The Analysis of the Social Marginalization by Bourgois Philippe in the Book in Search of Respect Selling Crack in El Barrio

Selling Crack in El Barrio is Bourgois Philippe’s tome on postmodern anthropology He seeks to analyse how social marginalization in the inner city of America affects the lives of people. An ethnography of the Puerto Rican drug dealers that he interacts with in Spanish East Harlem, also called El Barrio, gives an account of real life struggles under the branded apartheid culture and the economic hardships experienced all for the sake of earning respect. Bourgois attempts to bridge the colossal cultural and socioeconomic gap of his destitute crack centred respondents and the middleclass mainstream life of most Americans.

He is highly influenced by the ignorant perception that all drug dealers, addicts and criminals are bad people rather he focuses on the society’s denial to grant them room to be decent people, He considers this as a poverty predisposition in which no one chooses to be in, though despite the harsh realities, one has to survive and earn respect, a desire for human dignity, Bourgois relies on the Cultural reproduction theory to empirically detail his research.

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The author endeavours to show the effects of structural inequality through the lives of Puerto Rican crack dealers and users in East Harlem in the 1980s. He supplies the reader with verbatim tales from his conversations with the drug dealers, addicts and the police officers who at times mistook him for a drug addict, This is in his field participation of an ethnography research funded by various academic and private institutions, His research is largely based on observation and experience in a difficult and dangerous environment For this reasons, his works have been highly recognized and accredited He has also received various awards for his contribution.

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Bourgois lived in East Harlem for several years in a bid to gain an epic perspective of poverty in one of America’s busiest cities, New York. Despite the irrefutably treacherous neighbourhood, Bourgois was able to befriend a number of street dealers as well as their families as he spent nights in the streets and the crack houses observing and covertly tape recording the highly controversial crack scenes.

As he lived side by side with the drug dealers, he gained deep insights into their lives. However, his encounter with them was that of a friend and not a researcher. Bourgois established unique relationships with people in his neighbourhood though he never participated in their lifestyle. In a particular crack house called the ‘Game Room’, where Bourgois was a frequent visitor, he vividly illustrates the daily routines of the drug dealers, the managers of the Game Room and other associates. It is intriguing how the Game Room was surreptitiously used as a playhouse to conceal the drug dealings. Apart from drug dealing, issues of rape, early sex, unwanted pregnancies, school dropouts and street criminals among other delinquents and vices were manifest in the Game Room. Bourgois narrates how one, Candy, shot dead his boyfriend for cheating on her and how she gained respect within the community and was able to eventually get a job at managing the crack spot. Candy’s gaining of respect exemplifies how street culture provides an alternative forum for an autonomous personal dignity. The impact of alienation is also typified when Bourgois ask a particular owner of the crack house, Ray, to read an article. This accidentally humiliates Ray in front of his friends and other frequenters of the Game Room as it is clear that he does not know how to read (Bourgois 32), Despite the illiteracy, Ray is depicted as a man making millions from the crack house and earning respect from his workers and friends. He was also greatly idolized by the youth in the community who badly wanted success just like him, In essence, Ray seemed to give the younger generation hope for success, It is, however, prudent to note that Bourgois gives narratives on the crack house from friends who were often intoxicated. This could at times be exaggerated. He also gives his narratives from a single account of drug dealers In my opinion, it would have been fascinating to see how other Puerto Ricans who remained within the legal society struggled against this apartheid culture and it affected them.

Somehow, this reveals that law-abiding citizens have lost control of public space which is now being dictated upon by the drug dealers (Schultz and Lavenda 68), Bourgois’ book vividly depicts the mechanisms of the underground drug empire. This is further complemented by intrinsic violence to the drug trade, physical and sexual abuse and the constant fear of robbery. These people face the daily squabbles of attaining social distinction, ascendancy and reputation that were considered significant but only available in tragic proportions Bourgois builds a conceptual framework that constitutes an amalgam of Marxism, postmodernism and feminism. He vacillates over the politics of representation concerning his right as privileged white man and the denial of the same to other equally deserving people. He deprecates capitalism, poverty and the inner-city cultural apartheid as wrought and sees the underground drug economy as a way that street people resist capitalism (Bourgois 54), In my understanding, Bourgois considers the all-devouring capitalism as chiefly responsible for the ills that befell his subjects. This is because, he sees no difference in the humanity of struggling to achieve success and the leisure habits that people tend to ascribe to, Based on Bourgois’ observation, the reason as to why most street drug dealers remain penniless is that their generous binge habit is ultimately no distinct from the more individualistic, circumscribed and conspicuous consumption behaviour of persons in the legal economy. The propensity to overspend income windfalls apparently is universal in a world that fetishes material goods and services. Drug dealers are a caricature visible version of this gluttonous phenomenon of rapidly over consuming money. Their limited option of constructively spending money in the legal financial system exacerbates their profligacy (Schultz and Lavenda 74), Even the poorest drug dealers in the streets usually make some money though; they opt to use their illegal wages in illegal trade, where they blow their minds apart with crack. According to me, this can hardly be credited to the disparaging evils of capitalism.

Nonetheless, not all drug dealers are undisciplined consumers In fact, some of the wealthy heroes in the legal economy still made it through crime such as exploiting immigrants as slaves. Currently, others still thrive on theft of tax evasion (Zelizer 20) According to Bourgois, the drug dealers, addicts and street criminals are not just exotic others who operate in an illogical netherworld. On the contrary, they are indeed ‘made in America‘. The highly ambitious and motivated inner-city youths have inadvertently been adversely attracted to the rapidly growing multibillion-dollar drug industry, precisely because they are believers of the American dream. Just like other US citizens, they are scrambling for their piece of the cake as fast as possible, In their pursuit for triumph, they are aggressively indulging in private entrepreneurship. They work hard, take risks and pray for good luck, Unlonunately, they end up as rugged individuals who brave the unpredictable frontier in which fortune, fame and obliteration are all just but around the corner (Bourgois 77) In this paper, we see that crime, as a route to reverence is a deeply rooted old American tradition in which the poor are without an option subjected to Nonetheless, thwarted and truncated opportunities do not always impel everyone to commit crime, despite the scarce opportunities and their languishing in poverty (Zelizer 52). Bourgois notes some poor individuals within the same community slogging away at low-income jobs and trying to live a decent life against immense odds and the predators among them. The heroes in Bourgois‘ book are seen to thrive on a high»end risk life with self-indulgence in drugs, crime and violence that keeps neighbours off guard and constantly heightens their fearsomenessi Therefore, the subtleties of inspiration in the El Barrio is considered as complex as any ghetto in our extremely complicated society. Respect is only perceived to be earned due to wealth rather than personal integrity. Poverty and crime is considered as an apartheid culture that the middleclass mainstream US citizens are ignorant off, yet they aggressively demand for a crime free society It is time that the society addresses these issues through employment, rehabilitation, education, imprisonment and above all kindness to all.

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The Analysis of the Social Marginalization by Bourgois Philippe in the Book in Search of Respect Selling Crack in El Barrio. (2022, Jul 12). Retrieved from

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