Category Archives: Book reviews, summaries and excerpts

Unjust rewards by Polly Toynbee and David Walker- a Summary

unjust rewardsUnjust Rewards – An Exploration of the extent of inequality in Modern Britain that looks at the contrasting lives of the rich and the poor is yet another book I should’ve read when I bought it over 2 years ago! Still it serves as an interesting basis for researching the differences between the rich and the poor, and their values and attitudes towards their situation.

Chapter one outlines some well touted stats on inequality in contemporary Britain – I won’t go into details, but one thing that stood out (actually from chapter 2) Looking at executive pay – between 2000 – 2007 average earnings in the UK grew by 30%, while chief executive pay among the FTSE 100 companies rose by 150%; in the United States, by 2007, the average chief executive was earning 600 times the average manual worker, I will update these at some point!

Chapter two, based around interviews with those in the top 0.1% of earners who work for city law and finance firms and earn between 500 000 and 1 million, outlines what the wealthy know about wages in modern Britain and how they justify their own worth.  NB – Toynbee found it difficult to gain access to this group – and they would only speak on the basis of anonymity.

These people, who have massive economic power and speak with authority on economic issues, have no idea about average incomes in the UK – firstly, they tend to underestimate just how wealthy they are – putting themselves closer to the average than they actually are – they thought that you would have to earn 162 000 to get into the top ten percent of earners, and that the poverty line stood at 22 000 – in reality the official figures stand at 40 000 and 11 000 respectively . They then offered the following justifications for their huge earnings –

  • They are the economic benefactors of the country
  • They are paid so much because they are competing with a global elite, so are top of the game globally rather than just nationally
  • If they weren’t paid so much they would take their huge talents elsewhere
  • They have worked hard for it – citing examples of pulling heroic all nighters to finish off contracts
  • On taxation – they believed they shouldn’t be taxed more because government can’t be trusted to spend money efficiently, and that their cash shouldn’t go to those on benefits because they are essentially feckless – basically citing the daily mail line.
  • They also believe they need their money to maintain a lifestyle equivalent to that of other people they mix with. This of course is a result of wealth and status inequality, Danny Dorling’s Injustice is good on this.

Of course, in reality, the above are myths – these people are not competing globally – most of them are British born, and have networked their way into their jobs via elite schools and universities – they are not interested in competition – they and their firms make their money by creating an image that they are the best at what they do and then selling their services for a huge profit, and they maintain their wages by blocking the majority of people from competing for their positions.

Chapter three investigates why Britain’s chief executives get paid so much money – basically those at the top are not especially talented people – and there is no correlation between company performance and executive pay – for every Alan Sugar there are dozens of bureaucratic pen pushers who just go with the flow. Worryingly old boy’s networks restrict access to the boards of the FTSE 100 companies – how else could it be that, in the age of globalization, 85% of CEOs of the FTSE 100 companies are British? Also, If there was true competition for these jobs the field would be much more international, and if there was genuine competition for these jobs, wages and bonuses would be driven down! Instead CEOs get paid as much as they do because they demand it – and they base their demands on what other CEOs are demanding – and their demands for ever increasing wages get pushed through at board meetings because of recommendations by consultants who make their recommendations for wage and bonus increases by looking at other CEOs salaries. Toynbee doesn’t analyse where the wage increases started from, which is an omission.

Chapter three…  ‘the discrete anxieties of the Bourgeoisie’ doesn’t hold together that well – it starts off by outlining how wealth differences within the top 0.1% of earners make those at the bottom of these 30 000 or so individuals feel relatively deprived compared to those at the top – the super rich – and it is these super rich who have pushed up property prices in London by being able to pay millions of pounds for the most exclusive properties. This sense of relative deprivation then filters down to ‘middle England’ who compare themselves to the richest 0.1% and some of whom may really struggle to have what they regard as a good quality of life (holidays etc.) on their 40 000 wage packets – especially if they live in the south east and if this is per household and they have family to support.

