Sidewalks Of New York City Essay

1606 words - 6 pages

Mitchell Duneier, a sociologist with a rather impressive curriculum vitae to his credit, spent five years of his otherwise privileged life keeping company with drunks, derelicts, drug addicts and the homeless on the sidewalks of New York's Greenwich Village. His purpose was not to exploit the individuals whose reason for being on these streets is to drum up whatever income they can by selling books and magazines; rather, it was to learn and understand why they were there. In the process of doing so, Duneier drew his arguments and methods mostly upon symbolic interactionism perspective's theories; his focus on "shared meanings", "deviant", `laws", "individual (and social) interactions" flourish throughout "Sidewalk."

The first important and root-like unit in Duneier's arguments is "shared meaning." By deeply analyzing many unique sets of ideas, perceptions of different social class members, he was able to emphasize and portray the complicated system of multi-levels interactions that embody numerous social forces and constraints that inhabited in "sidewalk" society.

In sidewalk lives, the men working the streets, through abundant and multi-levels interactions with society, have to share certain unique terms (and their interpretations) in order to communicate, define and thus maintain their existences.

As Duneier noted early in the book, before finding a `mentor' or a `sponsor' working the streets, each of the sidewalk men reached a "moment of personal emotional crisis", when "a people says, `Fuck it!'" (60). And because this phenomenon happened often, the men came to accept it as a mental state, representing depressions, and the loss in motivations. For example, while sharing with Duneier about his life, Marvin (one of the subjects) interpreted the saying "Fuck it!" as "the hell with you or whatever's right" (58).

In maintaining their existences in sidewalk, those men must also continually "create [more] meanings and devise ways to fit their actions together" (Hughes, Michael et al. 23). This notion is best portrayed in sidewalk life's "jobs list." As life's going on, they gradually "invent" numerous ways to sustain their habits, from "magazine vendor", "book vendor" to "panhandler", "place holder", "table watcher", "mover", "storage provider" and "laying shit out", each interweaves with others to form a concrete structure, in which one's function play a supporting role for the rest (81-108). However, no matter how tangled and distinct the jobs are, they all have one same function, to provide the sidewalk men a trade-off between crimes, the "worthy enterprise" and honest earning, "the unworthy one" (85). In that sense, it's not so hard to see that the men of sidewalk have shared the same meaning of "decency", which is, in this case, legal and moral earning.

Similar to those living on the streets, members of higher social class have their own set of "meanings." In pointing out the differences, and sometime...

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