Gang leader for a day

In my book I prefaced my outline of the ethnography of Daoist ritual with some general background:

Ethnographers may study any people—a hairdresser in Barnsley, shamans in Brazil, a street gang in Chicago, and so on.

While the Barnsley hairdresser was a fantasy (I can’t find one online—an ethnography, I mean, not a hairdresser—but who knows?), Chicago street gangs have long been a popular theme of anthropologists.

After the more weighty tomes of the Chicago school, Sudhir Venkatesh’s Gang leader for a day (2008, reviewed herehere, and here), based on a decade’s troubled engagement, is the kind of pop ethnography that I admire. He does for Chicago what Nigel Barley did for the Dowayo.

He also lays bare moral dilemmas that are a constant concern for ethnographers. To repeat, all kinds of social activity are their proper domain. For China, this would include not just ritual specialists but cadres and sex workers—who somehow seem like a suitable pairing.

4 thoughts on “Gang leader for a day

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