In his book In Search of Respect: Selling Crack in El Barrio, Philippe Bourgois describes his life in East Harlem, otherwise known as El Barrio, and gaining the trust of the neighborhood’s drug dealers. Through personal observations and conversations with local criminals, he reveals a unique culture among them. The author goes into great detail while describing this culture, making several major arguments about it:
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- Bourgois argues that a reputation for violence is crucial for one’s social standing in East Harlem’s criminal groups. He observed a prevalence of violence in El Barrio’s social structure. He claims that advancement in the criminal society “requires a systematic and effective use of violence against one’s colleagues, one’s neighbors, and, to a certain extent, against oneself” (Bourgois, 2003, p. 24). This is one of the central arguments of the book, since this is one of the major factors that comprise the neighborhood’s culture.
- Bourgois argues that East Harlem operates according to the principles of a culture of terror. It extends past violence to a general sense of distrust, with constant violent events creating an “omnipresent threatening reality that extended far beyond the statistical possibility of becoming a victim” (Burgois, 2003 p. 34). Although the neighborhood’s population has generally adjusted to it, this culture of terror affects its outside perception and, therefore, creates a hostile environment and leads to incidents like police brutality.
- Bourgois argues throughout chapter 2 that East Harlem was historically a center of organized crime, which perpetuated itself. He explains that “the historical continuity of visible substance abuse… have the profound effect of repeatedly socializing new generations of ambitious, energetic youngsters into careers of street dealing and substance abuse” (Bourgois, 2003, p. 69). He points to records as early as 1893 denouncing organized crime. He further argues that it has had a profound effect on the day-to-day lives of the neighborhood’s inhabitants and contributes to the existing culture. In general, these observations and arguments describe a unique culture that has formed within East Harlem over decades, which extends beyond the criminal circles and is predicated upon violence and distrust.
Bourgois, P. (2003). In Search of Respect: Selling Crack in El Barrio (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.