Hearing the Street

December 14, 2007

My research methods course at UC Berkeley just finished up. For one of our last sessions, we read a series of texts that got me thinking about youth-produced media stories in new ways.

In 2002, Sociologist Loic Wacquant published a scathing essay called, “Scrutinizing the Street: Poverty, Morality, and the Pitfalls of Urban Ethnography.” In the essay, Wacquant takes on three highly influential fellow sociologists for their characterization of U.S. cities and the families who live there. Wacquant says a lot in his burningly critical article–far too much to summarize here–but the gist of it is essentially (in Wacquant’s words):

“All three authors put forth truncated and distorted accounts of their object due to their abiding wish to articulate and even celebrate the fundamental goodness–honesty, decency, frugality–of America’s urban poor.”

In so doing, Wacquant says the authors sanitize and glamorize poverty, reinforce stereotypes, indulge condescending moralism, and obscure rather than expose brutal policies that promote class- and race-based inequalities.

What’s all this got to do with youth-made media? Young people from U.S. cities who produce original media stories about their lives and the conditions they observe in their communities explore many of the same themes as urban ethnographers carrying out research from university campuses. I find it really helpful, as I collaborate with young media producers to make these stories, to think about how we are positioning ourselves with respect to the critiques of urban ethnographic traditions, since we are, at least to a certain extent, swimming in the same waters.

So I thought I’d include here a series of links to some stories from Youth Radio’s archives exploring themes relevant to urban America, as a way to encourage myself and others to read Wacquant’s critique and the texts he takes on with the words of young media makers still ringing in our ears.

Hood Sweet Hood, by Ayesha Walker

Oakland Scenes, by Gerald Ward II, Ise Lyfe, and Bianca Yarborough

A Scourge in the Hood, by King Anyi Howell

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