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Every morning Chicagoans wake up to the same stark headlines that read like some macabre score: “13 shot, 4 dead overnight across the city,” and nearly every morning the same elision occurs: what of the nine other victims? As with war, much of our focus on inner-city violence is on the death toll, but the reality is that far more victims live to see another day and must cope with their injuries—both physical and psychological—for the rest of their lives. Renegade Dreams is their story. Walking the streets of one of Chicago’s most violent neighborhoods—where the local gang has been active for more than fifty years—Laurence Ralph talks with people whose lives are irrecoverably damaged, seeking to understand how they cope and how they can be better helped. Going deep into a West Side neighborhood most Chicagoans only know from news reports—a place where children have been shot just for crossing the wrong street—Ralph unearths the fragile humanity that fights to stay alive there, to thrive, against all odds. He talks to mothers, grandmothers, and pastors, to activists and gang leaders, to the maimed and the hopeful, to aspiring rappers, athletes, or those who simply want safe passage to school or a steady job. Gangland Chicago, he shows, is as complicated as ever. It’s not just a warzone but a community, a place where people’s dreams are projected against the backdrop of unemployment, dilapidated housing, incarceration, addiction, and disease, the many hallmarks of urban poverty that harden like so many scars in their lives. Recounting their stories, he wrestles with what it means to be an outsider in a place like this, whether or not his attempt to understand, to help, might not in fact inflict its own damage. Ultimately he shows that the many injuries these people carry—like dreams—are a crucial form of resilience, and that we should all think about the ghetto differently, not as an abandoned island of unmitigated violence and its helpless victims but as a neighborhood, full of homes, as a part of the larger society in which we all live, together, among one another.
Inner city communities in the US have become junkyards of dreams, to quote Mike Daviswastelands where gangs package narcotics to stimulate the local economy, gunshots occur multiple times on any given day, and dreams of a better life can fade into the realities of poverty and disability. Laurence Ralph lived in such a community in Chicago for three years, conducting interviews and participating in meetings with members of the local gang which has been central to the community since the 1950s. Ralph discovered that the experience of injury, whether physical or social, doesn t always crush dreams into oblivion; it can transform them into something productive: renegade dreams. The first part of this book moves from a critique of the way government officials, as opposed to grandmothers, have been handling the situation, to a study of the history of the historic Divine Knights gang, to a portrait of a duo of gang members who want to be recognized as authentic rappers (they call their musical style crack music ) and the difficulties they face in exiting the gang. The second part is on physical disability, including being wheelchair bound, the prevalence of HIV/AIDS among heroin users, and the experience of brutality at the hands of Chicago police officers. In a final chapter, The Frame, Or How to Get Out of an Isolated Space, Ralph offers a fresh perspective on how to understand urban violence. The upshot is a total portrait of the interlocking complexities, symbols, and vicissitudes of gang life in one of the most dangerous inner city neighborhoods in the US. We expect this study will enjoy considerable readership, among anthropologists, sociologists, and other scholars interested in disability, urban crime, and race."
Every morning Chicagoans wake up to the same stark headlines that read like some macabre score: “13 shot, 4 dead overnight across the city,” and nearly every morning the same elision occurs: what of the nine other victims? As with war, much of our focus on inner-city violence is on the death toll, but the reality is that far more victims live to see another day and must cope with their injuries—both physical and psychological—for the rest of their lives. Renegade Dreams is their story. Walking the streets of one of Chicago’s most violent neighborhoods—where the local gang has been active for more than fifty years—Laurence Ralph talks with people whose lives are irrecoverably damaged, seeking to understand how they cope and how they can be better helped. Going deep into a West Side neighborhood most Chicagoans only know from news reports—a place where children have been shot just for crossing the wrong street—Ralph unearths the fragile humanity that fights to stay alive there, to thrive, against all odds. He talks to mothers, grandmothers, and pastors, to activists and gang leaders, to the maimed and the hopeful, to aspiring rappers, athletes, or those who simply want safe passage to school or a steady job. Gangland Chicago, he shows, is as complicated as ever. It’s not just a warzone but a community, a place where people’s dreams are projected against the backdrop of unemployment, dilapidated housing, incarceration, addiction, and disease, the many hallmarks of urban poverty that harden like so many scars in their lives. Recounting their stories, he wrestles with what it means to be an outsider in a place like this, whether or not his attempt to understand, to help, might not in fact inflict its own damage. Ultimately he shows that the many injuries these people carry—like dreams—are a crucial form of resilience, and that we should all think about the ghetto differently, not as an abandoned island of unmitigated violence and its helpless victims but as a neighborhood, full of homes, as a part of the larger society in which we all live, together, among one another.
* Winner: International Congress of Qualitative Inquiry, Outstanding Book Award 2016 * My Father’s Wars is an anthropologist's vivid account of her father's journey across continents, countries, cultures, generations, and wars. It is a daughter's moving portrait of a charming, funny, wounded and difficult man. And it is a scholar's reflection on the dramatic forces of history, the experience of exile and immigration, the legacies of culture, and the enduring power of memory. This book is for Anthropology and Sociology courses in qualitative methods, ethnography, violence, migration, and ethnicity.
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