Selling Crack in El Barrio

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In the late 80's, an anthropologist by the name of Philippe Bourgois sought the answers to questions and theories that transpires in our minds and permeates through society. Subjects involving racial marginalization within inner city culture and the dynamics of the underground economy are examined through his participant-observation of El Barrio in East Harlem NYC.

For several years, beginning in 1985 when he rented an apartment in Spanish Harlem, Philippe engaged in an ethnographic study of the street life in that haven. He befriended a Puerto Rican crack entrepreneur by the name of Ray and his subordinates Primo and Caesar. Learning street smarts was pivotal in gaining their trust. As a white man in El Barrio you were either an "undercover cop or you were a crack addict". When the trust was gained, he infiltrated their everyday lives through their underground business of selling crack in various locations in the neighborhood. He would then tape record conversations and document it for the sole purpose of his study. Their uncensored stories was the medium used in accessing data. Although being represented as a small amount of East Harlem residents, Ray and his crew "set the tone for public life, through power and fear.

Philippe's primary argument in his study of ethnic apartheid establishes that the crack economy lays the framework and supports cultural reproduction. Primo's and Caesar's experience with "the judicial system, corporate America, schools, and even Puerto Rico are determinative of their decision to embroil themselves in the underground economy and proudly embrace street culture".

The book is well written and addressed in a strong rich format of using vast theoretical approaches. Instead of relying on quantitative data and census statistics, using participant observation helped in documenting individual actions in greater detail. His research is both quantitative and qualitative because he included data from the Census and prior...
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