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Sociology 101 - Review of Gang Leader for a Day

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Kait Oakes

Sociology 101

July 22, 2009

Gang Leader for a Day

Sudhir Venkatesh, a sociology major at University of Chicago, decided to do a survey of low-income black Chicago residents living in the projects. This book was mainly about the social and economic structure of an inner-city gang called the Black Kings. From the outside, society's view of gangs is generally negative, focused on drive-by shooting, selling drugs, violence, and prostitution. What Venkatesh did was permeate the social order of this gang and revealed the more positive and, at times, necessary measures of its members. When setting out to glean information on living in a low-income, gang-infested community, his main objective was collecting data in the form of a survey. Unbeknownst to him, he would end up befriending and becoming a part of his subject's lives.

Conflict theory focuses on a person's or group's influence and power over society. It's seen everywhere in day to day life, mostly in government and economics. Conflict theory seems to be the most widely accepted view of gangs. Gang life is rich in conflict, where urban youth constantly compete to be the most powerful, most influential, and the richest. It would seem that when surrounded by poverty, danger, and disappointment, gang life and all its immediate gratifications are often romanticized as the only way to get out of the ghetto. There seemed to be no escape and no way of advancing to a higher social class. J.T., the Black Kings leader in that neighborhood, capitalized on the resident's situation as much as he could. Most of the tenants of the Robert Taylor projects had no jobs and were living off public aid, whether it be welfare, food stamps, or rent vouchers. They would do odd jobs around the neighborhood, such as fixing cars, selling candy or groceries out of their own apartment, selling drugs, and even selling themselves. J.T. would take a portion of their meager earnings as a "tax" for letting them use "his" building. Certain rooms were made into crack dens, where johns could acquire the services of the females in the buildings. J.T. taxed the independent prostitutes, meaning those who worked for themselves and didn't have a pimp. He also extended that influence to include certain store owners, who paid him a "protection fee". Their stores wouldn't get broken into, but the Black Kings were free to take what they wanted from the store. This is consistent with conflict theory insomuch as J.T. was exercising his influence over this community to maintain the social order of the Robert Taylor projects. It's also apparent that the social mobility of this community was most definitely downward. These residents were born and brought up in this extremely lower-class society, which just seemed to be getting worse.

Although most people would see conflict



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