Past Research: Professor Venkatesh has examined American urban processes with a combination of ethnography, history, and process analysis. His first major research project was his historically-grounded ethnography of a Black-occupied housing development of 20,000 residents on the south side of Chicago, which culminated in the publication of American Project in 2000. Venkatesh then turned his ethnographic focus toward the economics and social organization of the street gang. This project was a sustained theoretical and empirical inquiry into the processes and institutions that stabilize underground markets in the absence of the kind of overt government regulation that provides a governance framework for legitimate markets. This second project led to the recent publication of Off the Books: The Underground Economy of the Urban Poor, which has won several major awards including the C. Wright Mills award by the Society for the Study of Social Problems.
Present/Future Research: Venkatesh is currently engaged in several projects that focus on urban economies and the living situation of the urban poor. First, he is exploring the sex work economy in three cities (Chicago, New York, Paris) in a project on “Sex Work and the New Urban Economy,” funded in part by a grant from the Open Society Institute. Second, he is conducting a longitudinal multi-method study combining survey, interview, and ethnographic data to examine the transformation in public housing in Chicago (with a Rockefeller Foundation grant). Third, the “South Street Journal Archival Project” is an oral history/documentation initiative to create a public archive based on a newspaper that was in existence for ten years.
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