23rd Annual Public Lecture: Sudhir Venkatesh

Thursday, October 11, 2007 - 5:00pm
Room 17, Logan Hall
“Law and Order in the Urban Ghetto”

Sudhir Venkatesh, Professor of Sociology at Columbia University in New York City, will deliver the 23 rd Annual Urban Studies Public Lecture. The lecture is entitled “Law and Order in the Urban Ghetto” and will take place Thursday, October 11, 2007 at 5:00 PM in Room 17 Logan Hall ( 249 S. 36 th Street). The lecture is free and open to the public.

Professor Venkatesh, whose Ph.D. in Sociology is from the University of Chicago, is an ethnographer or life in urban neighborhoods in New York, Chicago, and Paris. A study of illegal economies in Chicago, his recent book, Off the Books: The Underground Economy of the Urban Poor (Harvard University Press, 2006) won the C. Wright Mills Award (2007) and a Best Book Award from Slate.com (2006). His study of the economic order in a low-income neighborhood was an outgrowth research conducted for his earlier book, American Project: The Rise and Fall of a Modern Ghetto (2000.) In American Project, Venkatesh was able to document the experience and tell the history of residents in Chicago’s infamous housing development, the Robert Taylor Homes. He also draws on this line of research for his forthcoming book, Gang Leader for a Day, a reported memoir (Penguin Press, 2008).

With the University of Chicago economist Steven Levitt, Sudhir Venkatesh published a series of articles on the economic logic of gang and drug activity in urban ghettos. Asking whether crime does, indeed, pay for urban minority males limited in their access to opportunities in the legitimate work world, Venkatesh and Levitt combine their perspectives to provide revealing insights about the drug economy with implications for how to attack persistent urban violence. While the economic perspective provides a frame from which to evaluate the monetary payoff of participating in drug selling, Venkatesh’s sensitivities as an ethnographer provides insights into gang members’ non-monetary incentives and “moral universe.” In an interview about his work, Venkatesh said, “I have to ensure that I present their [gang members] own moral boundaries, their own struggle to define what is right and wrong, and how all of our moral foundations are rooted in material circumstances.” He will draw on these analyses for his Urban Studies talk.

His ongoing research projects include a study of immigration and settlement in the suburbs of Paris and an in-depth study of the re-entry to society of formerly incarcerated New Yorkers. He continues to document the transformation of public housing in Chicago. After more than ten years of following families who were relocated as a result of the destruction of public housing developments, he produced a documentary film, "Dislocation," which aired on PBS in 2005.

Venkatesh is also the co-editor of another publication, Youth, Globalization and the Law (Stanford University Press 2006) and Director of the Youth and Globalization Collaborative Research Network at the Social Science Research Council. At Columbia University, Venkatesh also directs the Center for Urban Research and Policy and the Charles H. Revson Fellowship Program. Another project that he is undertaking in collaboration with the economist Steven Levitt is a long-term project on sex work in New York and Chicago.

For examples of Sudhir Venkatesh’s work, see:

Alexandra K. Murphy, Sudhir Alladi Venkatesh. "Vice Careers: The changing contours of sex work in New York City," Qualitative Sociology, June 2006

Sudhir Alladi Venkatesh. "Chicago’s Pragmatic Planners: American Sociology and the Myth of Community," Social Science History, 25:2 (summer 2001)

Steven Levitt and Sudhir Alladi Venkatesh. "An Economic Analysis of a Drug-Selling Gang's Finances," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, August 2000