Gang Leader For A Day Book Review Example
The book depicts an exciting description of Ventakesh’s experience under JT, a gang leader. As a first-year college student, Ventakesh, sets out to the projects to carry out a survey dealing with urban poverty. The aim was to impress his lecturers with his bravery of undertaking the task. There, he met JT, who provided him with protection for over a decade as he conducted his duty. The two young men experienced a complicated friendship because they were from two different worlds. Ventakesh observes the gang’s activities in crack sales, peace treaties with neighbors, law evasion, his rise and fall in the hierarchy of the gang members (Ventakesh 15).
This article sets out to critically analyze the book in a sociological perspective by highlighting Ventakesh’s motives, research and barriers under the helm of JT. Consequently, focusing on the rich portrait the book paints about urban poverty drawn from the story and not stated statistics. The paper will dwell on the fascinating tale Sudhir Ventakesh, how he managed to enter the gang, the information he acquired and the method he utilized to achieve academic revolution in the projects. The rogue sociologist gets out of his way to study the life of the people who live in poverty, because of lack of satisfaction with statistical analysis and opinion surveys.
The privilege of unprecedented exposure to the area through his friendship with the gang enables Ventakesh to be successful in his research activities. He used the gang to find out about the crack business, the neighborhood dealers, squatters, crack heads, prostitutes, cops, pimps, officials, organizations and activists in the community. As he was approaching the projects, he had a sample question in mind. Ventakesh was ready to ask the inhabitants how they felt about the poor conditions they lived and the relation it had to their color. He expected answers like very bad, good and neither bad or good. Instead, the answers that he received were unprintable (Ventakesh 56).
Ventakesh resulted in using methods from an ethnographic approach that entailed a study of politicians, hobos and hustlers. Playing the role of a journalist, he identified, asked questions and concluded using the raw data he had. Therefore, the study he carried out was purely based on participant observation consisting of access, recording data, validity, detail and depth, going native and observing effects. In his research, he noted that the more he engaged in the activities of the natives, the more he exploited people to acquire information. The information is useful in identifying strengths and weaknesses in participant observation based on a contemporary setting (Ventakesh 61).
The people living in the Lake Park Housing projects feared white people. They were assumed to be police officers who mainly came to arrest and claim protection money. There was a clear distinction in the economic status in the hierarchy of the gang members. Those at the top received high rewards while those who did most of the dirty work got little in return. It is evident that whenever there is a large group of people willing to perform a task, it rarely pays well. The low ranking members lived with their mothers since they could not afford to buy their houses. The life experienced by the Robert Taylor resident is parallel with that of the mainstream society (Ventakesh 105).
Ambulances, firefighters and police rarely visit their homes. The gang members believe that it is their duty to respond to the needs of the community. Due to the neglect from the Chicago Municipal Authority, the projects are declared the worst in public housing in America. The harsh situations make the residents engage in illegal jobs to earn a living, for example, selling drugs and prostitution. The black people cannot get a promotion in their jobs due to racism and end up being working class families in a violent society. Unemployment was a major issue that brought about drug gangs and insecurity in Robert Taylor (Ventakesh 128).
The residents do not receive any help from the community and public authorities until the end where a solution is made to eradicate poverty in the public housing. The idea was to create a transformation plan through demolition of the projects and removal of the poor residents from their houses. They replaced the projects with mixed-income establishments. The plan made the earlier residents refugees in their hometowns. The public officials enacted the plan to disguise their land grabbing crime. The residents entangle themselves with unlawful dealings to try and keep alive. They also encourage each other during the harsh conditions and portray a forgiving nature (Ventakesh 132).
JT, the leader of the gang, called the Black Kings is dedicated to try and maintain the claim that they are not a gang, but a community organization safeguarding the needs of the people. The people at the top are J.T. and Ms. Bailey, who use their powers to control the public services, dispense favors and exact tributes. They also assist in solving disputes amongst people. The gang supports crime as a way of life through prostitution, crack dormitories, duties to cause mayhem, mediation controlled by police and pastors, ranked salaries, intimidation and universal extortion (Ventakesh 134).
The gang’s enterprise depends on continued ignorance from law enforcers and the goodwill of the residents. They spend their time controlling the populace and petty offenders, which might arouse suspicions from the police resulting in their involvement. The gang also carries out social activities such as holding parties in the projects, local basketball tournaments, voter registration, keeping the local preacher and payroll. The local politicians believe that helping the gang will be beneficial to everyone in the community. Ventakesh is not able to vividly captures the views of the residents about the gang because, they perceive him a member of the gang (Ventakesh 245).
Most people avoid him and limit their interaction to greetings. This indicates fear amongst the residents when it comes to matters that involve the gang. In his research, he maintains that there is nothing like neutral in the projects. Once you are a resident there, you abide by the rules and live in accordance with their terms. Youths prefer to join the gang due to its popularity and easy money. Furthermore, the discrimination they face from being black cannot allow them to progress in legal careers. Despite Ventakesh receiving support from the gang’s leader, it presented a number of limitations.
The areas he managed to access were only those provided by his association with the organization. The parts consist of places the leader was able to vouch and protect. Hence, Ventakesh was not able to get information from other sections controlled by rival gangs. His work is faced with the problem of data reliability based on his personal observations. It is a matter up for debate if the incidences indeed happened as he has stated. The ability to continue the research for a number of years meant that he had to have resources to maintain the lifestyle outside his jurisdiction (Ventakesh 256).
Ventakesh also indicates a level of biasness because he got involved a little too much with the people he was living with, that he ended up acting like them. In some situations, he ceased to be just an observer but a participant in some of the gang’s illegal endeavors. We can therefore, argue that Ventakesh did not go native rather he took sides with the Black Kings’ gang. There is an assumption that he immediately gets a special status with the gang unlike the other people who have work their way up the hierarchy to receive such power. He becomes the central point of the story. This is a problem because a researcher should not be the main focus of participant observation (Ventakesh 265).
J.T. allows Ventakesh to administer rounds around the community performing the duties of a leader for a day. It helps him identify with the gang on a deeper level. He views the experience as a movie that unfolded before his eyes. His research shows that he is not exactly a good writer, though there some good sections in the book like the dramatized street interactions. The lexicon is clichéd and awkward. The book also shows naivety that works best to show a level of honesty from the author. He successfully manages to make a name for himself in the academia, but his research does not bring any improvement in the conditions for the people in Robert Taylor. The residents were relocated and their houses demolished by local services (Ventakesh 267).
His findings indicate repetition since he has presented the same material to the world three times. Due to the level of lapse between the study, demolition and present time, it is difficult to comprehend whether the culture presented in the book is still existent or was only for that period. The strength that emanates from his work is that he gives an account of events that is believable and reasonable. His accounts can win in favor for his repeated works that it is important to keep saying the truth even when it keeps repeating itself.
The experience of Ventakesh displays no involvement from local officials and police in handling matters in the ghettos. This affirms my beliefs that the projects are different in their way of life. All that matters to them is survival without considering the means they use as long as they support themselves. The inner circle is what makes it hard for officials to intervene. There is no distinction between good and bad because the two are simply a means of maintaining the standard of living. The book emphasizes on the underground economy of the projects entailing drugs and the reasons why the residents do not see it as a crime but a means to make ends meet. The agenda is just to hustle and not to seek justified means to accomplish the tasks.
Ventakesh, Sudhir. Gang Leader for a Day. New York: Penguin Books, 2009. Print.
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