Sudhir Venkatesh, unlike his professors and classmates took the Chicago urban streets head on. Despite having a detailed map of areas to avoid by the university, this didn’t stop the curious mind Venkatesh of exploring the city streets of Chicago and talking to locals in the area. Venkatesh did state he had an interest in the poor black community, so he would focus his time and energy, talking, reading and questioning anything that involved the black community.
Being from a suburban area in California, Venkatesh was not exposed to the urban streets of Chicago, so walking the streets he had no fear and always wondered by the University restricted certain areas when he never witnessed no crime. Venkatesh was studying Sociology in Graduate School and while he like many of the questions that was being proposed in his seminar classes, he disliked the how sociologist had no real connections with people. He felt surveys didn’t capture the true vibrant life of Chicago. As Venkatesh states, I found it particularly curious that most of these researchers didn’t seem interested in meeting the people they wrote about.Pg 3
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In Venkatesh memoir Gang leader for a Day, he is labeled as a rogue sociologist, but he is anything away from a rogue researcher. He is a prime example who what a Sociologist should be doing. But what Venkatesh did is far from new since ethnographies does have many advantages. Qualitative research allows for one to expose their mind to those they wish to study. Sometimes sociologist forget the people aspect or sociology and just focus on numbers. According to Merriam dictionary, Sociology is the science of society, social institutions, and social relationships. Cant study social relationships without interacting with people
One advantage that qualitative research has is overt participant observation. Since Venkatesh had South East ethic background in was easy for him to blend in to his environment because he passed for Hispanic and on occasion Arabic despite being of Indian heritage. Since He was a person of color people were willing to talk to him and had a little more trust in him as opposed if he was a white man conducting the same interview. During this study we learned this one gang operated like a cooperate company with the low level employees being the grunts on the gang to the Board of Directors, just like in a big company made the most money and also made decisions how the gang is going to operate.
Another advantage of this type of research is that it allows you to know the participants on a more personal’ level. Allows you to understand the behavior, characters and other human traits that quantitative research can’t duplicate.
As a grad student Venkatesh didn’t have a lot money to do mass surveys or research, so one benefit he had on his side was researching a smaller sample size. Being that the gang and area he was researching was local to him, it saved him a lot of money by staying local. Also J.T would also pick him saving traveling cost. Also as a grad student Venkatesh had time and was extremely flexible to the gang’s time allowing him to draw a lot of data from the participants.
One of three disadvantages of qualitative research is that it is highly subjective. While Venkatesh did get a lot of insight on gang life and how the Black Kings operate in Chicago, one can argue that J.T only exposed information where it deemed fit and only showed one side of the gang life and not in its in its entirely. J.T uses Venkatesh believing he is going to write a biograph on him and Venkayesh uses. J.T to get exposure into the gang life and understand how the economy works in the gang culture. Since J.T. believes he is getting a book written about him, it is easy for to lie and misrepresent a lot of facts about how he operates his gang. Being qualitative research is subjective you would have to cross reference your study with similar studies like yours to find what is similar.
Another disadvantage is the possibility is going Native. The term going native’ refers to the danger for ethnographers to become too involved in the community under study, thus losing objectivity and distance. Usually in most qualitative research there is a fine line between obserserver and percipient. But in Gang leader for a day it we can see were Vankatesh begins to act like the parcipants around him. He spent 10 years with the gang, so it can become easy to forget one’s role in research. While he never got hurt or committed any serious crime such gun violence or killing anyone, spending 10 years with one group can cause one to sometimes lose sight on what you are researching.
Also since many participants in gang leader for a day knew they were being observed, it can be easy for many to change their behavior or show lack of behavior due to being watched.
This is known as The observer effect. One example of this is J.T. He knew Venkatesh was doing research, but changed his behavior believing Venkatesh would write a biography on him and not actual field research on project life.
When people conduct research, normally is to understand a problem and possible use to the information to pass policy to help those who need it most. But in Gang leader for a day, no one benefited from the research but Venkatesh who in a way played everyone to get a Degree from an Ivy league school while one a fellowship. While Venkatesh can wake up free of any obligations or any commitments to anyone, J.T on the other hand can’t. Also Venlatesh started his research early without knowing what he was studying, so therefore he had no department approval to conduct the research he was doing.
In the case for Gang leader for a Day, one ethical issue that is unique to qualitive research is confidilatiy. Since Venkatesh was interacting with gang members on a daily basis, Venkatesh was exposed to a lot of illegal activities that had no protection under qualitative research. Venkatesh learned that many of the gang members earned extra money from different activitya ranging from baby-sitting, carpentry, fixing cars in alleys to sex work.
The two individuals with most authority in this situation were J.T. the gang leader and Ms. Bailey who was the building manager who turned a blind eye to the gang’s activities in return for payments and protection. Both of these individuals had given their blessing to the research project and found individuals for Venkatesh to interview. They were interested in the research and Venkatesh told them what he had found out about individuals’ side businesses.
This was a problem because he has promised confidentiality to the people he was researching and there was the problem with both J.T and Ms Bailey who are on top would use this information to bully people into giving up extra money. Many of the participants in Gang leader for a day had no idea about the scopes of confidentiality and how confidentiality in qualitative research is different from a Doctor, patient or a lawyer, client confidentiality. In cases where it involves crimes, I believe it is best to disclose the scopes what is protected and what is not from the moment you meet the participants. Being upfront about what is protected allows the participant to make inform decisions on what they choose to share to and around you. Also some of the names in Gang leader for a day were not changed, thus endangering the lives of those individuals.
While I have no interest of being a qualitative researcher in the traditional sense, I believe not being gullible and native is what I can take away from reading this book. While Venkatesh did have an open mind and was interested in learning about the black community, his ignorance of street life did almost get him killed. If it was not for J.T being a former college student himself, Venkatesh could have died being so bold just to walk in random buildings expecting people to nicely talk to him about a survey about being black and poor. Being that prior to J.t. encounter, he believed since he has never witness a crime or his conversations with the middle aged black men in the park, he was free to randomly explore the projects without an understanding of how gang life works., such as the street language, gang colors, gang talk and what gangs are in the area.
To be an affective researcher I believe in scoping the area you wish to research at and being observant of the area. Go for walks in the area and shop in the area to get a feel of who and what is around you. Listen to how people talk to each other. Get to know the norms from observing the area. The more you study and area before you actually study your actually audience, the more likely you can get yourself out of trouble. Also to make the research a much easy ride to do is to know your objective. Knowing what you are looking makes you focus on that task as to oppose to looking around hoping it comes around. Maybe why Venkatesh stood as long as he did researching is because from the beginning he had no real objective to what he truly wanted to study.
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