Like thousands of students, Sudhir entered the University of Chicago graduate school in 1989 and was despatched by his professors to do some research about American urban poor. To that point, he had had little exposure to suburban neighbourhood in Chicago. It happens that he knocked on one of the roughest areas in Chicago on his first visiting where detained and nearly killed him. Fortunately, he didn’t have any injured, and instead, he knocked up an acquaintance with the gang leader J.T. This initiated his odd friend relationship with J.T for the following decade. Through this relationship and years spent in the Robert Taylor Housing Project he produced a fascinating piece of research into the lives of struggling working class families living in a violent society. He got number of answers for issues evaded or misunderstood by most studies.
Sudhir’s seven years’ fieldwork was with a series of research questions. Meanwhile, as the research moves along, his targets and questions developed more in-depth and detail, from a general image of neighbourhood’s effect to younger people to the domestic issues, illegal economic activities, how the community dealt with the gang—everyday life in housing projects. Actually, few of those issues is unpopular or obscure. Instead, there are plenty of sociological studies on black crime, urban neighbourhood or drug economy, but most relay on dry statistics. Even the statistics are collected by hired researchers or from library, and not many professors or PhD scholars want to enter a poor black crime ridden neighbourhood to ask their question—even as simple as "How does it feel to be poor and black?".
What would we do if we are allocated a similar research task about poor area? Will we choose ethnographical methods like Sudhir or just ‘glued to our computers or library, trying to find hidden patterns in the survey data’ (Venkatesh, 2009, p. 38)? We are learning how to make a qualified questionnaires, how to collect date and train hired researchers, how to use software to deal with countless data, find the answer we need. But in which way can we solve the contradictions like why kids do not want to stay in school even the research says they might earn twenty-five percent more? In the book, Sudhir questioned:
‘I didn’t know anyone who was walking around talking to people, let alone gang members, in the ghetto’ or ‘No one here seems to have spent much time with the poor, but if you did, you would see that…’ (Venkatesh, 2009, p. 38;176)
This not a new problem. Wacquant points out there is an ‘epistemological obstacle’ in the study of American ghetto. Ghetto life is seen in a very diluted and negative view from outside and above (Wacquant, 1997).
Not just in the ghetto study case, the sociological science today, no matter qualitative or quantitative research, has developed a complete set of research methods, including questionnaires design, statistics, literature reading, high-technological software and so forth....