The next section of chapter three outlines a piece of research by the Fabian Society in which middle income earners were interviewed about the attitudes to taxation and poverty – initially they didn’t think anyone was really poor, but that those at the bottom were poor because of their own fecklessness – again, classic daily mail stuff – but once they were informed about the real situation, their attitudes softened and the groups agreed that an increase in income tax of 2 pence in the pound would be worth it to alleviate this poverty.

The next sections of the book look at the lives of the poor, and then policies that might help resolve inequality in modern Britain – will be forthcoming!

On the benefits of burning your children’s stuffed animals

Amy Chua and her daughters - who had a TV free chilhood
Amy Chua and her daughters - who had a TV free chilhood

Amy Chua’s latest book – Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother – argues against the weak, cuddling, Western parenting style, making the case that the much stricter approach of Chinese parents is superior. Some of the rules she subjected her own daughters to included –

  • Never letting them attend sleepovers
  • Never having ‘playdates’
  • never watching TV or playing computer games
  • Practising musical instruments 2-3 hours a day.

If their standards ever dropped, she called them garbage and threatened to burn their stuffed toys. There is a good overview of the main themes of the book here and she discusses the book in this video

This is a great example of a biographical piece of research giving us an insight into Chinese parenting and one that can easily be related to education…. while this is an extreme case study, and we need to be cautious of operating in stereotypes, there is wider research that suggests Chinese (and Indian) parents are stricter with their children and place a greater emphasis on the importance of educational achievement than parents of other ethnic backgrounds  – and they make greater efforts than white British parents, for exmpale,  to police their children to make sure they are doing their homework. Their children’s social lives are also policed to a higher degree – and Chinese and Indian children generally have less freedom.

One such piece of evidence is Francis and Archer (2005) –  in their study of British Chinese students and parents, similarly point to the high value placed on education by parents, coupled with a strong cultural tradition of respect for one’s elders, which facilitates the transmission of high educational aspiration from parents to children, and that students derive positive self-esteem from constructing themselves as good students.

There is a distinct correlation between stricter parenting and exam results – it is Chinese students who get the best GCSE results in English schools.

ethnity and educational achievement

Also, if you look at things cross nationally, according to OECD league tables, they come top in academic standards for reading, maths and science, while the UK comes 25th, 28th and 16th respectively, even though we spend considerably more per head of population on education.

What isn’t clear from the data (and also what you won’t get from one book about one family!)  is what exactly it is about the relationship between parents, children and education that makes Chinese students so good at exams. Is it that they put in more hours out of fear or guilt, or is it that they use thes time they do spend on education more effectively either because they are more focussed due to less TV or because they have better learning techniques… or because of something else?

It’s also worth considering whether this type of parenting is more or less conducive to producing children who  capabable of independent thought and action in later life than the more liberal parenting we typically get in the west.

Neo-Liberalism’s evil freedoms

PolanyiThe Marxist Thinker Karl Polanyi’s conception of ‘good and bad’ freedoms offers a useful starting point for criticising the recent tory cuts.

Below is a lengthy ammended passage from David Harvey’s ‘a brief history of neo-liberalism’. I was going to wait and publish the whole summary once I’d finished it (obviously within copyright limitations!) but I read this on the train this morning and it was just so pertinent I had to upload it asap!

Karl Polanyi in 1944 pointed out that in a complex society the meaning of freedom becomes contradictory. There are, he noted, two types of freedom, one good the other bad. Among the ‘ bad freedoms’ he listed ‘the freedom to exploit ones fellows, or the freedom to make inordinate gains without commensurable service to the community, the freedom to keep technological inventions from being used for public benefit or the freedom to profit from public calamities secretly engineered for private advantage. Polanyi argues that all of these types of freedom throve under a competitive market (capitalist) economy. However,  this same capitalist system that is responsible for these ‘evil freedoms’ also gives rise to ‘god freedoms’ that most of us cherish – such as Freedom of speech, freedom of meeting, freedom to choose one’s own job. 

