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Example research essay topic: El Barrio Puerto Ricans - 1,330 words

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... ion. In each case the activity is kept hidden (since it is illegal) and makes money-or saves it when tax fraud or evasion is involved -- for the person who carries it out. The female subjects of the study are as equally marginalized as their male counterparts.

However, the fact of their gender disenfranchises them further from the mainstream societies and its benefits. It is noted than less than one-third of the impoverished mothers of El Barrio receive public assistance. Female heads of impoverished households must supplement their meager checks in order to keep their children alive and thus are likely to engage in the informal economy though in not the obviously illegal ventures of many of the male population. "Many are mothers who make extra money by babysitting their neighbors' children, or by housekeeping for a paying boarder. Others may barton at one of the half-dozen social clubs and after-hours dancing spots scattered throughout the neighborhood. Some work 'off the books' in their living rooms as seamstresses for garment contractors. Finally, many also find themselves obliged to establish amorous relationships with men who are willing to make cash contributions to their household expenses. " Bourgois proves himself as 'street-wise' to the locale of his study as were any of the great anthropologists 'culture-wise' to the societies of their attention.

He lives and works as one of them, but yet does not allow the inhabitants of the world he portrays as members of some primitive tribe of scientific interest. He notes that "the self-conscious reflexivity called for by postmodernists was especially necessary in [his] case" as he was an "outsider from the larger society's dominant class, ethnicity, and gender attempting to study the experience of inner-city poverty among Puerto Ricans. " (Bourgois: 1995; 13) Unlike traditional anthropologists, Bourgois is an advocate for change and reform. The common characteristics of the drug users and entrepreneurs that supposedly separate them from mainstream America are shown to be illusory. We find these supposed criminals of El Barrio merely to be pursuing the American Dream through the most realistic mechanism that presents itself under the circumstances which happens to be within the underground economy particularly the crack trade.

The obvious strength of the work is its insight into the thought processes of the subjects involved in the underground drug economy of El Barrio. Bourgois's liberal use of transcripts of conversations from the many hours he spent with members of a gang of drug dealers in El Barrio relates the way these men and women view and understand their circumstances. The book's combination of the crack dealers discourse in their own words and Bourgois's discussions of the broader social and economic framework provides an intuitive emphasis on the interface between the structural constraints of their socioeconomic circumstances and the rationale behind the decisions guiding their individual actions. In Search of Respect keeps its focus on the dynamics of the social marginalization and alienation experienced by the people caught in this economic niche. In this view, drugs and violence are merely symptoms, or symbols of deeper change in the culture of modern America. The actions of these young drug dealers are, for Bourgois, nothing more or less than an alternative forum for an autonomous personal dignity denied by mainstream culture.

Yet another strength of Bourgois's monograph is its innovative attempt to 'decolonize' urban anthropology by synthesizing a number of re-inventive threads -- a form of new-Marxist political economy, experiments in interpretative and reflexive ethnographic analysis. The author also touts a feminism that underscores the impact race, class, and the misogynist violence of mainstream culture has upon gender. Underlying this synthesis is a concerted effort to resist reinforcing popular racist and socioeconomic stereotypes. Bourgois strives continually to understand and contextualize the self-destructive daily life of the people he studied in El Barrio. The problem In Search of Respect has with balancing the "in-your-face" (Nancy Super-Hughes on the dust jacket) report of street culture and the cultural context of this report intellect and everyday life of El Barrio is forced into an interpretative analysis that makes the author's cultural abstractions a reality. This obscures the actions at center stage rather than illuminating them.

One example of this is that there are Puerto Ricans living in the same neighborhood who are very different from the crack dealers. These people hold steady legal jobs and subscribe to more mainstream values about dignity. Bourgois acknowledges that these people exist, but the strategy of their struggle is nowhere to be found in the interpretative argument Bourgois presents for life and dignity in El Barrio. Another is the assertion that the workers in the Game Room express deep humiliation and insecurity when they talk about their efforts to enter the legal world of office or service work.

They believe their supervisors see them as inarticulate, idiotic, and low class. The discussion of the difficulties that subjects have holding such jobs where they feel "dissed" by female supervisors is quite provocative with an undercurrent of misogynist philosophy. He subtitles that chapter "Disrespect and resistance, " but the "disrespect" seems to be standard managerial behavior. The "resistance" is not exactly insurrectionist rage but thievery, general incompetence, and unwillingness to acculturate to standard work practices. This is perhaps leftover from the cultural ideologies that survive the diaspora from rural, patriarchal, and macho Puerto Rico.

Bourgois' thoughts on the theory and practice of anthropological investigation are also of interest. "Suffering, " he writes, "is usually hideous; it is a solvent of human integrity, and ethnographers never want to make the people they study look ugly. This imperative to sanitize the vulnerable is particularly strong in the United States, where survival-of-the-fittest, blame-the-victim theories of individual action constitute a popular 'common sense'. " (Bourgois: 1995; 17) He proposes a different common sense, in which poverty and hopelessness play key roles. Ortner agrees in article stating that culture "derives from the logic or organization of action, from people operating within certain institutional orders, interpreting their situations in order to act coherently within them. " (130) The scope of Bourgois' work is important in the field of urban anthropology. Field workers are commonly called upon to work amidst some of the most violent specimens of society. "Classical ethnographers have assumed that such representatives can be found or that they will come forth voluntarily so that ethnographers need only cultivate and build rapport with them. Crack sellers and upper-level dealers, however, have very good reasons to insulate their identities, locales, and illegal activities from everyone. " (Williams, 1992) Nevertheless, these segments of society need to be studied if one is to have a full grasp of all sectors of urban anthropology. If nothing else, Phillippe Bourgois has shown that the study of the dangerous side of political economy need not be disregarded in favor of 'safer's ocieties.

Bibliography: Works Cited Bourgois, Philippe. 1995. In Search of Respect: Selling Crack in El Barrio. New York: Cambridge University Press. 1995. "Workaday World, Crack Economy" Nation. 12 / 4 / 95, Vol. 261 Issue 19, p 706, 5 p Ferguson, James. 1997. Culture, Power, Place. Durham NC: Duke University Press Freudenberg, Nicholas, et al. 1999. "Coming Up in the Boogie Down: The Role of Violence in the Lives of Adolescents in the South Bronx. " Health Education & Behavior, Dec 99, Vol. 26 Issue 6, p 788, 18 p Golden, Richard M. 1993. Social History of Western Civilization.

New York: St. Martin's Press Johnson, Allen W and Timothy Earle 1987. The Evolution of Human Societies. Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press. Macionis, John and Vincent Parrillo 2000. Cities and Urban Life. 2 nd edition.

Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall More, Thomas. 1990. Utopia. New York: Penguin Classics. Translated from the Latin by Paul Turner.

Ortner, Sherry. 1984. "Theory in Anthropology Since the Sixties. " In Society for Comparative Study of Society and History. Williams, Terry 1991 "Personal Safety in Dangerous Places" Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, Oct 92, Vol. 21 Issue 3, p 343

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Research essay sample on El Barrio Puerto Ricans

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