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"We Live in the Shadow"

Inner-City Kids Tell Their Stories through Photographs

Elaine Bell Kaplan

Publication Year: 2013

 Looking at their photo of railroad tracks, a group of preteen students in South Central Los Angeles see either "a way out of the ghetto," or a "dirty, bad environment." Such are the impressions expressed in the poignant "We Live in the Shadow": Inner-City Kids Tell Their Stories through Photographs.

In Elaine Bell Kaplan's perceptive book, at-risk youth were given five-dollar cameras to tell stories about their world. Their photos and stories show us their response to negative inner-city teen images. We follow them into their schools, and we hear about their creative coping strategies. While these kids see South Central as dangerous, they also see themselves as confident enough to not let the inner city take them down. They refuse to be labeled as "ghetto thugs," as outsiders sometimes do. These outsiders include police, teachers, and other groups representing the institutional voices governing their daily lives.  

The kids in "We Live in the Shadow": Inner-City Kids Tell Their Stories through Photographs have developed a multilayered view of society. This impressive book gives voice to their resilience.

Published by: Temple University Press


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pp. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. 2-7


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xii

I owe a debt of gratitude to the brilliant kids who trusted me with their photos and stories and whose inner-city experiences challenge popular assumptions and theoretical perspectives about inner-city kids’ lives. I give special thanks to the directors of the after-school centers who took time out of their busy schedules to talk with me ...

Part I: Kids with Cameras

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1. “What Do You Want to Tell Me about This Picture?”

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pp. 3-16

On a bright spring day, ten middle schoolers from the Latino and African American communities in South Central Los Angeles,1 ranging in age from twelve to fourteen, sit around an oval-shaped desk in a dimly lit second-floor classroom on the campus of the University of Southern California (USC) ...

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2. The Photovoice Methodology

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pp. 17-26

For this project, I draw on Jay MacLeod’s idea that the stories of kids from poor neighborhoods “are less often told and much less heard.” But we must listen, he argues, because they “provide a poignant account of what the social structure looks like from the bottom.”1 ...

Part II: History and Transformation of South Central

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3. “Don’t Be a Menace to South Central while Drinking Your Juice in the Hood”

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pp. 29-40

Los Angeles, like other large urban centers (New York City, for example), is a big place with lots of people. Unlike New York City, Los Angeles has long been noted for its sprawling major commercial, financial, and cultural institutions, which are geographically dispersed rather than being concentrated in a single downtown or central area.1 ...

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4. “Send Them All to Iraq”

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pp. 41-50

Few people seem to care about the fears of kids like those of South Central. Instead, many Americans agree with the “ghetto thug” stereotype of them. One blogger, writing about South Central kids, complains, “They don’t have the tools to process what they are doing to their community. ...

Part III: Kids’ School Stories

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5. Teachers and Dirty Bathrooms

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pp. 53-68

Abby, a pretty, petite fourteen-year-old African American wearing a white short-sleeve blouse and blue striped short pants flashes a big smile as she sits down at the classroom table. Abby was in the fourth grade when her mother received a call from her daughter’s teacher and an NAI staff member recommending her daughter for the NAI tutorial program. ...

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6. “She’s Gettin’ Her Learn On”

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pp. 69-88

Wynette, a tall, strikingly pretty African American with light brown eyes, dressed in a white sleeveless blouse and black cutoffs, flips through the twelve photographs she has taken of groups of friends. Wynette sighs before she begins to talk about the photos that she takes. ...

Part IV: Kids’ Neighborhood Stories

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7. “I Was Just Scared”

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pp. 91-110

We are often told that minority adolescents are a threat to an orderly society. We focus on their poor academic performance, sexual behavior, drug habits, or gang involvement, yet we fail to examine the ways they feel threatened by society. We also fail to examine the ways in which kids may be active participants in their own lives. ...

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8. Garbage, Alleyways, and Painted Doors

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pp. 111-126

One Saturday, after attending NAI’s Saturday Academy, where they meet with tutors from 9:00 to 12:00, Manuel, a thirteen-year-old Latino, and Danielle and Spencer, both twelve-year-old African Americans, come bouncing up the stairs to the second-floor USC classroom. ...

Part V: Kids’ Family Stories

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9. Strain of a Heart

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pp. 129-150

Adults often view middle schoolers as they do younger children, as passive recipients of care, as the focus of adult socialization efforts, and as having little that is constructive to say about family dynamics or social structural factors. However, the views offered by the kids in this study prove otherwise. ...

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10. To Hope for Something

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pp. 151-166

This book is an in-depth study of fifty-four kids’ perceptions of inner-city life. These kids see society as failing to grasp the daily challenges they confront or to understand the extent to which they feel shunned, hidden, and forgotten. For Kyle and others, there is an ongoing ambivalence toward the college students’ responses to the photograph of the railroad track. ...

Appendix A: Participants by Race/Ethnicity, Gender, and Age

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pp. 167-182

Appendix B: University of Southern California Neighborhood Academic Initiative Program Graduate Survey, 1997–2011

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pp. 168-170

Appendix C: Assignments and Questionnaire

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pp. 171-172


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pp. 173-186


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pp. 187-193

E-ISBN-13: 9781439907917
E-ISBN-10: 1439907919
Print-ISBN-13: 9781439907900
Print-ISBN-10: 1439907900

Page Count: 208
Publication Year: 2013

OCLC Number: 844924441
MUSE Marc Record: Download for "We Live in the Shadow"

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Inner cities -- United States.
  • City children -- United States -- Social conditions.
  • Urban poor -- United States -- Social conditions.
  • Equality -- United States.
  • Photography -- Social aspects -- United States.
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