Category Archives: Sociology

Tally’s Corner: A Study of Negro Streetcorner Men – Elliot Liebow

thecornerThe first edition of Tally’s Corner, a sociological classic selling more than one million copies, was the first compelling response to the culture of poverty thesis-that the poor are different and, according to conservatives, morally inferior-and alternative explanations that many African-Americans are caught in a tangle of pathology owing to the absence of black men in families. The debate has raged up to the present day. Yet Liebow’s shadow theory of values-especially the values of poor, urban, black men-remains the single most parsimonious account of the reasons why the behavior of the poor appears to be at odds with the values of the American mainstream.

While Elliot Liebow’s vivid narrative of “street-corner” black men remains unchanged, the new introductions to this long-awaited revised edition bring the book up to date. Wilson and Lemert describe the debates since 1965 and situate Liebow’s classic text in respect to current theories of urban poverty and race. They account for what Liebow might have seen had he studied the street corner today after welfare has been virtually ended and the drug economy had taken its toll. They also take stock of how the new global economy is a source of added strain on the urban poor. Discussion of field methods since the 1960s rounds out the book’s new coverage.

I first became aware of this book through reading the excellent The Corner: A Year in the Life of an Inner-City Neighbourhood; which would eventually form the bedrock of so many storylines in The Wire.  In many ways that book is the perfect follow-up to Tally’s Corner, which in itself is a dynamic study of relationships in poorer neighbourhoods and their place in wider society.

This seminal work focuses on a cross-section of a Washington DC street corner society (poor African-American men who work only intermittently if at all) and the local environs.  It gives the reader a glimpse into a different world, where the choices both men and women make have come about through the struggle against poverty through generations. It’s a world where different rules apply exclusively to them no matter how absurd some will appear to outsiders.

It is thus, a book that rewards reading and learning not so much with pleasure as with the painful recognition that American race troubles remain so stubbornly at the center of social and economic life.

The above quote underlines the lack of understanding still prevailing all these years on, or perhaps the lack of interest in solving the problems that affect us all in some way.  Focussing on the men – who pass mostly under the radar – and their relationships – both work and family – the reader is given an intimate portrait into the life of the time. The cast is fairly sizeable and diverse and all the stories are equally fascinating of challenging in different ways. Read the rest of this entry »


Posted by on 05/03/2017 in Sociology


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The Corner: A Year in the Life of an Inner-city Neighbourhood – David Simon & Ed Burns

  Earlier this year I reviewed the brilliant Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets which detailed a year in the life of the Baltimore Homicide Department. And now, having missed the actual tenth anniversary date of The Wire’s first airing in the US (June 2 2002, (thanks Tom Robinson for that)) it seems totally appropriate to have a look at the sister book which chronicles the people living and surviving in the urban slums of Baltimore city circa 1993.

The age of the book though, makes no difference to what is a startling and extremely relevant subject, shockingly despite the book being first published in 1997 a lot of the issues contained within are still endemic today.

The cover quote saying this book is ‘a devastating portrait’ and that isn’t the half of it.  For those who have seen The Wire, then this is season 4 but with only a thin sliver of humour. For everyone else who hasn’t watched one of the most powerful and true to life dramas ever produced, I shall give a brief description of what this book deals with.

The treatise is set around some of the areas notorious open air drugs markets.  The narcotics culture has pervaded all over the district and we are introduced to the many diverse individuals who coexist together, everyone from addicts, dealers, the children growing up seeing all the money associated with drugs and community workers.

The portrait of each individual really made me feel close to them, and I was really rooting for everyone to come good throughout, of course with a book like this, there is plenty of adversity and affliction and not nearly as many happy endings as I hoped for.  But this is real life, none of that Disney happy endings for everyone nonsense, it doesn’t happen and people really should stop kidding themselves that it does.

Some of the people, (most of the names haven’t been changed, interestingly) who appear in this book, have me in mind of the tragic characters that Dickens was so successful in creating in all their intense sadness and hopelessness.  To give more depth to each individual, extensive interviews were carried out by the authors over three years chronicling their thoughts, fears, hopes and dreams etc.

As you may have guessed this isn’t the lightest read you will ever come across, and it is certainly more heavy going than Homicide was, yet it is never less than compelling,and when finished it is a book to be endlessly refered too and contemplated.  The subject matter and challenge of the book are a small price to pay though for the understanding that can be gleaned about the social iniquity of one of the most powerful countries in the world. Read the rest of this entry »


Posted by on 11/09/2012 in Journalism, Sociology, True Crime


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