Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Notes on Whyte's Street Corner Society

Chapter 1: Doc and His Boys
1. The Members of the Gang

opening reads like a novel with a first person narrative as Whyte begins his description of the Nortons, a gang he is 'studying'.

My God this is Dickens! How Fagan got his mojo only in this case it is Doc. A remakrkable recording of conversation. How did he do this?

Whyte chronicles the rise of Doc as gang leader including an extended story about a running battle that for all of me sounds like violent capture the flag or red rover.

I love the accent and argot and the way Whyte captures the voice of his Doc. He describers the long term relationship betgween the gangs and the settlement house. Ten to twelve years for some! Where do we have this anymore outside of schools?

Whyte describes Danny, Doc's closest friend and how they connected up with Mike. Whyte is clear in this narrative about the connections btweeen and among the young men, a ntework map in words.

In his descriptions of Nutsy I see how closely Whyte knew these folks. I especially like how he describes how Carl and tommy "accepted" nutsy's leaership-very nuanced and empathic.

Whyte is alying out the various roles but not from some preconceived idea about role behavior but based upon facts at hand. I am truly struck by the artistic 'behaviors' of so many of the men-stained glass, classical violin. Whyte is not working from stereotypes.

In 1937 the Norton gang reformed with a much different lineup tied together by "mutual obligations". Perhaps we are beginning to see the analytic method pull together. The reference to strong group loyalties is very much kin to the idea in social capital studies about strong ties.

Page 12 "I" is expressed for the first time. Whyte influence map is a visualization of the group. This is triangulation of a sort where his narrative data is backed by a data visualiztion. Taken together they make a gestalt, taken apart not so much. Classic fusion of right and left hemispherics.

So Whyte has brought us up to speed on the politics and social structure of the gang of young men aged 20-29.


Whyte sets up the class struggle in the Italian Community Club as represented by the bowling match between the college boys and the Norton boys. The not so secrect agenda was to put the high-toned leaders in their place. You can see from the map above that Fred and Lou are once removed from Doc, but only once removed from the club leaders; hence, their 'betrayal'.

Bowling drew the gang togehter even mpore than usual. Whyte is especially concerned about not only describing the game but alson the mental landscape of the game for its participants especially in his discussion of confidence which I can only presume he got from his long nights of bowling with the boyis. Suffice to say: "there was a close connection between a man's bowling and position in the group." (18) Doc clearly wishes to win and regulurly brings in ringers from outside of the group to bowl in the five-man rotation.

Whyte takes up the interesting story of the meritorious, but choking Alex.
Doc creates an opportunity to decide on a merit pecking order by way of a culminating bowlokng matchbowl.

Doc and Long John acknowledge that the match was only intended as a way to reinforce the existing pecking order. Note how Whyte lets the words of the boys define the context. He does not impose a structure or meaning from the outside. It is interesting that Doc knew his gang well enough to know that there was little danger in having his apple cart turned over. Self-testing on his part? If so a powerful leadership tool.

Whyte defines the function of heckling and realizes that his position as a tolerated outsided did not entitle him to heckling. To the group, he donesn't really matter. Alecs response to his loss in the match is to challenge other one on one. Doc is the deciding factor by exhorting Long John to beat Alec.
This is the long way round the barn to saying that social position withing the gang matched bowling skill. Doc attempts to keep the status quo. In fact the bolwing league might be considered as a happy way to reinforce gang status, but Doc never wanted it as a way to challenge gang status. Or maybe he did?


Whyte describes the social gap between the two clubs in the words of the boys--conceited. Doc tricked up a meet on their turf (the bowling alley) with the girls. The group drew together because of the bowling and Doc brought the Nporton's back to settlement house, the Aphrodite's turf. It didn't work because of the settlement house director. After tht the girls became a pawn in the power struggle between the norton's and the Commnunity Club. Alec and Joe have a falling out over this and that upsets the Norton's clearly as a challenge to the social order.

Whyte catches all of the nuance in this social dynamic because he is on tghe inside, not the outside doing sukrvey and making netwrok maps.


Change and dynamic affect the gang even though it appears stable. Doc struggles as a single unemployed male to expand his influence in politics. Doc's pretension to llarger spheres of leadership put the gang off kilter just as much as others had, perhaps even more so.


