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Ain't No Makin' It: Aspirations and Attainment in a Low-Income Neighborhood

3.99  ·  Rating Details ·  772 Ratings  ·  44 Reviews
 This classic text addresses one of the most important issues in modern social theory and policy: how social inequality is reproduced from one generation to the next. With the original 1987 publication of Ain’t No Makin’ It Jay MacLeod brought us to the Clarendon Heights housing project where we met the “Brothers” and the “Hallway Hangers.” Their story of poverty, race, an ...more
Paperback, Third Edition, 537 pages
Published July 29th 2008 by Westview Press (first published July 14th 1987)
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Aug 15, 2013 Clif rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
So you think you are an individual, self-sufficient, a rational decision maker, responsible for where you are in life? It is a comfortable idea for the successful, to be able to take a nice warm shower in your own self-image, but it's hell for those at the bottom. Far from the conservative image of deadbeats who look for a free ride on the backs of hard-working people, this book shows how the poor share the idea of personal responsibility and beat themselves up mercilessly for their plight. From ...more
May 01, 2011 Jessica rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
Ain't No Makin' It: Aspirations & Attainment in a Low-Income Neighborhood was an assignment for my Foundations of Sociology and Culture class. It's an ethnographic study of two groups of teenage boys living in a housing project in New Hampshire in the 1980s and 90s.

It's interesting, if depressing, material. One group of boys, primarily white, is cynical about their futures and spends most of the time hanging out in a hallway, drinking and smoking weed and crack. The other group, primarily b
Miss Night
An academic dissertation: interesting from a clinical perspective, but not necessarily engaging on an emotional level.
Fajar Martha
The book has taught me everything there is to know about ethnography. The fact that The Brothers -- predominantly black teenager -- are more positive towards America's achievement ideology is baffling, thus as a non American reader made me curiously followed subsequent pages to know what happen to them in the future (job-related life, changed perceptions, etc). Their counterparts, on the contrary, Hallway Hangers (whom Macleod compared to Paul Willis' lads), were had realised from their early ag ...more
Jul 19, 2010 Marie rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is actually the author's thesis, repackaged and updated, largely consisting of interviews with disaffected youth in a particular inner-city housing project. What he finds are two groups in the project - the "Hallway Hangers", white, drug-using, school-skipping miscreants, and the "Brothers", black, hard-studying, 'good kids'. MacLeod is interested in their "leveled ambitions" - meaning that the way these boys temper their dreams to their reality. The most ambitious dream among the Hallway H ...more
Crystal Belle
May 22, 2012 Crystal Belle rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: grad-school
Overall, I respect MacLeod's ethnographic study which followed a group of young white and black men in a housing project in New Hampshire in the 80s. He did a great job of applying Bourdieu's social reproduction theory to the everyday lives of the young men and even during his 8 year follow up after the initial study. Although I have serious issues with the fact that he did not reveal that he was doing research on the young men until a year into his study, I can understand why he might have beli ...more
Nov 04, 2014 Beth rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jun 15, 2009 Kelly rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Really good book, especially for the sociologically-inclined but pretty depressing. Very eye-opening in terms of understanding the lower class and aspiration formation. Amazing the first half was his senior thesis--i suck.

