Wednesday, December 13, 2006

The underground sociologist

Sudhir Venkatesh is the underground sociologist hero in the Freakonomics chapter titled "Why do drug dealers still live with their moms?". His latest book, Off the books: the underground economy of the urban poor, is just out. In a review of his Patrick Radden Keefe recounts this little story from the book:

Licit and illicit economies tend to be entwined, and in a closely knit urban neighborhood, this mutual dependence means that public-minded civilians and hardened criminals are regularly forced to negotiate. In the spring of 2000, an entrepreneurial gang leader, Big Cat, was elevating the criminal activity in a local park. Marlene and a preacher, Pastor Wilkins, arranged a tense summit with the kingpin in a church basement. Venkatesh talked his way into the room and watched as Big Cat agreed to stop peddling drugs in the park during after-school hours. For this concession, Pastor Wilkins promised to persuade a nearby store owner to allow Big Cat's gang to deal in his parking lot, and Marlene agreed to ask the cops to leave the dealers unmolested in their new location.

"I can't figure out who's crazier," Big Cat chuckles, once the deal is struck. "Me, or you niggers."


  1. gaddeswarup said...

    It is interesting that USA seems to give opportunities to excel for those both from established families (Sudhir Venkatesh, V.S. Ramachandran, Kumpati Narendra all seem to be from the extended Alladi clan) and many from the so-called backward classes and 'retired' scientists like C.R. Rao.