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12/12/2006 Archived Entry: "New book on the urban underground economy"

VELLY INTELLESTING ... Off the Books (Wolfesblog Amazon.com link) is a new and different study that takes a micro-look at the urban underground economy.

Sudhir Venkatesh, student researcher, was originally sent into the Chicago slums with typical intellectual tools. As Slate put it in an article aptly titled "Ghetto Capitalism":

[Venkatesh] entered poor black Chicago neighborhoods armed with a wonky questionnaire while studying urban poverty in the late 1980s. The typical response to questions like, "How do you feel about being poor and black?" was so contemptuous that Venkatesh wondered whether, in addition to the multiple choice answers ranging from a) Very Bad to e) Very Good, he should perhaps have appended f) for Fuck You.

Eventually, Venkatesh jettisoned the survey and adopted a less orthodox methodology. He calls it "hanging out." He spent years in a 10-square-block neighborhood on Chicago's South Side observing the clandestine work of gangbangers and mechanics, prostitutes and pastors. The result, Off the Books: The Underground Economy of the Urban Poor, suggests that in some American neighborhoods, the underground economy is a source not just of sustenance but of order, and that while shady transactions may be illegal, they adhere to a distinctive and sophisticated set of laws.

Ah. Community at work. This is one book I'm definitely gonna read soon. And maybe somebody ought to do a similar "hang out" study of the rural underground economy -- which I'm convinced is basically the economy in areas like mine.

Posted by Claire @ 03:24 PM CST

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