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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.
In 2009, Chicago spent millions of dollars to create programs to prevent gang violence in some of its most disadvantaged neighborhoods. Yet in spite of the programs, violence has grown worse in some of the very neighborhoods that the violence prevention programs were intented to help. While public officials and social scientists often attribute the violence - and the failure of the programs - to a lack of community in poor neighborhoods, closer study reveals another source of community division: local politics. Through an ethnographic case study of Chicago's Little Village neighborhood, Wounded City dispells the popular belief that a lack of community is the primary source of violence, arguing that competition for political power and state resources often undermine efforts to reduce gang violence. Robert Vargas argues that the state, through the way it governs, can contribute to distrust and division among community members, thereby undermining social cohesion. The strategic actions taken by police officers, politicians, nonprofit organizations, and gangs to collaborate or compete for power and resources can vary block by block, triggering violence on some blocks while successfully preventing it on others. A rich blend of urban politics, sociology, and criminology, Wounded City offers a cautionary tale for elected officials, state agencies, and community based organizations involved with poor neighborhoods.
Winner of CLR James Book Prize from the Working Class Studies Association and 2nd Place for the Victor Turner Prize in Ethnographic Writing. In 1980, Christine J. Walley’s world was turned upside down when the steel mill in Southeast Chicago where her father worked abruptly closed. In the ensuing years, ninety thousand other area residents would also lose their jobs in the mills—just one example of the vast scale of deindustrialization occurring across the United States. The disruption of this event propelled Walley into a career as a cultural anthropologist, and now, in Exit Zero, she brings her anthropological perspective home, examining the fate of her family and that of blue-collar America at large. Interweaving personal narratives and family photos with a nuanced assessment of the social impacts of deindustrialization, Exit Zero is one part memoir and one part ethnography— providing a much-needed female and familial perspective on cultures of labor and their decline. Through vivid accounts of her family’s struggles and her own upward mobility, Walley reveals the social landscapes of America’s industrial fallout, navigating complex tensions among class, labor, economy, and environment. Unsatisfied with the notion that her family’s turmoil was inevitable in the ever-forward progress of the United States, she provides a fresh and important counternarrative that gives a new voice to the many Americans whose distress resulting from deindustrialization has too often been ignored. This book is part of a project that also includes a documentary film and interactive website. For more information, and the chance to share your own stories, photos, and artefacts regarding the history of Southeast Chicago, please visit: http://www.exitzeroproject.org/
Annotation A study of the culture of disability in China and the emergence of the government institution known as the China Disabled Persons' Federation.

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