Because Ideas Matter...
The faculty and staff of Butler University's College of Liberal
Arts and Sciences presents
Gang Leader for A
Day: A Rogue Sociologist Takes to the Streets
by Sudhir Venkatesh, New York: Penguin, 2008
Reviewed by J. Rocky Colavito
While a graduate student in Sociology at
the University of Chicago, Sudahir Venkatesh took a research survey
into the Lake Park projects. What he got instead of answers to the
survey questions was an extended friendship with JT, one of the
leaders of a local gang, and what grew out of this friendship
serves as the basis for what's reported in this thought-provoking
book. Venkatesh provides an unflinching look into the way of life
in one of Chicago's most oppressed neighborhoods, one that abhors
the culture of drugs and violence yet comes to depend on the fruits
that these deliver.
Venkatesh also pulls no punches with his own misguided
expectations and preconceived notions, showing the reader how his
own eyes are opened on multiple occasions. Whether it is in making
the wrong choice to help out a local prostitute (who hits him up
for money to feed her children when someone else has already fed
them) or in not reading situations right (Venkatesh finds himself
in the crossfire between rival gangs during a party at the
projects). In so doing, we get a newfound, if grudging, respect for
JT and the others who work within the strictures that life in the
projects gives them.
I was struck by how well Venkatesh brought life in the projects
into clarity without blatantly playing the racial oppression card,
and came away from this read with a much different perspective on
sociological research in general and these different lives in
particular. Check it out!
- J. Rocky Colavito is professor of English and Director of
Writing Programs at Butler University.