Individual Actions Connecting to Societal Norms & Social Structure

The work entitled Structural Epiphenomenon looks at how the ethnographic narrative of Philippe Bourgois’ In Search of Respect Selling Crack in El Barrio ties individual action through theoretical concepts like “inner street culture”, and having “cultural capital”, to the societal norms and social structures of those groups. They adapt to survive creating a culture surviving off the profits of drugs and all the side effects drugs bring to a community.

To a larger extent Bourgois calls attention to the mainstream American public who hold their noses up to the slums of their areas and labels the public’s actions as the cause of perpetual poverty among the slums. For these slum communities Bourgois aims to tell their story without sanitizing the true facts that have become societal norms for these people. In the emerging crack cocaine among the streets and the violence that it brought altered further the behavior required to make it in the streets. This restructuring of behavior, of now puffing up your chest as not to get messed with, gaining a reputation that you were tough was the norm of the slums.

What is also highlighted is the inability for immigrants to improve their economic situation legally so alternate income-generating strategies shaped also the social structure of families as well. It is easy to look at the people in poverty and exclaiming that working harder would improve their situation but after Bourgois explains the high number of individuals that seek legal work and cannot gain access to livable wages it outlines how the option of drugs even with all the comes with it is a more viable choice in hopes of possibly one day gaining the ability to better ones self. Immigrants in ways coming to America being pushed into selected areas to work also forces this social structure of competition among ethnic groups. They are pitted against one another undercutting the next for work. This spurs even further violence among communities. Philippe Bourgois’ own individual actions for interest in telling the story of EL Barrio’s crack dealers in a way that did not seek to villianize the poor gives new outlooks on middle class societal norms and social structure as one that could help the poor when he shows it clearly cannot.

In Bourgois’ decision to live in El Barrio he is better able to explain why hard topics like gang rape and adolescent abuse are prevalent and seen in the structures as norms, just apart of the way life goes. He is able to rewrite the previously seen villains and show their true status has victims for the larger social structure of the United States. Inner city street culture is simply the actions and means individuals must take in a harsh environment where resources are scarce. He is also able to show how rape in the street cultures spurs outside cultures to instead of provide aid and solutions, for these areas they answer with harsh police enforcement and high percentages of African American men in prison is viewed as normal to middle class societies when it should be anything but.

Structural Epiphenomenon