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The Culture and Politics of Contemporary Street Gang Memoirs

Josephine Metcalf

The publication of Sanyika Shakur's Monster: The Autobiography of an L.A. Gang Member in 1993 generated a huge amount of excitement in literary circles--New York Times book critic Michiko Kakutani deemed it a "shocking and galvanic book"--and set off a new publishing trend of gang memoirs in the 1990s. The memoirs showcased tales of violent confrontation and territorial belonging but also offered many of the first journalistic and autobiographical accounts of the much-mythologized gang subculture.

In The Culture and Politics of Contemporary Street Gang Memoirs, Josephine Metcalf focuses on three of these memoirs--Shakur's Monster; Luis J. Rodriguez's Always Running: La Vida Loca: Gang Days in L.A.; and Stanley "Tookie" Williams's Blue Rage, Black Redemption--as key representatives of the gang autobiography. Metcalf examines the conflict among violence, thrilling sensationalism, and the authorial desire to instruct and warn competing within these works. The narrative arcs of the memoirs themselves rest on the process of conversion from brutal, young gang bangers to nonviolent, enlightened citizens.

Metcalf analyzes the emergence, production, marketing, and reception of gang memoirs. Through interviews with Rodriguez, Shakur, and Barbara Cottman Becnel (Williams's editor), Metcalf reveals both the writing and publishing processes. This book analyzes key narrative conventions, specifically how diction, dialogue, and narrative arcs shape the works. The book also explores how the memoirs are consumed. This interdisciplinary study--fusing literary criticism, sociology, ethnography, reader-response study, and editorial theory--brings scholarly attention to a popular, much-discussed, but understudied modern expression.

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Culture of Property

Race, Class, and Housing Landscapes in Atlanta, 1880-1950

LeeAnn Lands

This history of the idea of “neighborhood” in a major American city examines the transition of Atlanta, Georgia, from a place little concerned with residential segregation, tasteful surroundings, and property control to one marked by extreme concentrations of poverty and racial and class exclusion. Using Atlanta as a lens to view the wider nation, LeeAnn Lands shows how assumptions about race and class have coalesced with attitudes toward residential landscape aesthetics and home ownership to shape public policies that promote and protect white privilege.

Lands studies the diffusion of property ideologies on two separate but related levels: within academic, professional, and bureaucratic circles and within circles comprising civic elites and rank-and-file residents. By the 1920s, following the establishment of park neighborhoods such as Druid Hills and Ansley Park, white home owners approached housing and neighborhoods with a particular collection of desires and sensibilities: architectural and landscape continuity, a narrow range of housing values, orderliness, and separation from undesirable land uses—and undesirable people.

By the 1950s, these desires and sensibilities had been codified in federal, state, and local standards, practices, and laws. Today, Lands argues, far more is at stake than issues of access to particular neighborhoods, because housing location is tied to the allocation of a broad range of resources, including school funding, infrastructure, and law enforcement. Long after racial segregation has been outlawed, white privilege remains embedded in our culture of home ownership.

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Cultures of the City

Mediating Identities in Urban Latin/o America

Edited by Richard Young and Amanda Holmes

Cultures of the City explores the cultural mediations of relationships between people and urban spaces in Latin/o America and how these shape the identities of cities and their residents. The contributors to this volume examine identity and the sense of place and belonging that connect people to urban environments, relating these to considerations of ethnicity, social and economic class, gender, everyday life, and cultural practices. They also consider history and memory and the making of places through the iterative performance of social practices. As such, places are works in progress, a condition that is particularly evident in contemporary Latin/o American cities where the opposition between local and global influences is a prominent facet of daily life. These core issues are theorized further in an afterword by Abril Trigo, who takes the preceding chapters as a point of departure for a discussion of the dialectics of identity in the Latin/o American global city.

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Dangerous or Endangered?

Race and the Politics of Youth in Urban America

Jennifer Tilton, 0, 0

“This compelling book reveals a disturbing trend towards widening, racialized social class divisions among children growing up in U.S. cities. Drawing upon extensive fieldwork in affluent and impoverished areas of Oakland, Tilton maps varied forms of community mobilization around children and youth. Beautifully observed, astutely analyzed, and directly relevant to current debates about ways of restoring a sense of the public good in an era of privatization.”

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David Dinkins and New York City Politics

Race, Images, and the Media

As the first African American elected mayor of New York City, David Dinkins underwent intense scrutiny—first from the black community, then from white liberal supporters, the media, and the city’s electorate. Wilbur C. Rich focuses on the critical role played by the New York City media in the perception of mayoral leadership. Using interviews and words of journalists, Rich examines media coverage as both the architect and challenger of Dinkins’ image. The making and unmaking of David Dinkins not only exposes much about the agency of African American politicians, but also reveals the fragility of electoral coalitions.

