Inequalities in In Search of Respect

High School ・Anthropology ・MLA

faced by Bourgois and his wife while living in the East Harlem. Social problems in this society include: high level of unemployment, social inequalities, high crime rate, homelessness, drug abuse, high rate of teenage pregnancy together with high rates of AIDS infection. The influence of culture and poverty are also very obvious in the area. Normally, the life of East Harlem shows its traits using the struggles that the people go throguh in order to survive in one of the richest cities in the world, New York City and thus implicate high degree of inequalities.

Societal Inequalities

Poverty is one of the ways inequality is produced and maintained in a society. Many societies are characterized by few rich individuals while the majority of the people struggle and languish in poverty. These people encounter challenges in meeting their basic needs. When Bourgois and his wife move to establish their living in East Harlem, one of the bewildering aspects that becomes vivid to them is the 1990 census data which stipulates that  38.9% of the East Harlem residents live below the federal poverty line while 62.1% receive half of the poverty income level as their salary (Bourgois 6). The shocking values suggest that East Harlem residents are not able to meet their basic needs.

The income inequality that exists in a society makes people to get involved in criminal activities and thus lead to high crime rates. Despite the astonishing statistics that Bourgois finds in East Harlem, he notices that people in the region were neither suffering and nor living on the streets as it is expected in most poor societies. On the contrary, what he notices is that East Harlem residents are extremely healthy and well dressed. This makes Bourgois question the people’s source of income. He discovers that there are hidden criminal activities that are perpetuated in East Harlem and which have become fundamental economic activities that people do for a living. The economic activities of East Harlem revolve around crack and cocaine selling. Bourgois recognizes that selling market is a huge job market which generates enormous income to the individuals. He even wonders why people still maintain their legal jobs with such huge income they receive from the illegitimate activities. Inequalities causing poverty are the leading causes of violence, crime and drug abuse in a society.

Inequalities in a society are also caused by unemployment. From the book, unemployment is evident in the people living in East Harlem as they correlated with lack of jobs. This causes them to become criminals and run the black market of drugs. Lack of jobs makes people be unable to provide for their basic needs and thus turn into becoming criminals and involve in illegal activities like drug selling in order to feed their families. The book clearly indicates that if a nation strives in reducing the crime rate, it has to create more job opportunities that will make people earn income to afford their needs. Inequality is also perpetuated by the societal cultural barriers. Obviously, culture seems to play a significant role in making the East Harlem not to get jobs. Individual living in East Harlem lack the essential social skills needed to interact with people from outside the society. The lack of the necessary skills could be attributed to lack of education offered in the society which makes people remain to unskilled workers. The only jobs that people from East Harlem are able to secure are the low paying jobs that are related to unskilled workers. This is a solid motivation for involvement in the criminal activities. The high unemployment rate in the region is the driving wheel behind the illegal cocaine and crack drug markets as people are not able to find jobs.

The book of makes exploration into the social marginalization of low paying jobs in the society. The title of the book correctly explains the dilemmas that are felt by the drug dealers. The people who are paid low levels of income are frequently looked upon in the society and thus they become willing to do everything “In Search of Respect”. From the book, the inequalities of job incomes make people search for respect in the society through the involvement in illegitimate activities. In the need to explore the impact that the inequalities have to the society, Bourgois chooses to become one of the criminals and involves himself in the issues of drugs. He states that “I refuse to ignore or minimize the social misery I witnessed because that would make me complicitous with oppression” (Bourgois 12). From his involvement, he realizes the harsh disturbing world which is characterized by gang rapes. Bourgois portrays his disdain in the gang actions questioning the credibility of the ethnography.


In the three years that Bourgois stayed in East, he notices the societal inequalities and the way people struggle with the ignorance, societal prejudices, inequalities and crimes such as drug selling. Bourgois presents to the reader how inequality is produced and maintained in a society through acts like lack of employment opportunities, poverty, and low paying jobs. These societal social inequalities have damaging impacts on the society as people involved in illegal activities in attempts of searching better living standards.

Works Cited

Bourgois Philippe. In Search of Respect: Selling Crack in El Barrio. Cambridge University Press, 2003.

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