GLFD Qs – Chs. 6-8

  • Both J.T. and Ms. Bailey can be considered “power brokers” in the context of the Robert Taylor Homes, as presented in the book, Gang Leader for a Day.  A power broker is a person who is important by virtue of the people they control, by virtue of his/her ability to influence others. Compare and contrast the nature of J.T.’s and Ms. Bailey’s motivations and influence in the Robert Taylor housing projects.
  • Why did so many women at Robert Taylor seem to consider Ms. Bailey a hero?
  • After contacting a lawyer on the advice of his advisor, what sort of legal advice did Venkatesh receive?
  • Ms. Bailey tells Venkatesh, “You’re a hustler, I can see it” (p. 188).  Is she right?
  • One of the main ethical criticisms leveled at Venkatesh concerns disclosure of confidential information about residents’ economic activities to JT and Ms. Bailey, criminals he already knew were extorting money from some of the interviewees. Was this disclosure justifiable?
  • Autry tells Venkatesh that he “need[s] to understand that there are two gangs in the projects…The police are also a gang, but they really have the power” (pp. 238-239).  What does he mean?  Do you agree?

GLFD Qs & ‘Culture of Poverty’

Below are some questions to think about as you read Chapters 3 – 5:

  • Representatives of both “the gang” and “the community” at Robert Taylor talk a lot about how “the gang” helps “the community.”  What are they talking about?  Do you agree?
    • How would you conceptualize the relations between/among “the gang,” “the community,” and “family,” “home,” and the “buildings” where people live?  In other words, are they the same thing?  To what extent do they overlap?  To what extent are they different?
    • Venkatesh writes: “Strangely, while most people think of a gang as a threat, for me—an uninitiated person in the projects—the gang represented security” (p. 84).  What does he mean by this?
    • Various characters in the book make claims about the relationships among these categories, of course.  Are their claims persuasive?
    • Approaching this as a social researcher studying gangs, how would you conceptualize gangs?  What would your “conceptual definition” and “empirical definition” be?
  • Why and how is the gang involved in politics?
  • Who is Autry?  What is his relationship to the gang?  When Autry says “the club played a broad peacekeeping role in the community” (p. 98), what does he mean?
  • What are the (specific) responsibilities of a gang leader?  What kind of (general) skills do they require?  Compare them to the responsibilities and skills required in a managerial position inside a legitimate business.   What would you say constitutes “success” in these leadership positions?  What contributes to success or effectiveness?
  • Based on Venkatesh’s reporting, how is life in the projects different for women as compared with men?  What circumstances pose particular difficulties for women?  How have women responded, with what kind of “survival strategies”?
  • As Venkatesh asks, “Was it possible…to be in the projects for any length of time and remain neutral, an outsider, an objective observer” (p. 179)?  What do you think?

“Scholars return to ‘Culture of Poverty’ Ideas.”  That’s according to an article in the New York Times (10/17/10). Such ideas link persistent urban poverty to “culture,” typically understood as sets of values and norm.  In Gang Leader for a Day, Sudhir Venkatesh explores the subject using ethnographic techniques.  Click the link above to read the article, which helpfully maps out the key academic debates on poverty.  Useful background for GLFD.

GLFD – reading questions

Here are some questions to guide your reading of the first two chapters of Gang Leader for a Day:

Chapter 1: How Does it Feel to be Black and Poor?

  • Why does Venkatesh describe the attitudes of the old black men he spoke with in Washington Park as “fatalism” (p. 8)?  Why did such attitudes seem “foreign” to him?
  • What’s wrong with the survey question, “How does it feel to be black and poor?”  Why does Venkatesh prefer ethnography as a research technique to study inner-city poverty?
  • What can you tell about the gang landscape of Chicago?  Who are the Black Kings?
  • Why do you think JT agreed to meet with Venkatesh again?

Chapter 2: First Days on Federal Street

  • What was JT’s unlikely route to the gang life?  Where is he in the gang’s hierarchy?  Was he getting rich?  Try to map out the gang hierarchy.
  • What is the “culture of poverty” view of gangs and inner-city life?  Why does JT question its validity?
  • What are the Robert Taylor Homes?  Who lives there?  What is it like?
  • How does Venkatesh justify entering into a relationship with JT, the “leader of a major crack-selling gang”?
  • A number of Venkatesh’s informants refer to “community.”  How do they understand that concept?  Who makes up “the community”?
  • When JT sets off to “survey the building” (p. 44), what does this entail?
  • Describe the evidence of corruption within the CHA (Chicago Housing Authority) presented in the chapter.
  • Who is C-Note, and why does JT beat him up?  How does Venkatesh respond?  Was his response ethical?  Understandable?

Conceptualizing Violence

“Violence” is one of the many concepts in social research that has different meanings for different people.  It’s also a concept that is sometimes conceptualized as multidimensional.  This infographic from the Canada-based Girls Action Foundation breaks violence down into three dimensions: internal, relational, and systemic. The GAF also points out how violence is normalized — how it comes to be accepted as normal or “given” — in girls’ lives so that their parents, teachers, and peers may not even recognize it.

Day of the Dead on the US-Mexico Border

From Wikipedia:

Day of the Dead (Spanish: Día de los Muertos) is a Mexican holiday celebrated throughout Mexico and around the world in other cultures. The holiday focuses on gatherings of family and friends to pray for and remember friends and family members who have died. It is particularly celebrated in Mexico, where it is a national holiday, and all banks are closed. The celebration takes place on November 1, in connection with the Catholic holidays of All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day (November 2). Traditions connected with the holiday include building private altars honoring the deceased using sugar skulls, marigolds, and the favorite foods and beverages of the departed and visiting graves with these as gifts. They also leave possessions of the deceased… READ MORE.

Today @ John Jay – All-Day Dialogue on ‘Stop & Frisk’

DATE: Tuesday, October 2
TIME: 9:00 am to 7:00 pm
LOCATION: John Jay College
524 West 59th Street NYC
9th Floor Conference Room
(Take the A,C,E,B,D,1 to Columbus Circle, 59th St)
Lots of great panels on stop and frisk today at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Open to the public and running all day! Featuring members of the Communities United for Police Reform (CPR) campaign, including the Center for Constitutional Rights, the New York Civil Liberties Union – NYCLU, the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, and:
The Release of the Revised Primer on “Stop, Question & Frisk Policing Practices in New York City”

Documentary films and Panel Discussions throughout the day on:

The Legality of Stop and Frisk
The Impact of Stop and Frisk
The Effectiveness of Stop and Frisk
Alternatives to Stop and Frisk

Celebrity Performance Artist Does Social Criticism

Since many in our group have an interest in female body image and eating disorders, I thought you’d find Lady Gaga’s recent look interesting. Here’s a link to the NY Daily News story:

Lady Gaga embraces fuller figure after 25-pound weight gain: ‘I really don’t feel bad about it, not even for a second’