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An exceptional ethnography marked by clarity and candor Sidewalk takes us into the socio cultural environment of those who though often seen as threatening or unseemly work day after day on the blocks of one of New York's most diverse neighborhoods Sociologist Duneier author of Slim's Table offers an accessible and compelling group portrait of several poor black men who make their livelihoods on the sidewalks of Greenwich Village selling secondhand goods panhandling and scavenging books and magazinesDuneier spent five years with these individuals and in Sidewalk he argues that contrary to the opinion of various city officials they actually contribute significantly to the order and well being of the Village An important study of the heart and mind of the street Sidewalk also features an insightful afterword by longtime book vendor Hakim Hasan This fascinating study reveals today's urban life in all its complexity its vitality its conflicts about class and race and its surprising opportunities for empathy among strangers Sidewalk is an excellent supplementary text for a range of coursesINTRODUCTION TO SOCIOLOGY Shows how to make important links between micro and macro; how a research project works; how sociology can transform common senseRACE AND ETHNIC RELATIONS Untangles race class and gender as they work together on the streetURBAN STUDIES Asks how public space is used and contested by men and women blacks and whites rich and poor and how street life and political economy interactDEVIANCE Looks at labeling processes in treatment of the homeless; interrogates the broken windows theory of policingLAW AND SOCIETY Closely examines the connections between formal and informal systems of social controlMETHODS Shows how ethnography works; includes a detailed methodological appendix and an afterword by research subject Hakim HasanCULTURAL ANTHROPOLOGY Sidewalk engages the rich terrain of recent developments regarding representation writing and authority; in the tradition of Elliot Liebow and Ulf Hannerz it deals with age old problems of the social and cultural experience of ineuality; this is a telling study of culture on the margins of American societyCULTURAL STUDIES Breaking down disciplinary boundaries Sidewalk shows how books and magazines are received and interpreted in discussions among working class people on the sidewalk; it shows how cultural knowledge is deployed by vendors and scavengers to generate subsistence in public spaceSOCIOLOGY OF CULTURE Sidewalk demonstrates the connections between culture and human agency and innovation; it interrogates distinctions between legitimate subcultures and deviant collectivities; it illustrates conflicts over cultural diversity in public space; and ultimately it shows how conflicts over meaning are central to social life


10 thoughts on “Sidewalk

  1. says:

