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Book Club Fri Apr 09 2010
I hope you've been reading Gang Leader for a Day by Sudhir Venkatesh along with us this month. What an incredible story. We'll be meeting at The Book Cellar this Monday, April 12, at 7:30pm to talk about the book. New members are always welcome!
These discussion questions are taken Penguin's reading guide for Gang Leader for a Day:
- How would you respond if a graduate student from an elite university turned up at your door and announced his intention to study you? How would your reaction differ from what Sudhir Venkatesh encountered in Gang Leader for a Day?
- Give a character sketch of J.T. What are his particular strengths and weaknesses as a leader?
- In Gang Leader for a Day, Venkatesh continually compares the Black Kings' drug trafficking with more conventional forms of American business. To what extent are you persuaded by these comparisons?
- What strategies does Venkatesh use to gain the confidence of J.T. and the other people he meets at Robert Taylor? Does he ever completely gain their trust? Why are issues of trust so difficult in this book?
- In chapter two, Venkatesh and J.T. argue about whether a "culture of poverty" exists among poor blacks in America. In your opinion, does Gang Leader for a Day do more to confirm or to dispute that there is such a culture?
- Why is J.T. so anxious and controlling with regard to where Venkatesh goes and whom he talks with at Robert Taylor? Whom or what is he really protecting?
- On pages 146 through 149, Ms. Bailey blames the conditions at Robert Taylor on a larger society that has denied opportunities to the poor. To what extent do you consider her arguments persuasive?
- J.T. constantly rationalizes the activities of the Black Kings and maintains that the gang confers more benefits than detriments on the community. Is there any truth to his self-justifications? Are there ways in which the community would be worse off if the BKs were suddenly to disappear?
- Venkatesh's portrayal of the Chicago police and other "legitimate" institutions of power is less than wholly complimentary. To what extent do you think the city's institutions helped to create and maintain the conditions that allow gangs to flourish?
- Why do Venkatesh's efforts to educate the young women and children of the project fail so miserably? Why does he find it so difficult in general to help the people he encounters?
- How does a powerful woman like Ms. Bailey exert influence over the housing project? How does the exercise of female power in this book differ from the wielding of male power?
- As you read Gang Leader for a Day, were you troubled by the ethics of Venkatesh's research? Was he, as he himself sometimes worried, as exploitative and manipulative in his own way as J.T. was in his?
- Did reading Gang Leader for a Day make you more or less sympathetic to the problems of America's urban poor? Why?