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In Search of Respect: Selling Crack in El Barrio
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In Search of Respect: Selling Crack in El Barrio

4.11 of 5 stars 4.11  ·  rating details  ·  1,540 ratings  ·  95 reviews
For the first time, an anthropologist has managed to gain the confianza and long-term friendship of street-level drug dealers in one of the roughest ghetto neighborhoods in the United States - East Harlem. For four years, the author had completely free rein to observe, tape-record, and photograph every facet of the lives of some two dozen Puerto Rican crack dealers. By pre ...more
Hardcover, 392 pages
Published November 24th 1995 by Cambridge University Press (first published 1995)
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An incredible ethnography about life in the Puerto Rican slums in New York. Bourgois has done something very brave in observing and interviewing these people who struggle against prejudice, ignorance, inequality, crime and drug addictions over the period of 4 years, living amoungst them and learning more than perhapes any outsider had before.

Nothing has been held back, and we experience through these people how drugs have ruined lives and the harsh realities of the barrio, including rape and as
In Search of Respect describes the social structure of the drug business. Throughout the book, Phillip Bourgois interviews drug dealers in East Harlem. They mention the struggles they go to in order to survive. I learned that prejudice and racism played an important role in the characters' lives in that it was almost like a predetermining factor. Because the main characters, Caesar and Primo, were Spanish it was difficult for them to find jobs so they turned to the drug business. Bourgois mentio ...more
This book chronicles Bourgois' public infiltration of the crack dealer social scene in East Harlem, New York City. As a white, middle-class, college-educated man, Bourgois faces many obstacles to finding "the real story" to share with people who read such books. While at times I had to put the book down because my stomach and my mind couldn't be complicit in this seeming misuse of privilege, who am I to determine if someone can or can not consent to such a detailed published account of their liv ...more
This work is an impressive ethnographic account of the East Harlem community in the 80s. Bourgois embeds himself (he brings his wife and kid with him to live in the middle of El Barrio for 3+ years) into the crack selling culture in El Barrio.

Bourgois's central argument is that cycles of poverty in the United States exist and persist because of huge structural inequities. He very clearly portrays real life examples of how incentives for criminal activities and disincentives to join the legal ec
William Lopez
This book was a heart-wrenching, enlightening ethnographic account of the Bourgois' time in the East Harlem inner-city. With incredible attention to the myriad structural factors that shape the lives of East Harlem residents, Bourgois shows the devastating effects of poverty and disenfranchisement on the lives of men and their families. Bourgois's perspective is always structural to the nth degree, and here he weaves together how Puerto Rican "culture" shapes the interactions of immigrants even ...more
My favorite passage: "The vigor of the crack-cocaine economy during the late 1980s and early 1990s was largely the result of an aggressive federal drug policy prioritizing the criminal repression of smuggling. Sometime in the early to mid-1980s, marijuana importers working the Latin American supply routes adapted to the escalating levels of search-and-seizure they were facing at U.S. borders by switching from transporting marijuana to trafficking in cocaine. Cocaine is much easier to transport c ...more
The problem with this kind of book, which at once seeks to portray the lives of totally irresponsible and bizarrely childlike predators and elicit sympathy for said rapist/ child abuser/ immoral jerk-offs, is that these people do not deserve sympathy. I read a Roger Ebert film review once that noted how difficult it is to create a truly antiwar film, because war is so inherently dramatic that, without the actual danger, it inevitably appears adventurous. Likewise, it is extremely difficult for a ...more
I'd say this was almost a 4, it was very interesting. It dragged a little in some parts, but I find with my anthropology reads that happens. All in all though the books for this class seem to be more interesting than in other levels.
I have so many complicated feelings about this book that are rooted in the complicated feelings I have about the subject matter, moreso than the way Bourgois presents it. When does personal responsibility end and structural responsibility begin? Or, conversely, when do structural explanations end and personal accountability need to be invoked? Does assuming one necessarily mean that the other cannot be taken into account? Is talking about structural reasons for people's behaviors even useful whe ...more
Bourgois presents his readers with a mind-numbing ethnography on the disenfranchised Puerto Rican crack dealers of NYC's poorest areas. He collected some compelling stories and presented their words with care and class, but there was something left to be desired from my reading of In Search of Respect.