    There are a lot of ideas advanced in Sidewalk but let me focus on the ones that added to my own observations about the homeless and raceclass stratification in the urban environmentOne of my friends operated a club at the boundary of our city's bohemian entertainment district and a major public housing project I hung out and helped in various ways during the mid 2000s when I was in my mid twenties In the process I observed a lot of informal relationships between the business owners and the many unhoused or subsidized men mostly men and women who assumed control of the territory in the early morning hours after restaurant closure and before normal business hoursThere were essentially stages of breakage from society that different persons represented At the bottom of the structure were the drug addicts prostitutes and gang members who not only avoided any affiliation with the formal economy of the business district but indeed participated in antagonistic behavior toward it Next came youths and benign men and women who abused drugs and alcohol but did not engage in violent crime or vandalism and had minimal contact with the district's patrons But these people tended to drift through common space like ghosts or stair climbers in an MC Escher print A third tier took a form that is recognizable in Mitchell Duneier's monographThere were men who were in various states of societal discordance but not actually anti social in that they did not participate in vandalism or violent crime and sought to interact with the patrons in a way resembling affiliative discourse Men like D name withheld for obvious reasons would be paid a small sum to sweep the sidewalk and pick up litter at the end of the night In return he mingled with passersby coming and going in a semi official capacity as greeter and made sure patrons' cars were not vandalized by people from the neighborhood Men like G would wash windows for a small fee and like J engage in sociopolitical discussions with younger patrons presumed to be social liberals with an interest in urban issues like police brutality and communal ownership of public space In many cases these men had experiences and perspectives that were worth sharing for those willing to listen and able to separate the fact from fiction It bears mentioning that any lengthy exchange almost exclusively passed between males Females lacked some fundamental confidence to engage in any way that could be called in the parlance of Sidewalk affiliativeWhere my experience is different from Duneier's however is that the men in my city do not engage in any meaningful informal economy There is no novel space carved out by municipal ordinances permitting them to sell scavenged or procured goods and thus no device to transform them into the valuable public characters of Sidewalk's Greenwich Village The closest to this would be the street musicians and performers in the heart of the district But these people typically came from outside the neighborhoodThe thing that strikes me about the relationship between those who interact with the patrons of the district and the patrons themselves is that understanding or specifically empathy is not reciprocal I found that the chapter on Conversational Analysis in which a homeless black man attempts to assert control over a middle class white woman by using her leashed dog as a point to gain entry to conversation describes this without pointing it out or possibly being aware of noticing it at all When interviewed away from the unhoused man the dog walker admits to feeling a kind of white liberal guilt over not knowing how to engage with another human being because of the profound divisions in socioeconomic status and race I doing so the woman admits to an unwelcome bias and seeks plaintively mutely to compensate by improving her understandingHowever there's no indication the man felt the same empathy His efforts to engage in conversation took a conflict oriented posture His idioms asserted traditional male over female control; the author calls disregard for conversational s interactional vandalism Duneier's secondary and tertiary subjects supposedly probed the author for any entry point that might allow them to profit from his naivete or largesse The two are distinctly different but it isn't clear the men who sought them differentiated between the nature of a hypothetical source of supportAnd this is what I've found too The men in my city like D exploit white liberal guilt or social romanticism to establish rapport with a thinly concealed goal of networking new sources for loans and handouts I don't begrudge this fact I think survival strategies assume profound importance in relation to how closely one lives hand to mouthAn important fact to note about Sidewalk is that it presents a uniue environment While the author suggests alternate spaces like Pennsylvania Station in the 1980s and Washington Suare Park his findings of unhoused life there would be fundamentally different than his study of Sixth Avenue Further it is my assumption that a study of such a place particularly Washington Suare Park might not be so fundamentally different than any other given skid row of New York City or Chicago Detroit Los Angeles or New Orleans for that matter In this respect Duneier's study is as specific as the particularly ethnic community in Barbara Myerhoff's Number Our DaysThat said Sidewalk is utterly fascinating from start to finish I am particularly grateful for the author's extensive detail of his process and his inclusion of his subjects into the editorial process The afterward penned by Duneier's initial subjects turned colleague allays any uestions about the objectivity of an upper middle class Jewish white male toward extremely lower class often Muslim black males I wouldn't go as far as to say this book should be reuired reading but it is certain to interest a wide variety of readers and should be snatched up if found on a bookshelf


  2. says:

    Loic Wacuant a sociology professor at Berkeley wrote a scathing review of Sidewalk in the American Journal of Sociology accusing Duneier of sentimentality and painting an overly sympathetic portrait of the street vendors in Greenwich Village via three strategies of selective data collection interpretation and presentation disconnecting censoring and skewing I felt that Wacuant missed the point at times What Duneier tries to do in Sidewalk is to show us another side of one of the marginalised populations of urban society a population that we tend to dismiss ignore stereotype and avoid whether out of indifference fear or discomfort Working and interacting with street vendors of written matter for intermittent periods over the course of five years Duneier delves into the relationships these men and one women share with each other as competitors friends mentors and mentees; with their family members; and with the public He shows us that what repulses us from the homeless the public urination the smell of the unwashed is oftentimes the result of the constraints imposed by society rather than choice or what we might believe to be simply indifference to basic hygiene What do you expect someone to do when he needs to go to the bathroom but there are no public bathrooms nearby and establishments refuse to let you use their facilities? And why do we feel repulsed by the black homeless guy who gets drunk and gets high but not the white middle class kid getting drunk and getting high as he and his friends backpack across America sleeping rough at points along the way? In doing so Duneier humanises the street vendor and seeks to change our ready stereotypes of these individuals into something nuanced and three dimensional Wacuant's sniping and his criticism disingenuous at times undermines his arguments but that is another story altogether but he does make a valid point Duneier does overreach himself at points romanticising the figure of the street vendor and perhaps painting these individuals who literally inhabit the sidewalk in an overly sympathetic light Phrases like I am thinking of the sidewalk Thank goodness for the sidewalk 80 seem worthy of a Mills and Boon novel than an ethnographic study But overall Sidewalk was an illuminating read forcing one to rethink one's ready dismissal and prejudices against the marginalised


