I am currently finishing up my MA Thesis on how residents of segregated communities define the border of their communities in relation to others around them. One of the big findings was that respondents used personal experiences as well as “taken-for-granted” knowledge about the city to define their borders. Because this project is taking place in my home community it got me thinking about all the little bits of social knowledge that black folks in Buffalo use everyday to navigate their lives and each other. Much of this knowledge comes out in conversations where we jokingly generalize the people living in our community. Contrary to the origin stories of many sociologists these conversations are what helped me develop much of my sociological imagination before I even knew what sociology was. In my mind I refer to this body of knowledge as hood sociology.
As a scholar my hood sociological knowledge clashes quite often with my professional sociological knowledge. It’s hard to read articles where someone with a PhD spends months in a community and presents findings (especially about racism, poor black communities, and imperialism) that a 16 year old hustler could have told them in an hour had someone decided they were worth talking to. I’m sure other marginalized people in academia have had the same experience of seeing a piece that makes you say “yea… and?” Social scientists often underestimate the amount of knowledge, however muddled it is, people have about the world around them. Too often, especially for marginalized peoples, this knowledge is ignored because it doesn’t come from a peer-reviewed journal. In any case we are being taught that the only “real” knowledge about the world is what comes from the Ivory Tower and only that which is approved by the gatekeepers.
I do not believe that academics have exclusive right to create knowledge about the world. The idea that academia is the only place where “legitimate” knowledge is produced is a product of the colonial roots of most academic institutions (especially the social sciences). The result of this is a space where those who are within in it are encouraged, knowingly or unknowingly, to view themselves as the final arbitrators of truth about the world. In the social sciences, this perspective is the origin of many of the problem perspectives that social science has produced because scientists often ignore indigent knowledge in lieu of their own theories and perspectives. Unfortunately history has shown when social scientists exert their power over people, bad things tend to happen.
In an effort to highlight the knowledge and wisdom that non-academics have about the world I’ve decided to put together a little series I’m unsurprisingly calling Hood Sociology. It’s a space where I will highlight videos, songs, poems, and other pieces that highlight the sociological imaginations of regular folk and their insights about the world around them. It’s a reminder to us rebel researchers that although we have real contributions to make the struggles, we must not fall into the trap of assuming an elitist position in relation to those we struggle with.
I will leave you with a funny but surprisingly systematic analysis of the ghetto given to us by Dave Chappelle:
Chappelle sums up my recent work on experience as a basis of how people denote neighborhood borders and transitions when he says:
“I didn’t know he was taking me to the ghetto at first. I started looking out the window, see gun store, liquor store, gun store, liquor store, where the fuck you taking me!? This don’t look good.”
Also the best line of this skit where he tries to get a “baby” to stop hustling on the corner in the middle of the night. It highlights the difference in meaning of childhood and adulthood for those living in the ghetto:
“‘Hey baby! Baby, go home, man! It’s 3 o’clock in the morning man, what the fuck are you doing up?’ The baby says, ‘I’m selling weed, nigga!’ [Later in the skit] ‘Hey, baby! Stop selling weed, all right, you’ve got your whole life ahead of you.’ He goes, ‘Fuck you, nigga. I got kids to feed!'”
Check out the rest of the video and think about it in relation to ethnographies we have seen written about the ghetto.
Find the rest of the pieces in the series here: https://rebelresearchers.com/tag/hood-sociology/