"Hunger and Drug Dealing go Together"

I woke this morning to an interesting article in the Philadelphia Inquirer that details the latest work of University of Pennsylvania anthropologist Philippe Bourgois, who is continuing his trend of conducting fieldwork in dangerous environs. The article, part of a series titled "A Portrait of Hunger", includes lengthy discussion with Bourgois, and interviews with police and community members in the impoverished Kensington section of Philadelphia.
Other works by Bourgois include the research conducted in the 1980s in Harlem among crack dealers and users that led to the book, "In Search of Respect". His latest book, "Righteous Dopefiend", is a result of long term ethnographic work with homeless heroin and crack users in San Francisco, and included a partnership with photographer Jeff Schonberg. The result, according to the publisher, University of California Press:
"Righteous Dopefiend interweaves stunning black-and-white photographs with vivid dialogue, detailed field notes, and critical theoretical analysis. Its gripping narrative develops a cast of characters around the themes of violence, race relations, sexuality, family trauma, embodied suffering, social inequality, and power relations. The result is a dispassionate chronicle of survival, loss, caring, and hope rooted in the addicts’ determination to hang on for one more day and one more “fix” through a “moral economy of sharing” that precariously balances mutual solidarity and interpersonal betrayal."
Borgois' latest work in Kensington, a section of Philadelphia described in the article as "one of the poorest places in America", similarly situates him and some fellow ethnographers among drug dealers and users in a once prosperous working-class neighborhood in one of the oldest cities in the U.S. Notes Borgois: "They are selling drugs in the shadows of closed-down factories that used to employ their parents and grandparents. You'd almost have to be abnormal not to go into the drug trade." The potential dangers of such work became real for him this time in Philadelphia:
"The police thought I was a wiseguy, so they handcuffed me and kicked me like a football. I'm a frail guy, and I got hairline fractures of my ribs." Bourgois spent 18 hours in a cell in the 24th and 25th Police Districts' shared station house. His chest aching, he huddled in a tiny space - "Dante's ninth circle of hell," he calls it - with vomiting heroin addicts and a man bashing his head against the wall, yelling, "I can't take it!"
Still, he and his colleagues continue living in Kensington, documenting the lives of the poor with few options, and attempting to maintain some semblance of hope in the bleak conditions that are all too common in cities across the country.

Read the rest of the article here>>>

Photo of Phillipe Borgois couresy of phillipebourgois.net

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