Book Review with use of sociological theories of: Ain't No Makin'It: Aspirations & Attainment in a Low-Income Neighborhood by Jay MacLeod

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Ain't No Makin' It, was insightfully written by Jay MacLeod. MacLeod conducted his study as an undergrad student attending a nearby university. His goal was to observe people in their own setting to begin to understand and test certain theories. The three main theories that will be used to support the book are Merton's Strain Theory, Sutherland's Differential Association Theory, and Karl Marx's Achievement Ideology. The book follows the lives and academic and economic struggles of teenagers from the Clarendon Heights low-income housing development.

Clarendon Heights was a neighborhood that was looked down upon by society. Many felt that Clarendon Heights residents choose to live in community housing and should feel shameful, and could change the way in which they live if they had a strong desire to do so. It was hard for residents from the housing project to be equal to other citizens outside of the project. When asked their address while shopping and banking they would receive looks of disappointment, skepticism, and even alarm.

MacLeod conducted interviews with fifteen teenage boys from the housing community. Of this fifteen, there are two groups of boys; the Hallway Hangers and the Brothers. The groups were from the same housing community and had similar backgrounds, but shared different outlooks, views, morals, values, and goals. In this community, 65% were White while 25% were Black, and single women headed the households.

The Hallway Hangers, (given the name because they hung out in certain hallways of the projects), were a group of racist pessimistic White boys (with the exception of one whom was Black and the other was mixed) in the respect that they did not feel their life would improve. They choose to be delinquent by not seeking jobs to support themselves, and choose a life of crime. They were alcohol and drug abusers, and they tormented residents and the Brothers. The Hallway Hangers did not see a reason to conform to society's norms, because they were from a subculture, otherwise, they were outcasts' of society. This is a surprising twist because often times you may find minorities with the pessimistic views of the Hallway Hangers.

The mothers of the Hallway Hangers had little or no education with the exception of one mother who had a high school education. Families of the boys were not employed and depended on aid from the government or committed unlawful acts to survive and make ends meet. They did not have support from their families, and it appeared that the mothers did not enforce school attendance. The Hallway Hangers made the decision to place blame on others for their misfortunes.

Merton's Strain theory suggests that poverty causes crime. As explained by "Strain is understood in two ways: social processes and personal experiences. Structural strain refers generally to the processes by which inadequate regulation at the societal level filters down to how the individual perceives his or her needs. Individual strain refers to the frictions and pains experienced by the individual as they look for ways to meet their needs (the motivational mechanism that causes crime)". "Merton's Strain Theory is a "means-end theory of deviance" crime breeds in the gap between culturally induced aspirations for economic success and structurally distributed possibilities of achievement" (

The Hallways hangers were lethargic, unmotivated, careless, disrespectful, and had no respect for authority. They figured that upward mobility was not an option, and they would not waste their time to achieve success. Therefore, crime was the easiest way to get money. One may view the Hallways Hangers as innovators because they lacked the means to obtain shared goals and turned to illegal ways to achieve valued cultural means. Another approach would be that they are also retreativist because they lack the means and do not share society's goals. The youth grew up in poverty, and they do...
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