The excerpt from the work In Search of Respect: Selling Crack in El Barrio by Philippe Bourgois introduces the reader to the problems of crack dealers in East Harlem, New York City. The researcher, a professor of anthropology, analyzes the reasons which make the inhabitants of a poor neighborhood engage in drug dealing.
The main idea of the work is that the primary reason for the existence of the underground (untaxed) economy, particularly the drug economy, is the social marginalization and alienation of some groups of people in the inner-city environment (Bourgois 232). What makes the argument more solid is that the researcher himself spent some time talking to the crack dealers of East Harlem and presented their opinions as evidence supporting his argument. Bourgois reports that the studied individuals wanted him to learn about their social alienation and struggle for survival rather than their drug-selling operations (Bourgois 232). The author also argues that not only economic problems push impoverished people into the crack trade but also the humiliation that they face from the middle class and well-to-do (Bourgois 236). Bourgois considers that wounded pride is an important factor that influences the choices and decisions of people, and the case of East Harlem crack dealers is no exception. He explains that male socialization makes impoverished men reluctant to seek low-paid jobs in customer service, thus making them look for income elsewhere (in the crack economy) to provide a living for themselves and often also women and children (Bourgois 235).
The problem presented and analyzed in this work can be placed into a broader sociological context. Bourgois explains that the problem is structural in nature: in the last several decades, the number of factory jobs in New York City has fallen dramatically while the job openings in the sphere of service have multiplied. For minorities and people from a disadvantaged background, getting a well-paid job in the sphere of service is much more challenging (for instance, it requires high education) than in the industry. To survive and preserve their dignity, disadvantaged people either quit legal jobs or combine them with illegal ones, such as selling drugs, even though the working conditions in the underground economy may be much worse than in the legal economy. The researcher also explains how gender-based socialization impacts an individual’s choice of the way to provide themselves a living. Having fulfilled a sociological analysis of the phenomenon, Bourgois concludes that an ethical and political reevaluation of the key sociological models and values is necessary to find a solution for the described problem.
In my opinion, it is highly important that Bourgois has included such significant factors as dignity and humiliation into his analysis. Researchers in anthropology and sociology often focus on economic factors and their connection with race and discrimination, which is surely needed for research, but they rarely bring up the problem of dignity, how it is impacted by gender-based socialization, and how it influences peoples’ lives along with other factors. In addition to this, Bourgois has performed a thorough and detailed analysis of the economic and social factors that have an impact on the lives of the inhabitants of East Harlem, which makes his work comprehensive and worthy of reading.
In conclusion, Philippe Bourgois has performed the analysis of economic, social, and psychological factors that make the inhabitants of a disadvantaged neighborhood choose jobs in the drug economy rather than in the legal economy. More research in this direction is needed to work out adequate political solutions for this problem.
Bourgois, Philippe. “In Search of Respect: Selling Crack in El Barrio.” Mapping the Social Landscape: Readings in Sociology. Ed. Susan J. Ferguson. New York City, New York: McGraw-Hill, 2008. 231-242. Print.