Professor of the Streets
By Margaret Lyons in News on Jan 16, 2008 9:02PM
Columbia University professor Sudhir Venkatesh will pop a cap in your ass. No joke.
It's been a week since Venkatesh's most recent book, Gang Leader for a Day: A Rogue Sociologist Takes to the Streets was published, and the critical response is unanimous: OMG! What a total badass!
The book chronicles Venkatesh's experiences while conducting field work in the now-demolished Robert Taylor Homes. We know this gangbangin' prof; he's co-authoring a work-in-progress high-profile Chicago prostitution study with Freakonomics author Steven Levitt. And two years ago, the "rogue sociologist" published a slightly more scientific account of his South Side escapades in Off the Books: The Underground Economy of the Urban Poor to critical acclaim. If readers of that book didn't grasp the full extent to which he immersed himself in gang culture, this book leaves no doubt. He was in tight with a crack-dealing gang.
As New York Times reviewer William Grimes puts it, "when a rival gang sweeps by, guns blazing, he dodges bullets and helps drag a gang lieutenant to safety. When local squatters mete out street justice to a crackhead who has beaten a woman in the projects, he gets a boot in." Nice. Venkatesh's introduction is almost as good:
I hadn't come for the crack; I was here on a different mission. I was a graduate student at the University of Chicago, and for my research I had taken to hanging out with the local crack-selling gang… I washed my face, grabbed a slice of cornbread, and headed outside into a breezy, brisk March morning. Just another day in the ghetto.