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February 4, 2008 / studyingsociology

Gang leader for a day

This c-span podcast is an interview with Sudhir Venkatesh, Professor of Sociology, Columbia University. Dr. Venkatesh spent 7 years studying the residents of a public housing community in Chicago.  Most people are interested in his research on gangs but I find his affection for the community and his real belief in the potential of poor people to be most compelling.

As part of the interview he talks about the methodological problems he had studying the population, how he gained and then lost their trust. He really didn’t get some things about the community that he was studying, most importantly how limited their worldview was, how living a life of distrust and wariness left them struggling, and perhaps unable to imagine that actions Sudhir thought of as innocent could be anything other than what they looked like… Imagine, how the good people of the community must have interpreted the nightime trips Sudhir took with young women from the project, when Sudhir was working with them on their writings about the lives they lived there.  Some of you who are reading this are probably thinking… Yeah Right!  I bet they were working on the girls writings.  But the girls would have been seen as at best odd and at worse snitches if they had admitted to writing about their lives and the lives of their boyfriends and families.

This video is a must view.  It is a bit dry and it lasts an hour, but it offers both insight and hope.  Hope that is, if our nation does not turn its gaze away from the poor.  We might do that, and if we do so, it is at our peril.  Poverty affects us all in some way, but more importantly, poverty and its outcomes are a cancer that will eat away at the values we cherish.

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