Favorite quote (from Frankie, the leader of the Hallway Hangers): I grew up thinking I was a bad fucking kid....I look back there—there aren’t any bad kids—there’s a lotta kids that just had a f*cking tough life (255).
Mar 09, 2016 Keena rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"Our occupational structure is shaped much like the Eiffel Tower. There is little room at the top, a larger but still limited number of tolerably well-paid positions in the middle, and near the bottom a wide band of inferior positions (with no "positions" at all for the unemployed). This roughly pyramidal structure ensures that even if everyone excels in school and strives ceaselessly for the top, the great majority are automatically bound to be disappointed."
Aug 04, 2011 David rated it it was amazing
This is probably one of the best books I've ever read about sociological concepts. There are two groups of ideologically composed kids whose lives and thoughts are analyzed as they live and grow older. It seems like a lot at first glance but it's an easy read. Most of the text is composed of interviews of the different boys, and their views on the present and future. It got me emotionally at one point, and that doesn't happen very often. Powerful stuff!
Feb 17, 2009 Anna rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I love reading studies that follow-up with their subjects years later. This book follows two groups of high school boys living in a project in the 1980’s and applies sociological theories to their views on life and possible life outcomes. The author follows up with each boy eight years later and discusses possible reasons for their life outcomes to that point. I’d say its predictable, but also not so much. Is life what you make of it or what society makes of you?
I had to read parts of this book for a class I was taking on social class. Parts of this book were incredibly interesting but where it goes wrong is that it was incredibly repetitive. Despite my frustration with reading so many things just said in slightly different ways multiple times throughout the three parts, I did find the study interesting so I did go and read the two chapters I didn't have to read for class.
Jamie Barringer (Ravenmount)
This was a gloomy, depressing book all about how poor kids in bad schools are screwed from the very beginning, and how the system is set up to keep them poor and unsuccessful because of the way discipline, rewards and expectations are structured in our schools, and because of the lack of support from outside school that prevents kids from having much chance at doing well in school or after they leave school.
Dec 05, 2007 David rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Interesting qualitative sociological study about kids growing up in the ghetto, and how their lack of "cultural capital" seriosuly limits their ability to succeed. This book challenges the "achievement ideology" (the idea that in america, ANYONE can be successful & wealthy if they just try hard enough). Interesting read.
Oct 26, 2014 Jeb rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An important ethnographic look into the way social inequality is reproduced from generation to generation. More than a sociological text, however, MacLeod's look into the lives of two groups of children in a Massachusetts housing project is deeply personal as well, adding a much more human touch to the often overly deterministic theories of social reproduction.
Danielle Sullivan
Jul 30, 2007 Danielle Sullivan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Excellent, graphic sociological study of inner-city teens. This book helped me obtain a better understanding of the complexities of sub-cultures within the dominant culture. Great read & easy to follow.
Patricia Timms
Jan 26, 2017 Patricia Timms rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Great book! Would have given it five stars if there had been even an acknowledgement that there were learning differences like Dyslexia between the Hallway Hangers and the Brothers. Still a great read though.
David Horney
Feb 24, 2013 David Horney rated it really liked it
Shelves: my-44th-year
I read this one for school. The actual sociology parts dealing with achievement ideology and social theory are kinda dry. The ethnography bits (most of the book) which follow these young men from teens to middle age is fascinating and utterly readable.
Sep 27, 2008 Jamie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: social scientists
Great read. It is a sociological study dating back to the mid-80s. The author follows a group of young men who live in the same housing project through their adolescent years and into early adulthood. Fascinating.
Katie Samples Dahlberg

MacLeod's study demonstrates how social stratification in our capitalist society is reinforced through the expected norms and behaviors demanded by our society. Great read and would highly recommend to anyone interested in why social inequality continues to exist in the form that it does.
Nov 01, 2016 Mary rated it really liked it
Shelves: school, incomplete, 2016
I read sections of this book for my National Diversity and Change: United States class. It's a great sociological book, and I really enjoyed it. Very eye-opening. And, unfortunately, really depressing. I would like to go back and read some of the parts that weren't assigned.
Oct 11, 2013 Mary rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Every teacher, parent and lawmaker should read this book. The author does a fantastic, albeit bleak, job of presenting the world outlook of many living in poverty in a way that is both jarring and foreign to anyone who grew up in the middle or upper socioeconomic strata.
Feb 15, 2008 Tanjua rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Book About poverty
Mar 16, 2007 Ken rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Read this book as part of class readings for a class on immigration that I did in college.
Very moving story. A page turner.
This was a really good book to help you but into prospective what the lives of children and young adults who live in poverty and their ways of obtaining education.
Robin Rife
Jul 29, 2011 Robin Rife rated it it was amazing
If you are studying the field of sociology this is a must read!
Josefina Duran
Mar 02, 2010 Josefina Duran rated it really liked it
Reading for class
Aug 23, 2007 Pierre rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Good "real-world" observation of Bourdieu's Social Reproduction Theory. Even more amazing that this was all researched and written by a college undergraduate at Harvard.
Aug 30, 2009 Brenda marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
I'm actually reading the third edition, which includes the second follow up interviews of the subjects of the study.
Oct 13, 2008 Elyssa rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I read this book for a class in college. It has great insight into the lives of poor kids in NY. Beware when reading this, it is chalk full of swear words and can be vulgar at times.
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A Rhodes scholar, Jay MacLeod holds degrees in social studies and theology. He and his wife, Sally Asher, spent four years in Mississippi, where their work with local teenagers led to the publication of Minds Stayed On Freedom: The Civil Rights Struggle In The Rural South, An Oral History.

MacLeod is now an Anglican priest in Chesterfield, a declining mining and market town in Asher's native Engla
More about Jay MacLeod...

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