The gang fell off to six from the original thirteen. Doc was lspun out fromt gang becauseof his new job. And he is no longer the leader of the gang. Especially sad is the 'straddle' situation of Long John who is not part of Doc's or the gang's inner circle.

Interesting that Whyte intervenes in aid of Long John, a true participant/observer. But the most interesting story is the one where Doc by force of personality takes over the Drmatic Club from Angelo.


The researcher, like his informants, is a social animal---that is the takeaway from this research. ONe must find a way into the community and a way to be a part of the community. And a description of this is a part of the research.

Whyte has a powerful description of the interaction between data and experience that I think reflects the focus of reason and the holism of experience. We abstract but only as ir arises from experience. It is as he says a unique phenomenology but one in which common elements may arise.


Upper middle class
Aspriation to write which you can see clearly in his opening.
Social reform urges
Came to understand people in a 'lilfe situation' as Myles Horton put it
Lincoln Steffens as a model for movement between classes


"I was forced to do what I wanted to do..." this is an astonishing quote about doing reserach that is intrinsically interesting.
starts with a vague idea
Unscientific view of model slum--Dornerville


Used Lynds' Middletown as a model and began to think of his own role as sociologicla and athropological.
Preliminary plan
Spught advice
Advice was cold water on his big undertaking.
Abandoned grandious for the street corner
Originally thought to apply friendship patterns to Cornerville families,but in the end decided that he would just observe them in situ.
Had a research partner.
Finally realized that Cornerville was a rather large universe unto itself.
Took aa research methodology in its infancy out into the field for the first time. Get help.


Make a false start.
Make another falst start.
Got another idea--ask for help.
Try on their wisdom and try it out.
Take a little risk.
Find out where your subjects are.
Find out where subject zero is.
Get lucky and seize the day.
Live where your people are.


Don't take your hat off in the house--i.e. pay the hell attention!
Keep observing and stay ouit of trouble.


Have a cover story that makes sense to those who are listening to it.
Line up supporters and allies.
Share with these allies
REalize that yoiu will have an evvect on the field of observation.
Seek out the leaders wherever you are.
Be open and odon't argue.
Don't ask open ended questions so much as watch what happens.
Know your place and keep to it.
Don't seek to overtly influence, but be helpful in ways that reflect local custom.
Your note organization will grow from your research but start with some plan.


The study will find you if you ante up.

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Location:Sociology 510

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Notes for Summary

Sociology 510

Dr. Steve Groce

Terry Elliott


Liebow echoes Jyndon Johnson's 'war on poverty' as unfortunate a metaphor as has ever been promoted.

Fast forward from past to present--poverty has always been with us, in 1963 25% poor, 30% black. The Black Poor are more extreme and tend to be generational.

A paucity of studies on male poverty as opposed to female and children.

Black male is written off as beyond help and as needing to help himself. NO research necessary.

Black male is 'harder to reach'--one might say that there are fewer leverage points on him-no children or mothers of children to act as a place to pry forth research information.

And like the carpenter every problem looks like a nail, every black problem tends to look like the problems of children and mothers.

The black subjects tha can be studied are 'captive' and thus the sample is skewed toward that bias.

Upshot? Expand range of research into to lower-class life. But there are problems including the validity of interview and questionnaire techniques.Gr8 response in fokotnote on 4 on page 9 that points to the problem of assuming that responses to questionaires and surveys mean the same thing to lower and middle class folks.

Purpose of study? Coming to 'grouind' with lower class folk on their turf and their terms.

Participant observation (P/O) methdology not questionaires and structured interviews intended to give a ground level icture of the world of lower class Negro men, not hypothesis testing.

I can't help but think how brave this was of these researchers to buck the quant tide and do this very different and powerful methodology--exploratiroy not designed.

24 men form the sample of the study which was conducted at all hours over a single year on street corners and varioius 'haunts and hangouts' for these men.

The researchers state the 'sense' was not built into the data, but rather it was made post hoc with a simple framework--streetcorner man as father/husband/lover/friend/breadwinner. I.e. commonly accepted behavioral roles that fit in all classes and can be categorized similarly.

I feel I am missing something in footnote 6 on page 12. Maybe we could talk about this in class.

