Gang Leader for Day - a literature review

I was reading Sudhir Venkatesh's Gang Leader for a Day: A Rogue Sociologist Takes to the Streets when I started to get scared that Venkatesh would forget about his project study and end up taking part in the illegal activities in the schemes. The emergence of gullibility to cunning deception is more worrisome. Yes, I do think Venkatesh was just as deceitful and exploitational as J.T. Firstly, in his book, Venkatesh minutes that the life in this project comes above everything else, and moreover it's about hustling. As he hustles, he perceives that there are players and those being played. In this situation consisting of a complex connection of binary antagonism, Venkatesh, from the stance view of becoming an insider by choice, therefore, having a way out, exploits people. He takes a rank amid the players where he plays the individuals, manipulating them to get information from them. The longer he progressed in his study, the intensely he became aware of this. He acknowledges that he uses the individuals that he comes across with as objects for his study. To him, they were mere objects to be manipulated, played and hustled for a little more access and information (Venkatesh, 2009).

Secondly, another ethical issue that I found relevant to the reading, which he also acknowledges, is that the more the research took, the more he lost sight of his initial objectives and goals. It stopped to be a research of documenting people’s lives but rather turned into a larger pattern of trying to grip the greater depiction of life therein. With such alterations in the objectives, the research becomes questionable and problematic, and the individuals are portrayed as a means to an end to be abused or used to accomplish the researcher's desired and intended goals. I found it to be an issue in that his contribution to the life of the assignments was more seeming that he would want us to trust. For instance, although Venkatesh experienced some hard life in the community such as getting shot and kidnapped, it is minimalistic to assume that he had experienced and seen all that there was to experience. He never truly seemed to be inspired towards facing the dire and grim conditions of poverty and joblessness (Venkatesh, 2009).

Thirdly, in the course of the research, confidentiality and honesty are violated. This forms the main ethical dilemma that shades the whole work. The naivety at the beginning of his works may be forgiven, but the choices that he later makes in his research are not. He entered with the purpose of knowing what it felt like being poor and black. But in half of his research, he is not honest to his subjects and moreover does not maintain confidentiality in his findings.

Lastly, the most obvious ethical issue is underlined when he suggests some of the corrupt dealings amidst the leadership of the research. He fails to pursue the issue further and does not explore the consequences brought by the very subjects that he is learning. Moreover, he does not distance himself while he addresses the complications brought by the gang dealing in control over people's lives and drug exercising power of individuals in the project. He ends up taking a side in the diverse debate. Thus, his research raises ethical issues, and one of the ethical dilemmas that he found himself at is when he abused the confidentiality between interviewer and interviewee.

At this point, it is clear that Venkatesh was as manipulative as J.T., and if not maybe better. His decision to hide his true colours and manipulate his subjects attenuate a rather outstanding piece of work.

Did reading Gang Leader for a Day make help you identify more or less with the problems of America’s urban poor? Why or why not?

Gang leader for a day provides an inside view into the highly intricate, morally ambiguous, frequently corrupt struggle to survive in the American urban war zone. Venkatesh provides us with an insight of what happens in the day to day lives of the urban poor people in America where the gang is the central topic of discussion. In his book, he mentions all types of evils related to a gang such as shootings, assaults, robberies and individual threats to public safety happening in this state. So yes, reading Gang leader for a day helps me identify more with the problems of America's urban poor people.

Venkatesh research helps us to understand that the poor neighbourhoods and gang problems are not only just entrenched in the neighbourhood. Many external factors play a major role in the problems faced by the American urban poor people. Such factors include the public opinions, people’s need to survive and the opinion about them. Moreover, poverty and education are inversely correlated. In his research, one can understand that the more a person is educated, the less likelihood for him or her to live in poverty. For example, Venkatesh converses with Ms Bailey on problems relating to the urban poor people. Venkatesh states that children who finish high school have a much bigger percentage of evading poverty. But Ms Bailey prompts that education is not only the key issue in resolving poverty in the community. She states that most of the families need a way to survive and to get food on their daily basis. Thus, the need to survive clamps a greater standing compared to education (Venkatesh, 2009).

The living standards of the people make one more sympathetic in that the people in the projects had to lead and live that kind of life and have little hope of ever getting out from the problem. They have to be controlled by a gang leader J.T. who manages the community with the aspect that the gang brings more benefits to the community than detriments. J.T. sets policies for the community to follow such as restrictions of prostituting and selling drugs around playgrounds and sets the punishment for individuals who go against the rules. Although he does this with a good aim, he sets up some of his orders that do not conform to the standards and laws of the country. Moreover, most people in this community are seen to be drug dealers and addicts. People embark on selling drugs in this community to make money to improve their living conditions and support their family. The drug trade has become one of the activities associated with this community and thus, if individuals withdraw from selling and trading drugs, then they would become even poorer than they are already are.