According to Polanyi we need greater regulation of the market in order to achieve a greater amount of ‘good freedoms’ for the majority. We need, for example to restrict those types of freedom such as ‘the freedom to make gains from others without giving a commensurable service back to the community’ and this should result. In Polanyi’s own words…

‘The passing of the market economy can become the beginning of an era of unprecedented freedom. Judicial and actual freedom can be made wider and more general than ever before; regulation and control can achieve freedom not only for the few, but for all… Industrial society can afford to be both just and free.’

Unfortunately, Polanyi noted, the passage to such a future is blocked by the ‘moral obstacle’ of liberal utopianism (read ‘neo-liberalism) in which…

‘Planning and control are being attacked as a denial of freedom. Free enterprise and private ownership are declared to be essentials of freedom. No society built on other foundations is said to deserve to be called free. The freedom that regulation creates is denounced as unfreedom; the justice, liberty and welfare it offers are decried as a camouflage of slavery. ‘

The idea of freedom ‘thus degenerates into a mere advocacy of free enterprise. This means a mere pittance of liberty for the people, who may in vain attempt to make use of their democratic rights to gain shelter from the power of the owners of property.’ But if, as is always the case, ‘no society is possible in which power and compulsion are absent, nor a world in which force has no function, then the only way this liberal utopian vision could be sustained is by force, violence and authoritarianism. Liberal or neoliberal utopianism is doomed, in Polanyi’s view, to be frustrated by authoritarianism, or even outright fascism. The good freedoms are lost, the bad ones take over.

text in this blog adapted from this!
text in this blog adapted from this!

Polanyi’s analysis appears particularly relevant today given the following

  1. 1. America has persistently used military force, both covertly and overtly, to install neo-liberal states which protect the property and profit rights of the wealthy while stamping on the rights of the majority to basic public services, freedom of expression and association. Read Naomi Klein’s Shock Doctrine, for the evidence.
  2. 2. Many Corporations have profited from natural disasters and war – Halliburton and Blackwater being the most obvious.
  3. 3. You might also want to look up how Goldman Sachs is profiting from dealing in basic food supplies, pushing prices up. Sachs profits, while people in the developing world starve. Will post on this rather complex issue later.

This is a great moral and philosophical tradition from which to argue against the Tory Cuts – by cutting Corporation Tax and encouraging them to use tax havens, the Tories are allowing the elite class to have even more freedom, but by cutting public services and hassling 12 year olds that want to protest, they then limit the freedom of expression of the majority.

The argument we should be making against the Tory cuts is that there is a direct relationship between the elite class having too much of the wrong kind of freedom – these are the freedoms which cause social problems.

TORYS – IF YOU WANT THE PROTESTS TO STOP YOU NEED TO LIMIT THE EVIL FREEDOMS OF THE FEW – THE FREEDOMS WHICH HURT THE MAJORITY

Neo Liberalism and rising crime

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In this book (published 2008)Robert Reiner analyses trends in crime since the 1950s and argues that neoliberal economic policies are associated both with higher levels of serious crime than social democracies and with more punitive and inhumane crime control.

Reiner argues that there are three main historical trends in crime post World War Two:

  • 1950s – 1980s – rapid recorded crime rise
  • 1980s – 1992 – crime explosion
  • 1992 onwards – Ambiguously falling crime.

In this post I will outline Reiner’s analysis of why crime trends have varied over the last six decades, focussing especially on how neo-liberalism lead to rapidly increasing crime rates during the 1980s and 1990s.

