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The study is based on a stunningly ambitious participant-observation study of two neighborhoods in Los Angeles and three in New York City from January to December, and the author aims to contribute to the growing project of revisiting and revising the role of culture in poverty. Sanchez-Jankowski is also engaged in a conversation among a list of notable sociologists who have long debated the social organization or disorganization of low-income neighborhoods.


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He argues that the neighborhoods he studied are strongly organized in ways that allow poor people to deal with otherwise unbearable conditions of scarcity, deprivation and violence. At the same time, it is this very organization — "the life the urban poor have made for themselves" 10 — that poses profound barriers to improving those conditions.

This is not to "blame" poor people for their poverty.

Cracks in the pavement: Social change and resilience in poor neighborhoods

Rather it is to say that efforts to undermine the culture they have constructed in order to survive and make life sometimes enjoyable necessarily calls forth powerful expressions of cultural affirmation. Progressive policy makers only hope is to fundamentally alter the material circumstances that cause this culture to be necessary, and then, apparently, wait a very long time for that culture to gradually decline.

What the author defines as a "subculture of scarcity" consists of two main value orientations: These values play out in two different types of poor neighborhoods: The book discusses local institutions housing projects, neighborhood stores, schools, etc. In contrast to most qualitative participant-observation research, the author describes his approach as positivist in terms of deriving more from existing theory instead of theory emerging from data. Some readers may find this rather formulaic and lacking in the rich narrative common in urban ethnographies.

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In explaining poor peoples' actions, Sanchez-Jankowski tries to make rational or at least "functional" what may seem irrational or simply off-putting to middle-class [End Page ] people. Living in an extremely noisy environment makes speaking loudly a reasonable accommodation. When living in crowded conditions where many share one bathroom, urinating in elevators becomes understandable and almost mandatory. When space in apartments is limited, space away from home — corner stores, streets, hangout areas — becomes contested territory worth fighting over. When faced with violence and police seem disinterested, seeking quasi-protection from gangs seems sensible.

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When jobs don't offer status and respect, then being a fast talker, having a distinctive personal style and displaying material goods one can't really afford become important. With little money for entertainment, frequent sex is both free and readily available, and verbal bantering is ripe for a laugh. Bibliography Includes bibliographical references p.


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