Throughout Gang Leader for a Day, Venkatesh makes a comparison between the Black Kings' drugs trafficking with more conventional forms of American business. Do you agree or disagree with these comparisons? Why?

I understand the comparison that Venkatesh is trying to bring out in his book Gang Leader for a Day, but I don't agree with this comparison or rather if it persuades me on one way or another. First, Black Kings is a group of gang members controlled by a leader, namely J.T., who sets his policies and rules upon the community. Individuals in these projects are controlled by these laws and policies. There are standards that are set in the community by the government to control individuals and business in the country, but J.T. does not follow these rules and policies. Moreover, Black King’s drug trafficking does not entail all the participants in the business. With this, I mean entrepreneurs, corporations, consumers and the government. Rather, it comprises of illegal drug traffickers who trade drugs for their betterment and survival in the community. On the other hand, the different forms of American business are mainly governed by a common statutory law set by the government. Also, the government participate in this business as well as the consumers and other corporations.

Although there are certain aspects that Venkatesh has used in his book that conforms to the different forms of American businesses, the illegal activities carried out by the gang which is accepted in the community outlays the comparison. I think that the comparison made by Venkatesh was great where, in the Black Kings, there was a board of directors who I would say are similar to the large business owners. They carry out activities the way they want them done and make a lot of profit from it. Then there are Lieutenants and Captains possessed same characteristics of the CEO's. They have lots of control and authority, but still there is someone above them who gives them order at any time and can fire them. The ranks continue all the way down. For a business, the lowest ranking would maybe be an assistant or an intern, and in the case of the Black Kings, it would be the foot-soldiers or young boys who do the clean-up and heavy lifting. Moreover, we can see that the rival gangs are competing with each other, to see who can make most of the money, just like business corporations. However, when you get down to it, the Black Kings drug trafficking is an illegal business carried out by gang members. Although it has same characteristics with the American business, I don't agree with the comparison.

How did a strong woman like Ms Bailey exert influence over the housing project? How does the exercise of female power in this book differ from the wielding of male power?

In chapter five, Venkatesh introduces us to the women living in the community who are mainly the caregivers, breadwinners and heads of the households. He is instantly impressed with the works of Ms Bailey, who appears to combine some of the maternal features of Ms Mae's with an organizational tolerance and talent for force and pressure that rivals JT's. Ms Bailey is aware of some of the social factors that affect the community from the beginning. She trusts that the white people surrounding the homes exert a huge amount of impact in the homes, shaping how people perceive them not only in the neighbourhoods but also in the project community.

Like business, the charity has its intellect within the homes. As JT argues that the Black Kings plays an important role in organizing and shaping the community, Ms Bailey, on the other hand, can state that the stores that she runs are providing her with items that she can use as donations, despite her promising other inducements and send extra customers their way. She helps individuals out who pay her for the help she offers and also provides resources she has access to, to those individuals without. Venkashen in the book shows that women who exert substantial impact do so in a way that everything has consequences and that one should pay for the help she gets. In the Homes, nothing happens without any consequences be it political, social or physical. Ms Bailey acknowledges the details and builds upon it to assist her residents (Venkatesh, 2009).

Ms Bailey wields impact over the housing project by mainly helping out families who needed her assistance. Moreover, she used her influence in public and did not seem to care what other residents would think or say about that. She gets things done in her Homes to ensure that there is peace among the residents. Moreover, she imposes meetings that are useful in enabling people to air out their grievances and perhaps making their voices heard. Another way that she exerts her influence in the housing projects is that she spells out her philosophy which states that the final results are what matters and that the end justifies the means. Although this might be viewed as an uncompromising or cruel way outside the projects, Ms Bailey contends that moral purity only exists to people who leave outside the homes, people who have the freedom of not being involved with the difficulties and intrigues of the projects (Venkatesh, 2009).

The men who have power in this book tend to show it and buy nice and expensive cars with added modifications to them, flashy expensive clothes with the aim of showing off to other. They tend to show how they hold high influence and are well respected. On the other hand, women are portrayed as helpers to the less fortunate in the community.


Venkatesh, S. (2009). Gang leader for a day. Penguin UK.

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