Times book writer William Grimes ponders the case of Sudhir Venkatesh, an author who calls himself a "rogue sociologist." Venkatesh just wrote a book called Gang Leader for a Day in which the privileged son of a Southern California family shadows a Chicago gang. Oh, and by "shadow" we mean totally participated in a number of morally vexed and quite possibly illegal activities that proved harmful to the community he was studying and that are clear violations of any ethical code followed either by journalists or sociologists or, for that matter, rogues. Also, now Venkatesh teaches at Columbia University. Allegations after jump.
Mr. Venkatesh, reared in the comfortable suburbs of Southern California by Indian parents, crossed the line from observer to participant on more than one occasion as he penetrated deeper into the life of the Black Kings and its local captain, the ruthless, charismatic J. T. When a rival gang sweeps by, guns blazing, he dodges bullets and helps drag a gang lieutenant to safety. When local squatters mete out street justice to a crackhead who has beaten a woman in the projects, he gets a boot in.
He gets a boot in!!!! That's so sweet of him. Later on Grimes notes Venkatesh carries out a "detailed study of the housing project's economy, whose results [gang leader J.T.] uses to tighten his hold on the residents." Now I'm all for participatory journalism. Hell, I may have even slept with a prostitute. But besides compromising myself morally, and possibly physically, engaging in a tangible and monetary way with an enterprise that subjugates women and traffics in vice, I never hurt anyone and I certainly never got a "boot in" on anyone.