I appreciated his look at the overall societal problems that encompass the individuals in these situations, but there were times when I felt like he backed too far off of his subjects in order to t
Philippe Bourgois enters the study of inner-city street culture through the lives of East Harlem’s men and women deeply affected by the realities of social marginalization. A modern-day Oscar Lewis, Philippe aims to enlarge the discussion around the interactions of agency and structure through an analysis of a culture of opposition embedded within a web of social, historical, and economic forces. Through his field-work, Bourgois forges close relationships with key figures in El Barrio’s undergro ...more
I found this to be a frustrating read. I felt like I got to know the people he interviewed, and even if some of the things they did seemed purely evil, I had sympathy for them because I had the opportunity to hear their stories, and understand what brought them to the decisions they made. However, Bourgois's analysis of their experience and his excuse-making for their misdeeds ruined this book for me. Basically, nothing they did could be seen as immoral because it was seen as necessitated by the ...more
READ IT. This is the gold standard, the study by which all other works on poverty must be compared. Bourgois spends five years living among El Barrio's Puerto Rican crack dealers and, importantly, becomes their friend: gaining an insight to their lives that no social worker will ever have. The behavior of the poor (drug use, violence, rape, misogyny) is the result of structural weaknesses and flaws created by America's class- and ethnic-apartheid. Yes, the gang rape is appalling. Imagine how Bou ...more
This book needs to be read in pieces, and then re-read at least twice more. Bourgois' structural analysis of crack-dealers in Manhattan's East Harlem in the early 90s is detailed with an exuberant amount of (sometimes gut-wrenching) information and an equal amount of thoughtful interpretation. This is a priceless source for anyone working with marginalized communities and/or graduate sociology students.

