Gang Leader for a Day – Sudhir Venkatesh – Book Review – New York Times: “On a hot summer day in 1989, Sudhir Venkatesh, a callow sociology student with a ponytail and tie-dyed T-shirt, walked into one of Chicago’s toughest housing projects, clipboard in hand, ready to ask residents about their lives. Sample question: ‘How does it feel to be black and poor?’ Suggested answers: ‘very bad, somewhat bad, neither bad nor good, somewhat good, very good.’ Actual answers: unprintable.
Mr. Venkatesh got rid of the clipboard and the questionnaire, but not his fascination with life in the Chicago housing projects. He stuck around, befriended a gang leader and for the next decade lived a curious insider-outsider life at the notorious Robert Taylor Homes on the city’s South Side, an eye-opening experience he documents in the high-octane ‘Gang Leader for a Day.’
In a bit of bravado Mr. Venkatesh, who now teaches at Columbia, styles himself a ‘rogue sociologist.’ Dissatisfied with opinion surveys and statistical analysis as ways to describe the life of the poor, he reverted to the methods of his predecessors at the University of Chicago, who took an ethnographic approach to the study of hobos, hustlers and politicians. Much like a journalist, he observed, asked questions and drew conclusions as he accumulated raw data.”