How Do Science And Politics Come Together In Urban Ethnography?
I tend to choose my ethnographic projects with an eye to revealing both the common and distinctive elements of humanity. Most people have common bases of life, and many who are presumed to be quite different have some salient “moral” characteristics in common. Slim’s Table was an effort to document commonalities between an invisible inner city black working poor and mainstream society. Sidewalk tried to disentangle what is common and what is distinctive about unhoused black men on the streets, accounting for the distinctions and similarities in light of history, situation, and structure. These and other urban ethnographic projects have pivotal agendas that are both scientific and political: to systematically study the lives of the urban poor in a period of U.S. history characterized by a strong current of ideological and cultural dehumanization of marginalized social groups. In such an era, it is important to account for difference and to reaffirm elements of commonality in accordance with the highest standards of evidence. To do so rigorously is both a scientific enterprise and a political project.
Voices from the Sidewalk: Ethnography and Writing Race (in conversation with Les Back) Ethnic and Racial Studies, 2006, Vol. 29, 2006 [.pdf]
“Sur la négligence théorique et autres écueils de l’ethnographie ” Revue française de sociologie, Volume 1, January 2006 [.pdf]
“Talking City Trouble: Interactional Vandalism, Social Inequality, and the "Urban Interaction Problem" American Journal of Sociology (Volume 104, Number 5, March 1999) (co-authored with With HARVEY MOLOTCH)
Sidewalk, (Farrar Straus and Giroux, 1999) [With photographs by Ovie Carter and an afterword by Hakim Hasan]
Slim’s Table (University of Chicago Press, 1992) [With Photographs by Ovie Carter)