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1950s – 1980s – rapid recorded crime rise

Reiner argues that a variety of factors lead to increasing crime during this period. Among them are –

  1. The 1950s was the decade when we entered the age of mass consumerism – it was the first decade where it was regard as normal and desirable to have a high level of consumption of material goods.
  2.  Reiner explicitly notes the role of television in ushering in a consumer culture and the norm of ‘immediate gratification’ – ‘ It is perhaps no coincidence that the rise in crime began in the same year (1955) that ITV, the first commercial channel, began to broadcast’,
  3. Reiner argues that a combination of advertising and game show culture (stressing the idea that you can get rich quick for doing nothing) undermined the previously widespread norm of deferred gratification pointing out that criminals tend to be impulsive, insensitive, risk taking and short sighted – which in his eyes also describes the perfect consumer in a capitalist society.
  4. Reiner also reminds us that the mid 1950s saw a weakening of informal and formal controls. The 50s saw the emergence of independent youth cultures and declining deference to authority.

 

1980s – 1992 – crime explosion

Maggie Thatcher - She pimped our nation to neo-liberalism, created the underclass and spawned a high crime society
Maggie Thatcher - She pimped our nation to neo-liberalism, created the underclass and spawned a high crime society

Reiner argues that the neoliberal economic policies of Margaret Thatcher’s government was the key accelerant behind this ‘crime explosion’ From this section we can identify several factors that explain an increase in the crime rate –

  1. Increasing levels of long term unemployment
  2. An increase in insecure, low paid, casual jobs (McJobs)
  3. Declining wages for unskilled workers
  4. Increasing levels of inequality
  5. A culture of egoism – the ‘me’ society
  6. The withdrawal of public services and supports, especially for women and children,
  7. The erosion of informal and communal networks of mutual support, supervision and care;
  8. The spread of a materialistic, neglectful and ‘hard’ culture;
  9. The unregulated marketing of the technology of violence
  10. The weakening of social and political alternatives to neo-liberal political economy
  11. The spread of consumerist culture
  12. Increasing social inequality and exclusion, involved a heightening of Mertion ‘anomie’.
  13. The erosion of conceptions of ethical means of success being preferable, or of concern for others limiting ruthlessness.

 

 Reiner’s take on Neo-Liberalism and how it relates to crime…

Reiner says of Neo-Liberalism – It is the economic theory and practise that has swept the world since the late 1970s. As an economic doctrine it postulates that free markets maximise efficiency and prosperity by signalling consumer wants to producers, optimising the allocation of resources and providing incentives for entrepreneurs and workers. Beyond economics, however, neo-liberalism has become the hegemonic discourse of our culture’

Neoliberalism as culture and ethic

To neoliberals free markets are associated with democracy, liberty and ethics. Welfare states they claim have many moral hazards: they undermine personal responsibility, and meet the sectional interests of public sector workers but not the public. Neoliberals advocate market discipline, wand Public- private partnerships to counteract this.

Neolieralism has spread from the economic sphere to the social and cultural. The roots of contemporary consumer culture predate neoliberal dominance, but it has now become hegemonic. Aspirations and conceptions of the good life have become thoroughly permeated by materialist and acquisitive values. Business solutions, business news and business models permeate all fields of life from sport and entertainment to charities and even crime control.

Neoliberalisation has meant the financialisation of everything, penetrating everywhere from the stuff of dreams to the minutiae of everyday life. Money has become the measure of men and women with the ‘Rich List’ and its many variations ousting all other rankings of status.

 1992 onwards – Ambiguously falling crime

_44841640_trends_in_crime_466v3

Reiner says of crime in this period  –

  1. No grand narrative can help explain wy crime is falling.
  2. He dismisses the view that zero tolerance policing and mass incarceration have reduced the crime rate – because there is considerable evidence that crime rates have fallen in countries that haven’t employed these policies. It is very important to note that the ‘tough on crime’ approach is much more likely to be found in neoliberal countries such as Britain and is part of the ideology of neoliberalism. The New Right claim it is necessary to reduce crime – but this is a false claim because crime has been decreasing elsewhere!
  3. There has been a fall in long term unemployment that partially explains the fall in crime
  4. There has been a halt in the acceleration of inequality – which at least helps to explain why crime is not growing!

