Innovate Your Life
In the book, Gang Leader for a Day by Sudhir Venkatesh, a sociology student from the University of Chicago starts out simply trying to understand “how it feels to be poor and black,” and ends up spending years and years figuring out the ins and outs of a gang society (Venkatesh 14). Sudhir receives the chance of a sociologist’s lifetime to see first-hand what life is like in the projects. He follows gang leader, J.T. around and studies his life at the Robert Taylor homes for years. Throughout Venkatesh’s experience he witnesses many things some people go a lifetime without seeing. For example, he was no stranger to seeing people use drugs or get beat up by gang members. One interesting aspect of Venkatesh’s experiment is the community aspect of the gang life. Although it was hard for Venkatesh to understand during his adventure, even the gang had a sense of what it was like to help out their community and how important it was. There were a lot of aspects of the book that showed the sociological perspective of the Robert Taylor community. The book Gang Leader for a Day shows the sociological perspective by bringing Robert Merton’s structural strain theory to life.
Robert Merton created the structural strain theory in 1938. This theory states that deviance occurs when a society does not give all of its member’s equal ability to achieve socially acceptable goals (Conley 192). The goals Merton is referring to is the ‘American dream’; everyone wants to have a good job, a nice home, and a nice family. In the strain theory Merton talks about 5 different types of people that make up society. There are conformists, innovators, ritualists, retreatists, and rebels. Conformists are the people who accept the goals of society and the means of achieving those goals. Innovators accept the goals of society but find new means of achieving these goals. That’s where J.T. falls. Ritualists don’t really accept the goals of society but they accept the means of achieving those goals, they often do the bare minimum to get by. Retreatists don’t accept the goals or the means of society and lastly, rebels are the people who don’t accept the goals of society or the means of achieving those goals but they create their own goals while using new means to get there.
J.T. is the leader of a gang called the Black Kings. This gang lives in the Robert Taylor homes in Chicago and runs their “businesses” there. Venkatesh finds out that this group sells drugs for money but the more he learns about this group he finds more and more interesting ways they earn their money. When Sudhir first met J.T. he admitted that “the last word I expected to exit this man’s mouth was ‘college’” (Venkatesh 19). J.T. surprised him when he told him that he had “gone to college on and athletic scholarship and found that he loved reading about history and politics” (Venkatesh 27). Venkatesh came to find out that J.T. had a corporate job after college and within two years he quit that job and returned to the gang life due to feeling that his “chances of success were limited because he was black” (Venkatesh 27). It is always said (especially now a days) how important it is for people to attend college now. You always hear left and right that you’ll need a degree to be successful and people often look down on you if you decide to take another route instead of college. People accept college as one of the means to reach the American dream. That’s what makes J.T. the perfect example of an innovator. Although he belongs to a gang which is often frowned upon in society, he accepted the means of achieving the American dream by attending college and getting a degree. Another aspect of the American dream that people accept is having a successful job. Most people would say that an acceptable successful job would mean a 9 to 5, Monday through Friday, job. But that depends on how you measure your success. J.T. may not be considered successful in the eyes of the business...
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