I'm going to do an Extended Project for school, and inspired by Philippe Bourgois' work I wanted to write a report/essay on the anthropology of East Harlem, focusing on the impact of the crack epidemic on the community. I can only find work by Bourgois on this specific issue, though, so I'm wondering if I should broaden out the subject to anthropology of crack cocaine. 


I'm very new to this so if anyone could suggest anthropological or sociological work on crack cocaine which I could read, then please do.



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It doesn't come under the heading of academic anthropology, but David Simon and Ed Burns' The Corner (1997) is an astonishing ethnography of crack cocaine users in Baltimore. 


David Simon is also responsible for the TV series The Wire which is as brilliant an artistic statement about this kind of world as it gets.




The weight and depth of the worlds in The Wire owe a lot to the ethnographic richness achieved in The Corner.


Incidentally, the authors' short notes on the methods they adopted during their year-long study, including the sticky suspicions that affixed to them from the moment they entered the field - 'I spy for the FBI!' was how one resident assessed their motives - these notes are, I think, as good as anything in anthropology.


Thankyou so much, guys. Do you think a comparative essay on ethnography of crack in different areas (e.g East Harlem and Baltimore) would be a good project? W

I expect your teachers will have views on that, as they will on the risk and ethical issues entailed. One of the the very striking things about The Wire was that it was not just about drugs; it grew, in effect, into a (maybe over-ambitious) grand-scale ethnography of drug turf wars as a function of Baltimore social structure taken as a whole. So there were long interlinked parallel plots about Polish American dockers, city hall, East European prostitution networks, infighting between police departments and individuals and so on.

If you want to go beyond crack in itself you might look at Street Corner Society, Soulside, Tally's Corner, A Space on the Side of the Road; and from a different angle Hustling is not Stealing or My Cocaine Museum.

What do you mean by 'risk and ethical issues'? My project is to read others' ethnography and write a comparative essay, not to conduct my own ethnography. W
Sorry Will, I hadn't realised this was purely a book review/overview task. Hopefully those books etc. will help.

They will, very much so. Thanks everyone! Will ask for more tips if I come to any hurdles. :)




I'm sure you've already plenty to read, but Shelter Blues, by Robert Desjarlais, might also be of use. It's an ethnography of rough sleepers in Boston, and contains some powerful accounts of homeless experience and the psycho-geography of 'the street'.  

I haven't heard of that one, thanks! And keep reccomending if you know any more, I'm looking for as much as I can get at the moment. W

Hey, not sure if your assignment is finished yet, but no overview of crack/cocaine ethnography work would be complete without reading sociologist Terry William's 2 books Cocaine Kids and Crackhouse.  They chronicle the author's 15 year involvement with a group of dealers and users in NYC during the 80's.  


Perhaps I should broaden this to a text on poverty and marginalization in the U.S inner city?

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