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Deflecting Immigration

Networks, Markets, and Regulation in Los Angeles

As international travel became cheaper and national economies grew more connected over the past thirty years, millions of people from the Third World emigrated to richer countries. A tenth of the population of Mexico relocated to the United States between 1980 and 2000. Globalization theorists claimed that reception cities could do nothing about this trend, since nations make immigration policy, not cities. In Deflecting Immigration, sociologist Ivan Light shows how Los Angeles reduced the sustained, high-volume influx of poor Latinos who settled there by deflecting a portion of the migration to other cities in the United States. In this manner, Los Angeles tamed globalization’s local impact, and helped to nationalize what had been a regional immigration issue. Los Angeles deflected immigration elsewhere in two ways. First, the protracted network-driven settlement of Mexicans naturally drove up rents in Mexican neighborhoods while reducing immigrants’ wages, rendering Los Angeles a less attractive place to settle. Second, as migration outstripped the city’s capacity to absorb newcomers, Los Angeles gradually became poverty-intolerant. By enforcing existing industrial, occupational, and housing ordinances, Los Angeles shut down some unwanted sweatshops and reduced slums. Their loss reduced the metropolitan region’s accessibility to poor immigrants without reducing its attractiveness to wealthier immigrants. Additionally, ordinances mandating that homes be built on minimum-sized plots of land with attached garages made home ownership in L.A.’s suburbs unaffordable for poor immigrants and prevented low-cost rental housing from being built. Local rules concerning home occupancy and yard maintenance also prevented poor immigrants from crowding together to share housing costs. Unable to find affordable housing or low-wage jobs, approximately one million Latinos were deflected from Los Angeles between 1980 and 2000. The realities of a new global economy are still unfolding, with uncertain consequences for the future of advanced societies, but mass migration from the Third World is unlikely to stop in the next generation. Deflecting Immigration offers a shrewd analysis of how America’s largest immigrant destination independently managed the challenges posed by millions of poor immigrants and, in the process, helped focus attention on immigration as an issue of national importance.

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Degraded Work

The Struggle at the Bottom of the Labor Market

Marc Doussard

Critics on the left and the right typically agree that globalization, the loss of manufacturing jobs, and the expansion of the service sector have led to income inequality and rising numbers of low-paying jobs with poor working conditions.

In Degraded Work, Marc Doussard demonstrates that this decline in wages and working conditions is anything but the unavoidable result of competitive economic forces. Rather, he makes the case that service sector and other local-serving employers have boosted profit with innovative practices to exploit workers, demeaning their jobs in new ways—denying safety equipment, fining workers for taking scheduled breaks, requiring unpaid overtime—that go far beyond wage cuts. Doussard asserts that the degradation of service work is a choice rather than an inevitability, and he outlines concrete steps that can be taken to help establish a fairer postindustrial labor market.

Drawing on fieldwork in Chicago, Degraded Work examines changes in two industries in which inferior job quality is assumed to be intrinsic: residential construction and food retail. In both cases, Doussard shows how employers degraded working conditions as part of a successful and intricate strategy to increase profits. Arguing that a growing service sector does not have to mean growing inequality, Doussard proposes creative policy and organizing opportunities that workers and advocates can use to improve job quality despite the overwhelming barriers to national political action.

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Democracy's Lot

Rhetoric, Publics, and the Places of Invention

Candice Rai’s Democracy’s Lot is an incisive exploration of the limitations and possibilities of democratic discourse for resolving conflicts in urban communities. Rai roots her study of democratic politics and publics in a range of urban case studies focused on public art, community policing, and urban development. These studies examine the issues that erupted within an ethnically and economically diverse Chicago neighborhood over conflicting visions for a vacant lot called Wilson Yard. Tracing how residents with disparate agendas organized factions and deployed language, symbols, and other rhetorical devices in the struggle over Wilson Yard’s redevelopment and other contested public spaces, Rai demonstrates that rhetoric is not solely a tool of elite communicators, but rather a framework for understanding the agile communication strategies that are improvised in the rough-and-tumble work of democratic life.
 
Wilson Yard, a lot eight blocks north of Wrigley Field in Chicago’s gentrifying Uptown neighborhood, is a diverse enclave of residents enlivened by recent immigrants from Guatemala, Mexico, Vietnam, Ethiopia, and elsewhere. The neighborhood’s North Broadway Street witnesses a daily multilingual hubbub of people from a wide spectrum of income levels, religions, sexual identifications, and interest groups. When a fire left the lot vacant, this divided community projected on Wilson Yard disparate and conflicting aspirations, the resolution of which not only determined the fate of this particular urban space, but also revealed the lot of democracy itself as a process of complex problem-solving. Rai’s detailed study of one block in an iconic American city brings into vivid focus the remarkable challenges that beset democratic urban populations anywhere on the globe—and how rhetoric supplies a framework to understand and resolve those challenges.
 
Based on exhaustive field work, Rai uses rhetorical ethnography to study competing publics, citizenship, and rhetoric in action, exploring “rhetorical invention,” the discovery or development by individuals of the resources or methods of engaging with and persuading others. She builds a case for democratic processes and behaviors based not on reflexive idealism but rather on the hard work and practice of democracy, which must address apathy, passion, conflict, and ambivalence.

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Desegregating the City

Ghettos, Enclaves, and Inequality

Desegregating the City takes a global, multidisciplinary look at segregation and the strengths and weaknesses of different antisegregation strategies in the United States and other developed countries. In contrast to previous works focusing exclusively on racial ghettos (products of coercion), this book also discusses ethnic enclaves (products of choice) in cities like Belfast, Toronto, Amsterdam, and New York. Since 9/11 the ghetto-enclave distinction has become blurred as crime and disorder have emanated from both European immigrant ethnic enclaves and America’s ghettos. The contributors offer a variety of tools for addressing the problems of racial and income segregation, including school integration, area-based “fair share” housing requirements, place-based mixed-income housing development, and expanded demand-side residential subsidy options such as housing vouchers. By exploring these alternatives and their consequences, Desegregating the City provides the basis for a combination of flexible antisegregation strategies.

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