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Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

“You never hear about the wheelchair”: Violence and mobility in a Westside Chicago gang
by Ralph, Laurence, Ph.D., The University of Chicago, 2010, 237; 3444255
Abstract (Summary)

Of all major U.S. cities, Chicago currently has the highest homicide rate. During the 2008-2009 academic year, a record number of public school students–38–were murdered. Over a single weekend in April 2009, 36 people were gunned down. Given this context, how do we attempt to understand the lives of those made culpable for most of the violence--young gang members--and the impoverished neighborhoods in which they live? The most recent literature on gangs and urban life has rightly shifted away from the racist presumptions that inner city blacks are predisposed to violent crime. Rather than an index of innate dysfunction, groundbreaking sociological work has argued that deviance is produced through and by social exclusion.

The notion that violence flourishes in communities that have been regarded as "socially isolated" underscores recent work, which shows that gangs fill bureaucratic voids in areas that have been neglected or abandoned by the government. The most compelling of this work has delineated the affects of postindustrial out-migration, economic stagnation, and drug-related crime to address the causes of inner city poverty. Researchers like Sudhir Venkatesh have been persuasive in accounting for the socio-historical parameters of black impoverishment in cities like Chicago. Still, emergent new factors exist. The reinvestment in urban spaces through gentrification, the transnational networks of drug distribution, not to mention consumer products like rap music and shoe advertising, which traffic markers of the inner-city, beg questions about the extent to which the "ghetto" is still isolated. How might we complicate discourses of transnationalism, migration, and diaspora that rely on a sense of mobility, but often overlook the way these processes are structured by populations that have been regarded as stagnant or "socially isolated"? How do we conceptualize the collective and individual aspirations that move gang members? What is it like for the latest generation of a 50-year-old gang to inhabit a post-social movement moment? My dissertation illuminates the external forces that connect the inner-city to disparate social worlds through the thematic trope of "mobility."

Mobility, in its various guises–and its inverses–includes many of the forms of social practice that I describe throughout the dissertation. These practices range from a local Chicago dance called, "footworkin'", to marches on city hall, to meetings at local churches, to the travels of paralyzed, ex-gang members who host community forums on violence. The westside Chicago neighborhood that I call, "Eastwood" is one in which gang members are constantly on the move: hustling, dancing, trading, taking up corners, fighting–until death or paralysis–sometimes physical, sometimes social, strikes. What is more, it is mobility here that organizes space and its control, whether we are referring to the geographies of commerce in which gang members circulate or the plans for "redevelopment" they seek to combat. Throughout this study, forms of intersubjective experience and everyday practice, which if viewed alone would seem to evidence social disorder, dysfunction, or pathology, become interconnected through a notion of mobility–one that illuminates the ways in which Eastwood residents presently engage with the past while imagining a more peaceful future.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Comaroff, John L.
Commitee: Masco, Joseph P., Palmie, Stephan D., Silverstein, Michael
School: The University of Chicago
Department: Anthropology
School Location: United States -- Illinois
Source: DAI-A 72/05, Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: African American Studies, Black studies, Cultural anthropology, Criminology
Keywords: Chicago, Disability, Gang, Gang violence, Historical consciousness, Illinois, Mobility
Publication Number: 3444255
ISBN: 978-1-124-51479-6
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