As an urban ethnographer, I use fieldwork, historical, and other qualitative methods to investigate how recent developments—specifically mass incarceration, zero-tolerance policing, digital social media, and new forms of cultural production—have reshaped the social fabric of disadvantaged neighborhoods in the twenty-first century. In the spirit of the Chicago School of Sociology, I pay close attention to the ways that individuals and communities make sense of their social worlds. This agenda has led to number of original research projects, community organizing efforts, and intervention programs.
My research has been published in Social Problems, Urban Studies, Law and Society Review, Law and Social Inquiry, Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, Annual Review of Law and Social Science, Souls, Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, and a number of other venues. I have also written long form articles on my research for Mother Jones, Wired Magazine, Chicago Magazine, and other popular press outlets.
My first book, Down, Out, and Under Arrest: Policing and Everyday Life in Skid Row (University of Chicago Press), is an in-depth ethnography of Los Angeles’ Skid Row district, an area long regarded as the “homeless capital of America.” Beginning in the early 2000s, Skid Row became distinguished as the site of one of the most aggressive “zero tolerance” campaigns to date, characterized by arguably the largest concentration of standing police forces found anywhere in the United States. Examining the interactions between police officers and the neighborhood's impoverished and homeless inhabitants, the book considers how this new configuration of social control and social welfare is re-constituting poverty, crime, and space, as well as the relationship existing between the police and the policed.
I am currently writing my second book, which investigates the intersections of poverty, culture, digital social media, and hip-hop on Chicago’s south side. While poor black communities face historic levels of unemployment and hardship, the democratization of internet technology and the proliferation of digital social media have created novel opportunities for social capital. My book analyzes this development, noting its capacity to propel upward mobility while simultaneously exacerbating long-standing problems associated with poverty. The issues of dignity, violence, and gangs play an ever-present role in this process. On a broader level, this research sheds much-needed light on the manifestations and meanings of inequality in the digital age.