  3. says:

    I think Sidewalk should be reuired reading for everyone Duneier writes a classic ethnology of the sidewalk vendors in New York City The book is alternately fascinating touching funny and thought provoking Duneier uncovers and explores the dignity of the homeless He doesn't shy away from issues either There is an entire chapter on how the unhoused men he embeds himself with manage to go to the bathroom or rather urinate and deficate as a bathroom is a luxury not always availableHe allows for many points of view Ie one chapter examines the linguistic structure of the one sided conversations the sidewalk men carry on with the women they cat call and holler at The cops have their say as do the owners of the local businesses who see the sidewalk men as competitorsIn the end however it would reuire a very hard hearted person to not chide themselves the next time they walk past a homeless person begging for changes averting her eyes and not responding to the simple hellos they offer This book than any other I've read brings the story of the unhoused home reminding us that they are indeed people and that any one twist of fate could see us or someone we love in the same position


  4. says:

    This was a pretty cool book


  5. says:

    I knew this book would stick with me for a long time and it has I've shared some of the content with friends and family I've thought about Duneiers work as I walk the streets of my downtown city Read this book and see how it challenges your perspective of homelessness


  6. says:

    This is an amazing book a sociological look into a bit of New York street life Just wonderful


  7. says:

    This book is about street vendors in New York city's Greenwich Village some who are durg addicts panhandlers homelessor were at some point etc in other words those on the outer crust of society The book explores their day to day lives social structure which surprisingly you find is highly refined relationships and work Although it is a textbook Dunier does an amazing job making it readable to the public it actually reads much like a novel and you want to find out what happens to each individual plus the sociological insight due to years of research this is a 5 year dissertation is profound If your not interested in sociology read it to at least familiarize yourself with how these people live and work We all have preconcieved notions about who the 'homeless bum' on the street is but rarely do we get a chance to see the humanity behind those labels the relationships they have or ones that are broken and the financial issues that arise many times out of discrimination and result in drugs andor violence Read it to introduce yourself to a world you would otherwise have not known at least not on such an intimate level and isn't that what great novelists and sociologists do anyways?


  8. says:

    This was a different but interesting book that consisted of different daily life stories of NYC homeless people What I liked about this book was that it didn't just include the stereotypical bum who smells and begs for money It included stories from street venders messengers and some unemployed people who talk about all of the challenges of being homeless There was one person who would go around to different businesses offering to deliver their products on a bike for free and making money on the tips given to her by the people she delivered to What was interesting about her was that she had been homeless for 20 years and still lived the life of most people except going through the challenge of finding a place to sleep at night After reading this book I realized how diverse the homeless community is


  9. says:

    Despite the intellectual weight and academic heft Sidewalk is real page turner reading like a great novel than sub cultural examination Brilliant piece of urban reportage in which Sociologist Duneier examines the work and life of Greenwich Village's sidewalk vendors and the larger city culture that at times surprisingly envelops and supports them but often disregards or criminalizes them The men portrayed in the book are at any given time intelligent articulate and dignified at others flawed enfranchised and disenchanted by the societal expectations of 'proper job' and the dizzying number of written and unwritten laws on how to use and not use a sidewalk


  10. says:

    I had to read this book as part of my participation in a week long community service program for my school One of the events of the program will be a discussion of Sidewalk with faculty and staff and since Mitchell Duneier is a professor at my school I think he might be there If so that'll be pretty cool Sidewalk examines the lives of several vendors panhandlers and scavengers in Greenwich Village mostly poor homeless black men and the social political and economic forces that surround them This was an interesting and enlightening book; I learned about people that the media hardly ever portrays in a positive light I didn't agree with all of the views expressed in the book however