Reiner finishes off by noting that today there is a paradox of security – although crime has been going down since the mid 1990s, public fears of crime have not declined at anywhere near the same rate – there is thus a ‘reassurance gap’ – one of the reasons Reiner cites for this is that when we see increased measures of control – we think they must be there for a reason – so we assume the crime rate must be high. The paraphernalia of crime control reminds us that the risk of being a victim of crime is significant.

Look out for my next blog when I’ll be summarising Reiner’s views on the relationship between neo-liberalism and tougher measures of crime control

The best books I ever read…..

Books – Ah books – If only students would read them!

My top five books with sociological content

At some point I will do a detailed analysis of why these books are in my top five – but for the most part it’s because they are typically based on rigorous research and move theoretical debates forward.   At some later point in time I will sort these by topic and add more in.

  1. Klein, N. (2008) The Shock Doctrine. London: Penguin (reprint edition).  
  2. Harvey D. (1991) The Condition of Postmodernity: An enquiry into the conditions of social change. Wiley- Blackwell.  
  3. Collier, P. (2007) The Bottom Billion – Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  4. Chomsky, N. (2004) Hegemony or Survival: America’s quest for global dominance. London: Penguin Books.  
  5. Wilkinson, R and Pickett, K. (2009) The spirit level – Why more equal societies almost always do better. London: Penguin books.   

 And some other good ones I’ve read over the years… in alphabetical order by author….

Banyard, K. (2010) The equality illusion : The truth about men and women today. London: Faber and Faber.

Bauman, Z. (2000) Liquid Modernity. London: Polity Press.

Dowden, R. (2008) Africa: Altered states, ordinary miracles. London: Portobello books.  

Furedi, F. (2005) Culture of Fear. Continuum international publishing group Ltd (Revised edition).

Giddens, G. (1999) Runaway World: How globalisation is reshaping our lives. London: Profile books.  

Goldacre, B. (2008) Bad Science. London: Harper Collins.

Harvey D. (2004) The New Imperialism. Oxford: Oxford university press.  

Heale, J. (2008) One Blood: Inside Britain’s new street gangs. Simon & Schuster Ltd; First edition First Printing edition.

Levitt, S and Dubner, S. (2005)  Freakonomics: A rogue economist explores the hidden side of everything. London: London: Penguin books.

Monbiot, G. (2000) Captive State: The corporate takeover of Britain. London: Macmillan.

Stiglitz, J. (2002) Globalisation and its discontents. London: Penguin

Toynbee, P and Walker D. (2008) Unjust Rewards: Exposing greed and inequality in Britain today. London: Granta Publications.

Venkatesh, S. (2008) Gang leader for a day: A rouge sociologist crosses the line. London: Penguin books.

23 things they don’t tell you about Capitalism

A brief summary of some of the key themes in a talk by Ha-Joon Chang based on his book ’23 things they don’t tell you about Capitalism’ – relevant to the A2 Module on Global Development – He is basically critiquing neo-liberalism.

He claims that 95% of economics is common sense deliberately made complicated and that ordinary people can understand most of economics fairly easily. He wants to help ordinary people engage in ‘active economic citizenship’ and demand the right decisions from their leaders…. I imagine he would say a big fat ‘NO’ to the Tory cuts!

This is very much along the same lines as Joseph Stiglitz and David Harvey btw…!

His basic point seams to be that Capitalism is the best economic system in world history, yet our present form of Western Capitalism (there are many types) – ie neo-liberalism – has served us very badly. We have been told that things have been going very well – what with post-industrialism and the new knowledge economy – but things have not been going well since the 1970s. Neo-Liberal policies have been very bad at generating economic growth – the world economy has slowed down massively over the last three decades. What has also happened is that the rich have got richer and many economies have become less stable.

He also points out that in those countries where neo-liberal policies have been applied the most rigourously have often seen the lowest levels of growth – such as in much of sub-sharahan Africa. Those countries that have grown the quickest – China and India did not apply neo-liberal policies to the extent that countries in Africa did.  

