off the books-sudhir alladi venkatesh

so, i recently updated my okcupid profile to read “other” as the answer to every question and to include the statement “fuck this, strangers-i’m out.” but this book was a (slightly dragging) suggestion from someone that i exchanged a few messages with early on. in honour of the beauty that lies within the connections of every community, i got to confess my guilt at my account being in such arrears to my head librarian as she rolled through my lineup on her day off, chatting to a woman that just moved into the neighborhood that had just met her at the gym.

i’m usually suspicious of folks performing modern-day ethnographic studies, but i suppose i should just relax, not everybody charges in looking for heads to measure.

“I had no illusion that I could transform this community into a stable, crime-free area. Yet no matter how I use my sociological tools to undermine stereotypes, craft better public policies, and so on, I was still complicit in helping to perpetuate these conditions.” (xvii)

but some do. this is how you write an in/outsider preface to your study. bigups.

“The three women often remark on how different they are. Bird, for example, earns her living as a prostitute, plying her trade along Marquis Park’s main thoroughfare as well as on busy downtown streets. Eunice works in the formal economy, cleaning offices at minimum wage, and supplements her income by selling homemade soul food to the local lunchtime crowd. Marlene has various off-the-books jobs in the service sector; she earns most her underground money as a $9 per hour nanny for a white family in the neighboring upper-class university district. When it comes to religion, Eunice believes that ‘Jesus is the answer, it doesn’t matter what the question is.’ Bird, having slept with ‘most of the preachers in the community,’ feels the church is no longer a place where one can find salvation.” (22)

“Bird, a ten-year veteran, has worked only for her pimp-whose father pimped Bird’s mother. Their johns, however, change often.” (29)

legacy’s labour’s lost and found.


One thought on “off the books-sudhir alladi venkatesh

  1. living out(side) loud:

    “In this way, the ability to supplement one’s income by even small amounts through underground labors can alter the parameters of what’s possible, especially for the head of household who needs to support herself and those living in her care.” (41)

    “Whether the overriding sense of comfort is rooted in extended family, one’s own innate capacities, or a faith in the Lord, all such foundations are tested by the shady activities that help households make ends meet.” (59)

    “These are not token gestures, Josiah argues. The proprietors estimate that they can save several hundred dollars a month, sometimes more, by hiring off the books. His colleagues view permitting the use of their facility by local homeless persons and street merchants not only as crime prevention, but as a means to improve their public image, ensure a loyal customer supply, and root out competitors. The elite proprietors, such as those affiliated with MAPAD, typically do not charge individuals for the use of their space; this differs from the more modest shopkeepers for whom subleasing can be an important means of supplementing income.” (128)

    “Most communities take such public spaces for granted. Very few middle-class Americans see an alley as a venue for monetary gain; but in the ghetto these spaces are full of possibility. Traffic in ghetto public areas is heightened because of the lack of adequate private, personal space. People are pushed outside by overcrowding, families’ ‘doubling up’ to pay rent, and the generally inhospitable condition of apartments. What some might see as a mass of Americans lying about, and out of work, is in many cases an ensemble of persons who lack private places where they can rest. In Maquis Park, working and nonworking people will socialize in their cars, on discarded couches in alleys, on park benches, and so on, because they don’t have access to a living room or dining room where they can entertain guests or read the morning paper. The lack of private space, combined with people’s needs to purchase goods and services cheaply, transforms this human ensemble into a ready consumer base and at the same time transforms their places of gathering into valued underground sales spots.” (172-3)

    “But they are attentive to each other’s needs. Sometimes this means simply turning away while a friend relieves himself. Other times the effort requires greater attention, such as helping a fellow hustler find medical care. Over the course of one bitterly cold winter stretch, I observed several hustlers bringing blankets to people sleeping in parks; some took homeless persons into their own illegal abode-however crowded it may have already been-and other canvassed the area persuading men and women to patronize the local shelters. None of them was paid for this work; none of them had a formal tie to an advocacy organization or transitional housing center. And they did not believe that the city’s human service agencies would be following in their footsteps.” (189)

    “The ubiquity of churches in Maquis Park is rivaled only by currency exchanges and liquor stores.” (214)

    “Though technically illegal, underground exchange still has a rich, and evolving, moral pulse which regulates codes of conduct, expectations of appropriate behavior, and patterns of conflict mediation. This morality is neither created privately nor held exclusively by individuals-no moral structure is-but is a product of the group as a whole.” (218)


    Poor people sharing with other poor people has its limits. Their resources run out at some point. The economy becomes predatory, and hustling shows its ugly side, not as creative and explorative, but as exploitative and punishing.” (386)

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