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In Search of Respect

(Structural Analysis in the Social Sciences)

4.17  ·  Rating details ·  2,863 ratings  ·  136 reviews
Philippe Bourgois's ethnographic study of social marginalization in inner-city America, won critical acclaim when it was first published in 1995. For the first time, an anthropologist had managed to gain the trust and long-term friendship of street-level drug dealers in one of the roughest ghetto neighborhoods--East Harlem. This new edition adds a prologue describing the m ...more
Paperback, 432 pages
Published February 20th 2003 by Cambridge University Press (first published 1995)
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Jan 20, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
A very important book because it successfully demonstrates how the crack-cocaine-heroine epidemic of the late 80's/early 90's was brought on in part by the collapse of the urban job market. In other words, the factory jobs that Puerto Rican immigrants relied on for maintaining traditional family structures and reinforcing patriarchal cultural norms were shipped overseas, thus catalyzing the rise of an underground street economy that not only paid its workers better than entry level minimum wage ...more
Feb 12, 2009 rated it liked it
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 e
Mar 31, 2010 rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction, 2010, usa
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
Kert Tandog
Bourgois writes a powerful ethnography about people entwined with substance abuse in East Harlem. He writes an empathetic, at the same time critical, view of self-destructiveness and violence normalised in the daily lives of Puerto Ricans in New York. It provides a detailed account of the different forces enmeshed with and directed real lives of real people - giving a human face behind those considered a pathological, exoticised 'statistic'. Apart from having a highly nuanced theorising, this is ...more
Lashaan Balasingam (Bookidote)
Philippe Bourgois' ethnography in the heart of El Barrio (East Harlem) brings some of the most shocking and revealing facts about culture shock. Befriending crack and heroin using Puerto Ricans that roam the streets and live by the underground economy that pulses in El Barrio, Philippe Bourgois shows that there's so much more than what the eye can see. By deciding to bring his wife and kid to live in a sector where you cannot take a step forward without cracking vials that once carried a substan ...more
Dec 15, 2007 rated it really liked it
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
Will A
Jun 13, 2019 rated it really liked it
"This book's argument is that people like Primo and Caesar have not passively accepted their structural victimhood. On the contrary, by embroiling themselves in the underground economy and proudly embracing street culture, they are seeking an alternative to their social marginalization. In the process, on a daily level, they become the actual agents administering their own destruction and they community's suffering."

This was a courageous and thoughtful attempt to gain insight into the question o
Sep 23, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This was a really good ethnography. I adored it, it was not filled with an excessive amount of jargon, making it inaccessible for the average person. I also think that it was an extremely interesting topic, and I think that it was incredibly well done of Bourgois giving voice to people who had often not had one. This was done mostly through his application of postmodernism, supplying the reader with transcripts from the interview, allowing us to form our own opinions on the subject and not havin ...more
Dec 27, 2008 rated it liked it
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
William D.
May 10, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: public-health
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
Jun 07, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Sep 09, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: uno
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. ...more
Aug 16, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This book is actually great.
Nov 02, 2018 rated it liked it
This was a required read for my Cultural Anthropology class. The author was very raw in expressing his findings and provides his audience with a new understanding of social inequality in the U.S. There was a TON of language and some rough parts about real events taking place in the slums. Overall, I admired the writer and his themes, however, due to the language and content, I will not be re-reading this.
Nov 14, 2012 rated it liked it
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
Jan 31, 2013 rated it it was ok
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
Aug 21, 2008 rated it really liked it
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
Aug 03, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
Possum Paderau
Jan 23, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Jonas Carlsson
May 22, 2018 rated it really liked it
In Search of Respect is a really great etnography on Puerto Rican drug dealers in East Harlem during the 1990s. Bourgois claims that the self-destructive behavour the residents of East Harlem exhibits like drug use, crime, and physical abuse cannot be reduced to individualistic or cultural explanations. Instead, one has to take the history of Puerto Rican immigrants and the broader structural features of US society into account. Bourgois aims to humanise the residents and drug dealers, not wanti ...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
Aug 18, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Sep 24, 2008 rated it really liked it
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
Luna Erica
Apr 28, 2019 rated it it was amazing
It is the ethnography’s goal of conveying the information about a certain culture that can make it a very difficult task for its writer to bring across the data collected in an interesting fashion. Bourgois, however, did an excellent job at doing just that. Having gone into an area of the US many people might evade and having lived there with his partner and child, befriending those whom others might steer clear of and gaining their trust so much as to be allowed to record their most personal co ...more
Jul 07, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: anthropology
Bourgois' most famous book is an insightful if all over the place ethnography that details the lives of several crack dealers in East Harlem at the height of the Crack epidemic. While it attempts an In depth Bourdieuean cultural capital breakdown of the crack trade and an oppositional situation to the bustling legal market In Search of Respect is best read as a deep slice of the structural problems that lead to the failure of an entire generation of a certain ethnic background. Nonetheless, Bour ...more
Oct 17, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  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
Jul 15, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
Jan 01, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Philippe Bourgois' drug ethnography work has been incredibly influential - both globally and in my own work as well. He has shown the ways in which marginalisation within urban 'ghettos' fuels drug use and the drug trade. He takes the reader into the inner and hidden world of drug-dealing and drug-use presenting the human-side of a phenomenon that is for the most part demonised. The work is refreshing as it is deeply personal whilst at the same time highlighting the challenges facing policymaker ...more
Feb 13, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2007
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
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