Anyway – just some of the points he makes – some of the things neo-liberal idealogues do not tell us about Capitalism are as follows (he is destroying the myths of free market, neo-liberal ideology)….

1. There is no such thing as a ‘free market’ – ‘freedom of the market is in the eyes of the beholder. The very definition of the ‘free market’ – who can participate, what can be bought and sold for example – is political.

2. Under neo-liberalism… Companies are not run in the interests of the owners – these days companies are owned by free floating shareholders who are primarily interested in short term profit (high dividends) which can harm the long term interests of the company – which requires investment in infrastructure and training of the workers. The shareholders can always move onto another company.

3. The market is not just – he gives two examples of two bus drivers – one in India who gets paid less than one in Germany – the chances are that the driver in India is more skilled as he drives on more dangerous roads….

4. We are still living in planned economies, despite the collapse of communism

5. Making rich people richer does not make the rest of us rich

7. People in poor countries are more entrepeneurial than people in wealthier companies…

 

NB – DEFINITION – Neo- liberalism is an economic and political ideology that believes state control over the economy is undesirable and seeks to transfer control of the economy from the state to the private sector. It gained popularity amongst politicians and influential economists following the economic crisis of the late 1970s. It involves three main policies –

 

  • Deregulation – Nation States placing less restraint on private industry. In practise this means fewer laws that restrict companies making a profit – making it easier for companies to fire workers, pay them less, and allowing them to pollute.
  • Privatisation – where possible public services such as transport and education should be handed over to private interests for them to run for a profit.
  • Cut backs in public spending – taxes should be low and so investment in public services would be cut back.

Book summary – One Blood

Heale-275x415Book – One Blood – Inside Britain’s New Street Gangs – John Heale, 2008.

This focuses on just some of the themes in this book –

This book is based mainly on interviews with gang members based in London, Manchester, Liverpool and elsewhere in Britain, and provides an empathetic and some may say sympathetic insight into gang life in modern Britain.

Heale focuses mainly on the wider social and economic background in which most of the gang members he interviews have grown up and argues that there is a link between living in a deprived, high crime area with limited opportunities and the emergence of gang culture. One can discern four major reasons why individuals join gangs –

Firstly, Heale reminds us many current gang members, would have been victims of crime numerous times before they joined a gang, and this experience of being a victim of crime, is often what leads people to joining a gang.

Heale uses data from the British Crime Survey to demonstrate how crime is highly concentrated in poorer areas. He points out that if you are a teenage boy living in a gang area, it is a near certainty that you will have been a victim of crime at some point, and probably a repeat victim, In this context, joining a gang makes sense as it is a way of protecting yourself from being a victim of crime – it is a rational response to living in a high crime area.

This is illustrated this by the case of how one 13 year old, Daniel, came to join a gang – It started with him being punched in the face by a member of a gang in a local park. His brother, already a member of another gang, took vengeance on his behalf – in school – which lead to Daniel spending more time with his elder brother – which eventually lead to him getting introduced to his brother’s gang.

Secondly, many of Heal’s interviewees have come from broken families, having parents with drug problems who are disinterested in their children and many youths would have witnessed domestic violence from a young age – and would have grown up with the feeling that nobody really cares about them.

Thirdly, Heale reminds us that living in poverty and being marginalized from the rest of society is normal in gang areas . Following. Gangs typically emerge on sink housing estates – with poor, marginalized people being crammed together in one area. In these areas we have high levels of debt and stress. Today, we have a new generation of kids that have known nothing other than these estates – and it is this generation that are joining gangs.  

To illustrate how geographically isolated people on these estates are – Heale points out that the typical gang member has a very local world view – they spend most of their time in their local area and tend to associate their particular territory with their peers and thus with protection and safety – when interviewed, many gang members perceive going to the London Eye as a trip abroad. Gang members don’t generally think outside their local boundaries – and Heale argues that the rest of the country may as well be a different nation as far as he is concerned. He in fact argues that the experience of life in an area dominated by gangs is very different from life in most other parts of Britain.

