Carnegie Mellon University

"No Way Out: Precarious Living in the Shadow of Poverty, Policing and Drug Dealing"

Dr. Waverly Duck, Associate Professor, Department of Sociology, University of Pittsburgh

Friday, February 24th, 2017
Steinberg Auditorium, Baker Hall A53
4:30pm - Reception
5:00-6:30pm - Lecture and discussion

This presentation explores residents’ perspectives on drug dealing and law enforcement in a small black town, providing new insights into critical challenges facing low-income minority communities. This in-depth ethnographic study provides a unique opportunity to capture the cultural narrative of deprivation that exists in poor African American neighborhoods today. Few legitimate economic opportunities are available to these residents, and those that do exist come with risks. In the face of such challenges, involvement in illegal local economies becomes increasingly attractive, but at a large social cost, as the multiple risks of the drug trade affect the whole community, not just users and sellers. To introduce the project, I examine the accounts of several residents about law enforcement and drug dealing over a seven-year period, and show how they are embedded in a local interaction order—a set of patterned relations governed by endogenous rules and conventions whereby residents organize and coordinate their social lives. In doing so, I demonstrate the complex intersection of family dynamics, inadequate education, unemployment, debt, drug dealing, contact with law enforcement, imprisonment, and criminal records that are woven into the fabric of residents’ lives.