Selling crack in el barrio

There are graphic accounts of gang rapes, for example, and seemingly endless accounts of husbands beating up wives and pregnant women taking crack. One of the primary goals of the so-called reinvention of welfare now underway in Washington is to try and stop the apparent self-destruction of the inner-city family.

They often tolerate inordinate amounts of abuse. Even as they do vast quantities of heroin and cocaine — often sniffing and snorting even as they talk to Bourgois — and unspeakable things to each other, his subjects come across as normal. Take yours! Each attempt, however, ends in failure.

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My big-time dealer was a small dapper man, with close-cropped hair and a carefully trimmed moustache. Behaviour that seems random and pointless from the outside, Bourgois shows, in fact reflects the understandable attempt of people like Primo and Caesar to make sense of their world.

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Even Ray, the local kingpin, makes repeated attempts to break into the real economy, trying first to open a laundromat and then a social club.

He has also conducted research in Central America on ethnicity and social unrest and is the author of Ethnicity at Work: Divided Labor on a Central American Banana Plantation which was based on two years of living in the workers' barracks of a Chiquita Brands banana plantation spanning the borders of Costa Rica and Panama.

He was no longer a provider.

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Malcolm Gladwell reviews ‘In Search of Respect’ by Philippe Bourgois