Finally, there is a lack of legitimate opportunities in the kinds of areas where gangs emerge. Gang members do not see any legitimate opportunities in training or working their way out, and they can earn a lot more money getting involved with selling drugs within the context of a gang. Most gang members see their part of being a gang as a way of ‘getting out’ of the ghetto – as evidence he cites Professor John Pitts who speculates that those at the top of a drugs chain in the Walthom Forest area of London, one  could earn as much as £130 000 a year from drug dealing.

Thus the experience of life for a typical person living in gangland today, and for your typical gang member, would have involved being brought up in a broken home, poverty and relative deprivation, being a multiple victim of crime, and one of frustrated opportunities. Heale’s analogy for Gangland is that it is like a ‘boot perpetually stamping on a human face’ – This experience of early socialization encourages individuals to think of the short term – rather than planning for the long term, because for them, there is no long term future, other than prison or death, and this is enough for many people in these gang areas to become emotionally detached from the consequences of their actions.

So according to Heale it is this context of economic and social deprivation that explains why people join gangs and also helps to explain some of the extremely violent crimes that some gang members engage in.

Book review – Gang leader for a day:

gang1Gang leader for a day: A rogue sociologists takes the streets by Sudhir Venkatesh (2009)

If you only have time to read one sociology book during the syllabus on Crime and Deviance then read this. This is one of the most engaging and important works of ethnography to have been published in recent years in which a Sociologist engages in long term participant observation with a crack dealing gang in Chicago.

 
There is an excellent extended summary of the book here – http://www.nytimes.com/2008/01/16/books/16grimes.html and you can also listen to Venkatesh talk about his research here –

 

 

Just some of the reasons this text is relevant to A level students –

1. It demonstrates some of the practical and ethical problems of doing PO.
2. It reminds us that we should be cautious about generalizing about the strengths and weaknesses of this method – Venkatesh found it difficult to get valid information out of anyone other than JT the gang leader because his close links with JT made other members of the community suspicious of him (they though he was JT’s spy).
3. It dispels myths about the ‘glamour of gang culture’ – as Levitt says in the video below, dealing drugs in a gang is probably the worst job in America.
4. It adds to our knowledge about why people join gangs – we will cover this in class, but interestingly this quote from a Q and A session with Venkatesh stood out –

Q: How do gang members see themselves as fitting in with society at large? Do gang members have a real comprehension that the things they do are widely perceived as not only illegal but also morally wrong?
A: Many gang members who attain leadership status are deeply conscious of their perception by wider society. They tend to make two arguments when discussing their behavior: first, that whites also work in the underground economy but are not prosecuted to the same degree and second, that corporations also engage in criminal activity, but are rarely viewed as outlaws —[many] companies… have established histories of supporting anti-democratic regimes in developing counties to secure their own profits….It is important to look at the world from the perspective of the gang member — who sees everyone as a hustler.”

http://freakonomics.blogs.nytimes.com/2007/08/06/everything-you-always-wanted-to-know-about-street-gangs-but-didnt-know-whom-to-ask/

In this you tube clip Steven Levitt provides an interesting analysis of crack- cocaine dealing in the USA – at least the first 3 minutes sound interesting, which is all I’ve had time to watch so far!

 

The only downsides to the book are that the research ended more than ten years ago, which is unsurprising given the sensitive nature of the criminal activities dealt with in the book, and the fact that it is US based, which stems from the fact that Sociologists don’t tend to do in depth research of this nature – Venkatesh is in fact a ‘Rogue Sociologist’ because he is breaking away from the tradition of quantitative research that keeps a distance between researcher and respondent.

Of course these aren’t really criticisms, just me saying it’s a shame there aren’t more research studies of a similar nature!