The roles-based categories are not just imposed on them from outside but they are relationships that make common sense to the subjects of the study. They see themselves as hasbands, fathers, frieinds, lvoers, etc. This fit makes us do less violence to the data.

And... it makes cross-class comparison simpler and more plausible.

Researchers are not attempting to generalize outside of the context of the study. Neither are they saying that their subjects are abjectly idiosykncratic. No random sampling, in fact the study came to be by accident. The point? All research is contextualized and particular, but that context is fixed in time and place and hence is representative of someting larger.

I love how the resarchers summarizing all of street and streetcorner and public lower class life as trouble, tghrill, fate and fall.

Purpose again is examine a miniature and to make sense of it in place and to offer an explanation.


Researchers situate the reader in the 'archetypal' corner store then moves us out into the community as if moving fromthe heart to the hands. Place moves toward people as they describe the residents. Stats show hard times, but not all are "poor, dependent, and delinquent" but leans toward the "overcrowded, broken-plaster end of the scale."

And quite nicely the narrative returnes ot the Corner Shop and its description. I think this is a very good pattern and one I might adopt in my onw research into Skkype use by my doctoral cohort.

Bizarre observation in footnote about women eating Argo Starch.

This is at first an 'outside-in' view of the men in the corner milieu that moves very quickly to individual characterizations.

Page 28 reads like the dramatis personae of a play.

Chapter 5 Lovers and Exploiters (one of the chracterizations that the authors spoke of as useful earlier)

Exploitative characteristic of relationships both male and female. Men present themselves as such and expect other men to act self same toward women--sex objects and 'piggy banks'. Countervailing forces give the lie to these expression of exploitation. In ohter words all parties have a strong capacity for self-denial.

Interesting use of 'capital' metaphor tod describe the exploitation of relationship. to not exploit is to not cash in and hence to show oneself as a bad businessman. Marx would love to describe how the structural system of capitalism actually forces its denizens to embody its principles.

Men divide the world of women int nice and not nice only the latter which can be exploted. These roads separately taken justify sexual gamesmanship and romantic idealism.

You use contraception with not nice girls and don't with nice girls- the former is seen as contractual with no entangelments expected or wanted, the latter is seen as non-contractual with future entanglements as allowed, i.e. kids.

Again, the characterization is broad and not generalizable even among this small sample of men. In other words, as Emerson said, consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds and the exploitative and non-exploitative wind around within relationships as well. That would make perfect sense, too, because once a schema is developed then other purposes may certainly be made of them.

Neat how the larger category can be used as a container for other categories which subsequently have holes punched in them to demonstrate that relationships have flux.

A Field Experience in Retrospect

Lol, ' adamned fine reading of Snow White...."

LIebow describes himself in the context of the study (someting I will have to do in my study of Skype in a doctoral cohort.)

Prepring for the Field

Dr. Hylan Lewis' advice for all ethnographers: all is grist for the mill of the project.

Talk things over at a general, feeling out level.

Look over project literature.

Make like an anthropologistr.

Observe the encompassable, not the all-encompassing.

In the Field

Complete submersion led to a change in research plans from a neat and clean, boundaried one to an excursion of poking about and rock turning that stayed pretty close to his corner store 'home'. Leibow fully intended to return to his well marked research field to plow the next day, but as he put it 'tomorrow never came."

REsearch as a series of stories. Meeting people and talking as research. Gaining confidants and confidence as research. Liebow feels as if he is reaching a minimal state of belonging whatever that is it cannot be measured but it can be shown. How? By indicating how he was becoming a street corner man in training.

Research as a leap of faith and of following one's nose. IN the case of Lonny it meant inserting one into the subject of one's research. To research is to be human and humane. No sense of manipulaton or that Lonny was his research ticket to ride although some might think it so.

Interesting to see the word 'entrenched' in a research paper and glad of it. Yet he knokws that he is at best a tolerated outsider. Liebow in his insightful way recognizes that any thoughts that he was otherwise would be "vanity". Yet he subscribes to the Swiftian idea that while a community might not consider you anything other than a white man, some Tom, Dick and Harry's might. Some might bring you into their circle. Two contrarites ideas held simultaneously-genius. The metaphor of a chainlink fence is this genuis personified. Separate but equal?

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Location:Sociology 510