Essay, Research Paper
In Search of Respect
An Analysis of the Work of Bourgois
In his book, In Search of Respect, Philippe Bourgois discussed his experiences living in El Barrio (East Harlem). An interesting new insight into the street culture found in New York was captured in this book. The amount of poverty in this portion of our country is much higher than that in most other areas. Bourgois argues that this neighborhood, which is well known for high rates of violence, does not have widespread violence occurring amongst all of it?s members. The higher crime rate, argues Bourgois, occurs for the most part within the factions of the underground economy. Some insight into this economy would explain the reasons for higher rates of violence.
This book is a summary of the events that occurred during Bourgois? stay in El Barrio. The original purpose of the book was to write a first-hand account of poverty and ethnic segregation in the heart of one of the world?s largest cities. Bourgois was swept into the area drug economy because of the abundance of information from the dealers and their families who all lived within the immediate area. The problem was so prevalent that the focus of the book was changed to deal exclusively with the underground drug economy.
Most of the accounts given in the book come from a single crack house near Bourgois? tenement. The group of crack dealers filtered through Bourgois present a compelling argument that reform within the economy needs to take place in order to reduce the amount of violence within the inner-cities of the United States.
Bourgois states that there is a strong feeling of community among the people living in El Barrio. Those people not involved in the drug market rarely encounter violence themselves because the dealers have nothing to fear from them. Bourgois states that, during the day, children are safely left to play in the streets unattended by their parents. At night, when the legitimate working force of the community is eating dinner or asleep, is when the brunt of violence takes place.
The amount of drug dealers or crack houses is an indirect result of the lost jobs in Harlem. Bourgois states that many of the unemployed in the inner-city are not successful in finding work because they lack the skills of working efficiently with people that they don?t already have an every day relationship with, something that factory jobs provided. Factory jobs that moved out of the inner-cities left the large minority groups without a collective workplace where everybody knew their task and how to complete it. The current availability of jobs within the inner-city is mostly within the service sector. These jobs are individualized jobs where independence is required rather than a group effort. The jobs pay little and aren?t generally respected. This tends to lead many people within this community to become involved in the drug economy.
Within the drug market of East Harlem, the dealers use frequent displays of violence in order to scare off thieves, professional holdup artists, and other drug dealers. This violence is seen among the dealers and the overall underground economy as a form of “investment in one?s ?human capital development.?” This means that by creating an amount of fear among the people who may try to rip off the dealers, they are indeed protecting themselves from harm, theft, or loss of business. The result is a high risk of harm to those who participate in the drug economy.
Bourgois argues that, to reduce the violence within the drug community, we should consider the decriminalization of drugs. This would force small time dealers out of business, eliminating the need for them to commit violence amongst themselves, while making the streets safer for all citizens. This would also provide employment to those within the community that are having difficulty finding work within the mainstream economy.
Bourgois? portrayal of the dealers and their families makes it difficult for the reader not to feel sympathy and compassion towards them. His argument is well defined and persuasive due to the fact that he moved his family to the area in which he was studying and had the courage to get in and really interact with the people of this community. The way in which he writes also compliments his argument by drawing the reader in and making him feel like he himself were there. Many may not agree with the solution that Bourgois suggests, but everyone who reads the book will re-think their own views before discussing them again.
1. Bourgois, Philippe. In Search of Respect. Cambridge University Press, New York. 1995
Bourgois, Philippe. Insearch of Respect. Cambridge University Press, New York. 1995