Bourgois' main point in this effort is to piece together a social-economic and political-histo
Bourgois moved to a poor, primarily Puerto Rican part of New York in order to write a book about poverty. What he encountered was a drug culture that permeated every part of "street life" and, accordingly, this altered the focus of his book. In fact, probably the best thing about Bourgois as an author is that when his research brings him to a new topic (whether it's the crack industry or the normalized nature of gang rape among Puerto Rican males), he doesn't shy away from properly analyzing the ...more
Really interesting account from the author's five years of imbeding himself in the street culture El Barrio a.k.a East Harlem which is mostly all Nuyorican. This is mostly transcribed taperecorded sessions of a few crack dealers life experiences and how they explain where they are. These were mostly very entertaining as they captured a performance feel from the spoken language. Sometimes they dragged on a little (probably because they were so entertaining and didn't have more new to say - this i ...more
This ethnography is raw and it's not light reading, but it's easy to read. If you want a look into class/race apartheid, social marginalization, poverty, and the underground economy, you'll enjoy it. I can see how it can be misconstrued by both liberals and conservatives, so it needs to be read with an open mind. I think everyone should read it. It will without a doubt make you think about structural oppression.
I read this book as part of my anthropology course and found it really interesting! It was really useful in putting into perspective the challenges of ethnography, ethical, practical, intellectual and so on, and it was a really good example of what the complete, clear, humane, and enlightening kind of ethnography new anthropologist should aspire to write.
All in all, in search of respect also provided me with a touching story of life in the poorest pockets of New York and how hard it is for ethn
Oct 17, 2007 Manuel rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: ethnographer-types,'ricans and upper east siders alike
Now I can no longer walk through my people in the jungle and not think about the statistics. Dude does his darnest to show the contradictions and incompleteness of numbers, but story after story, individual upon individual it gets uglier. The truth behind the crack and the suffering in the beast, nobody deals it or does it because they want to but the consequences are horrific and we all live amongst the results. The author is a fascinating individual. I'm sure many affluent upper east side chil ...more
Gerald Jerome
A very personal look at the intimate lives of crack dealers in Harlem. The authors manner of representation doesn't come off as preachy of any perspective and just presents the information as is for the reader to absorb. The most interesting illumination is how a crack dealer's occupation isn't much more rewarding than minimum wage, though one thing it offers is sure employment. It's a sad socioeconomic cycle in which no one is completely victim nor criminal, an environment where one can't help ...more
I read this book for a class at MSASS. The author is an anthropologist who spent five years in the late 1980s and early 1990s living and working among drug dealers and crack addicts in New York City's Spanish Harlem. This book uses their voices to explore poverty, the drug trade, and street culture. The author makes it clear that there are no easy answers to the problems faced by his main characters, whom he protrays as both victims and perpetrators. Some of the chapters were very emotional and ...more
Todd Evans
An inside look at poverty stricken, drug infested 1990's/80's East Harlem. Brilliant. The Sociologist who wrote this has some balls. He lived in the dangerous ghetto where guns went off in daylight with his family for three years. During the days and some night, he hung out with heroin dealers who sold and compiled their drugs in the back of an arcade. In Search of Respect is his first person account of living there alongside statistics about rough economic, inequality situation in the U.S. When ...more
Kevin Robinson
Philippe Bourgois’s In Search of Respect: Selling Crack in El Barrio is an eye-opening account of the tremendous social suffering faced by second-generation Puerto Rican crack dealers living in East Harlem. These crack dealers have internalized the impoverishing, demoralizing, and inferiorizing structures cast upon them by the American economic and social systems, blaming themselves, not the system for their poverty. In turn, they have come to embody a “street culture of resistance” that uses dr ...more
Andrew S.
there was once a pretty good chance this dude was going to be my new landlord. i figured i should read his biggest book to catch a vibe. word was it is faaaaaantastic and part of why some people i know and respect have studied certain things and done certain work. i read it myself and found it was good. i'm not sure i can keep a straight face and get with all of his socialist-y solutions rollin' full-tilt but, as far as a reported narrative, and i will say, also, the conclusions, if not the prop ...more
Amanda A.
Professor Maggie Cummings class. Good book.
Larry-bob Roberts
Mar 14, 2009 Larry-bob Roberts rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Larry-bob by: Joseph Hellweg
Shelves: sociology
Very readable - not at all dry and academic. It draws you in with its focus on a couple of characters. But at the point where Philippe finds out distressing information about the people he's been spending time with, the reader is, like him, too invested to drop out.

I do feel that he is perhaps more interested in pathology than in what helps people function. In the book's epilogues, many of the dealers are now former dealers. The question of what enabled them to move on is not really examined.
So far this book has been incredibly interesting. Some of the things he talks about still happen today and I can't wait to finish reading it.

UPDATE: So I finished reading the book about a week ago. I really enjoyed it and he has two Epilogues at the end telling the readers what happened to all the people on the block and how they are doing today, some are doing really well, while others are still in the same cycle of street culture/life.
Alex Lindsay
I particularly was interested by the observations about the individuals participation in the legitimate labor market. Having my own experience in that environment and lifestyle I would say that bourgeois observations and conclusions support what I have seen myself. This should be something of great value to people working with people in such an environment and culture (social workers, etc.). Also a generally engaging read.
So its not perfect, but dammit I really love what Bourgois is trying to do here. He makes it really hard to turn him into a straw man, and he indexes structural violences and racisms that are very close to home. As much as I take his interpretations with a grain of salt (in fact, I think he specifically asks the reader to do so in his introduction), I also want to commend him for asking to be told these stories.
Read for my "Complexities of Latino Identity" class.

This is a really great ethnography of the underground drug culture in East Harlem, "El Barrio." Bourgois does an amazing job of penetrating the clique of crack dealers and developing close relationships with these individuals. As a result, he is able to gain great insight about the effects of poverty and social marginalization on inner-city life.
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GWS301@Bowdoin: In Search of Respect 14 14 Apr 04, 2012 02:39PM  
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