocaine dealers lived at home with their mothers. Why? They make less money than minimum wage. The source of that factoid was research conducted on site by Sudhir Venkatesh, author of Gang Leader for a Day, who describes in this book how he did that research and came to make decisions one day for part of the Black Kings gang in Chicago.

In the process of reading this book, you'll learn more than you ever expected to know about the ways that the poorest people support and protect themselves. You'll also find how drug-dealing gangs are both a help and a hindrance to the poor.

More powerfully, you'll be exposed to the great difficulties involved in observing the lives of the poor and the gangs that spring from them. The moral and ethical dilemmas this book presents are almost beyond belief.

Professor Venkatesh was a graduate student at the University of Chicago when his curiosity about the school's neighbors caused him to draft a questionnaire and head for the largest local housing project. Once there, he was detained by the gang whose territory he had invaded. Knowing nothing of gangs, he spent an uncomfortable night wondering what would happen to him. He piqued the curiosity of the gang's leader, J.T., and was granted ever widening access to the gang's activities and to the lives of those in their territory.

Take a close look at those who need help before deciding you know the answers.
43 internautes sur 59 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
Disappointed 6 avril 2008
Par Jodie Atkinson - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Relié
I am a graduate student in Sociology and received my BA in the same from Berkeley. I bought this book because I was trained by another sociologist who did extensive work on gangs and I was interested in comparing the two. As this is a sociological book, I expected the introduction to layout methodology and detail how the author dealt with this kind of fieldwork. I also expected to find some connection to sociology. This book is more like a novel than an academic work and I am quite disconcerted that it has gotten such positive attention.

For a graduate student, which Venkatesh was at the start of his project, to not understand that a sociological researcher is not covered by the First Amendment is startling. I learned this in my sociological methods classes as an undergraduate, how could he make it four years into his research before W.J. Wilson informs him he could be legally liable for watching illegal activities? Further, the continued use of deception in this research is ethically problematic as well. To allow J.T. to even partially believe that Venkatesh was writing a biography places the researcher in an ethical dilemma - one that Venkatesh minimally addresses. Venkatesh would have done well to address this issue, as well as issues of his personal biases (he comes from a privileged background), reliability and validity - all of which are important to a sociological book.

Finally, Venkatesh makes a patently false claim. At the end of the book when talking to J.T., Venkatesh states that there has never been an inter-city study of gangs that would allow for comparison across region. THIS IS FALSE. Martin Sanchez-Jankowski of U.C. Berkeley wrote "Islands in the Street" after spending ten years conducting participant observation research on gangs ALL ACROSS THE U.S. Sanchez-Jankowski's book is still in print and for Venkatesh to not even know about its existence indicates that he did little other research to go along with his field work. If he had conducted a literature review, this book would have been known to him. I believe that the heading "A Rogue Sociologist Takes to The Streets" is simply a grandiose self-reference designed to sell books. If you are truly interested in learning about gangs, check out "ISLANDS IN THE STREET."
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