Inequality in the Eyes of US Teenagers


A short review of etnographic book I enjoyed much. First published here.

The book has taught me everything there is to know about ethnography. The fact that The Brothers — predominantly black teenagers — are more positive towards America’s achievement ideology is baffling, thus as a non American reader made me curiously followed subsequent pages to know what happen to them in the future (job-related life, changed perceptions, etc). Their counterparts, on the contrary, Hallway Hangers (whom Macleod compared to Paul Willis’ lads), had realised from their early age that the achievement ideology was mere a sugar coated propaganda for the poor by the regime. They understood that the only way to make ends meet is to do an informal, and sometimes, illegal works such as drug dealing, theft, etc. While the Hallway Hangers were negative from beginning, the Brothers members were passionately active in school and perceived that key to success in life was determined by their educational progresses (some of them even foolishly set the future to become a lawyer or computer programmer).

This book focuses on said teenagers aspiration/perception on three structural basis: schooling, family, and economy/work. Those recorded aspirations were being analysed and compared to other works and Macleod won’t bore you with too conflicting ideas or theories. Macleod’s way to probe their aspirations is tragically funny, or funnily tragic. For example, when he came back to one of the teenagers for an interview, the now adult interviewee said that Macleod did this because he needed money so he’ had to write an expanded edition. He’d spent his time with them as a social worker so his status was relatively close to them, and made the dangerous environment (public housing with high criminal rate) friendly. Started as undergraduate work in Reagan-era America, this expanded edition (which span in three decades!) is a fundamental study of urban poor and theory of social reproduction. Surprisingly and sadly, the naivety of these young men’s perception on social class, social inequality, and neoliberal agenda couldn’t be more relevant these days.

Title: Ain’t No Makin’ It: Aspirations and Attainment in a Low-Income Neighborhood, Third Edition

Author: Jay Macleod

Genre: sociology, ethnography

Pages: 552

Publisher: Westview Press

Year: 2009

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