Gang Leader For A Day – A Book Review Book Reviews Example
One of the most popular books about sociology in the twenty first century is the book by Sudhir Ventatesh entitled Gang Leader for a Day. What makes this book so popular even today is the fact that the book was basically a narrative of the experiences of the author in the streets as a gang leader or at least practically a member of a street gang, hence the title Gang Leader for a Day. Ever since the book was published, Ventatesh, the author of the book and has been popularly known as the rouge sociologist mainly because what he did in his book was a case study on himself living the life of a gang leader. What the book basically offers is a realistic view of the life in the projects or the slums in an otherwise urbanized area where people in the lower strata of society live. Unlike other sociologists’ work, however, Ventatesh offers an eye-opening approach because his data were not merely obtained from statistics and other abstract figures about poverty and other political and economic problems that may be associated with his hurdles as a gang leader for a day, but rather from vivid tales of people in the said community and his own recounts as he lived the same kind of life for one day.
Normally, an author, a researcher, or in this case a sociologist who wants to crack open a long standing political, economic, and or a social problem would create a roster of researchers who are experts in the field of sociology to start a research, probably, a qualitative or even an exploratory one, focusing on individuals who they can observe and ask questions from rather than directly interact with and then analyzing results later on. However, when Ventatesh first tried this approach to gather raw data from people belonging to his target population in the notorious Robert Taylor Homes community, (i.e. RTH) he realized that he would not be able to retrieve all pertinent information about the community and write a real research that debunks all possible debunk-able information on his subjects—who are basically composed of complex drug lords, drug dealers, and even foot soldiers and private army members using that approach.
So, he dropped his clipboard and started out a new approach. He started to live with the Black Kings—one of the notorious gangs that deal cracks in RTH (i.e. a type of cocaine) and gathers raw data directly from them and of course from his own experience. In a way, his research method may be perceived as too unorthodox to be classified as a research method. At some point, what he did can already be considered as a work of a journalist rather than that of a researcher or a sociologist. Moreover, his research methods were not duly approved by anyone from their university so what he did was really an informal type of research if indeed it can be called research.
With all the irregularities when it comes to Ventatesh’s selected research and data gathering methods aside, what he found were more complex than what he initially though. After spending a significant amount of time with the members of Black Kings, especially with the most significant and influential people in the RTH community and the Black Kings group such as J.T. (the leader of the gang) and T-Bone (the treasurer) and the pushers and the foot soldiers of the gang’s privatized army, he was able to discover that most people living in RTH—specifically those involved in crack dealings, live in a micro political, economic, and societal system.
Some of his most important findings suggested that the Black Kings had its own army, it ships its own product to generate revenues for its foot soldiers and other key people involved in the groups illegal business operations (i.e. just like how a country exports its products to other countries to earn foreign exchange reserves) , and the fact that a somewhat secluded and not so secret type of society exists in RTH. Ventatesh was also able to learn about the complex personalities that people from the Black Kings have. Based on their actions and how Ventatesh portrayed some of the characters in his book, the words problematic, violent, manipulative, and paranoid may indeed fit their personalities.
According to Ventatesh, one of the largest barriers that the residents of RTH faced was the systematic barriers such as racism, negative stigma, and discrimination against black people. This was very evident in the United States especially in the 1960s when the first phase of the RTH housing projects in Chicago got completed. These barriers basically prevented the black Americans living in RTH from successfully integrating themselves to the mainstream American culture. The purpose of the construction of housing projects such as the RTH was to improve the quality of life of underprivileged blacks living in the U.S. However, with these barriers still in place and the lack of attention that the government has been paying to such issues, all the great plans for the community was converted into rubbish ones.
If there are two typical community and public serves that can be described as totally absent within the Robert Taylor Homes area, they would be the necessary ambulance and emergency medical service (i.e. EMS) and police coverage. Basically, families and individuals living within the RTH community are deprived of the typical healthcare and police safety community and public services that most Americans enjoy. According to Ventatesh, even armed law enforcement officers are afraid to go within the vicinity of RTH because of fear for their lives. Because of the sheer level of violence in the said community, some local law enforcement officers and members of emergency medical services and ambulance teams tagged the area as a no go zone. Aside from these two that we mentioned which Ventatesh specifically mentioned in his book, most typical community and public services are virtually non-existent for the RTH residents to utilize.
Basically, residents of the RTH live in their own society. They look out for each other, they help each other—this applies to most people in the community. However, for some of the key people in the said community, double crossing, treason, and other villainous acts are quite common.
If anything, the residents of RTH were able to obtain a job that does pay and lets them buy food for themselves and their family via the Black Kings gang. Although the revenue generating operations of the gang can easily be considered as illegal, residents of the RTH basically did not have any other better choice because they were only presented with two options. They could either try to live a clean life with no legal liabilities and starve to death because no one would want to trust and let alone hire a black person to man a business operation; or they could simply participate in the illegal operations of the gang as a seller or a foot soldier, among other available jobs within the Black Kings and get a small but livable (more livable than what being jobless would offer) share of the gang’s total profit.
When it comes to the question why youths from the RTH have chosen the decision to be a part of the Black Kings gang rather than try to live a normal Americanized life, the main reason is that the illegal revenue generating activities of the gang was seen as the most viable option for the youth of RTH mainly because there was no other option.
Ventatesh’s research model has one limitation. Because of the sheer unorthodox quality of his research methodology, there would not be anyone who could validate his data, results, and findings. If anything, his research can only be considered as a case study or a case report. These are types of studies which according to the hierarchy of evidences provide the least reliable form of evidence that can be used to address an answerable research question. In terms of the learning and experiences that one can obtain, however, it may be safe to say that this is the area where he and his unorthodox research methodologies really excelled.
What he discovered from his experience as a gang leader for a day is something that one could not expect from a community like RTH. I, for example, would not have expected that there was an entire political, economic, and social system within the small community that RTH is. Ventatesh nonetheless uncovered this fact thanks to his methods. All in all, my prior beliefs about life in communities like RTH were debunked. I did not expect that there was a whole new society out there with its own political and economic system, and even their own military. For someone who wants to take a break from the typical five point liker scale questionnaires that most researchers and sociologists use to gather raw data from their subjects, this book would be an excellent choice.
Ventatesh, S. "Gang Leader for a Day: A Rogue Sociologist Takes to the Streets Review." (2008).
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