Cornered: The Everyday Experience of US Inner-City Poverty in the Early 21st Century

Collaborative Group

Professor Phillippe Bourgois, Professor Laurie Hart




Bourgois and Hart will co-author a photo-ethnographic book entitled Cornered to render more visible the increasingly distressed new subjectivities imposed on vulnerable, inner-city residents under the specific conditions of 21st century poverty: hyperincarceration, reductions in social services and rising economic inequalities. This collaboration involves two senior anthropologists and two additional project participants (a graduate student in anthropology and a medical student). As a team, all four conducted team-based anthropological participant-observation fieldwork in a violently-policed Puerto Rican immigrant neighborhood in the heart of Philadelphia's former industrial core that is now dominated by open-air narcotics drug corners. They documented everyday survival on a block where two of the team members resided for over three years. The project’s goal is to document the historically toxic landscape of US inner city hypersegregation, poverty, and public/private infrastructural abandonment. The research shows how increasingly limited social services for the poor have been reorganized punitively with the public sector attempting to manage social problems primarily through law enforcement and incarceration. The collaborators followed neighborhood residents in their interactions with state institutions, non-profit agencies, and the legal-private sector. US poverty management is increasingly organized around the ambiguously competing/complementary poles of: 1) law enforcement; and 2) health-related services. The research documents how these forms of governmentality reach inner-city streets, from police raids, prison cells, lawyer’s suites, parole offices, and courtrooms to treatment courts, school counselor offices, disability programs, psychotherapy sessions, medical clinics, and cemeteries. It also reveals the rising human cost of reductions in welfare services and the shift to allocating subsidies through disability payments dependant on medical diagnoses. These policies are increasingly transforming the most vulnerable sector of the unemployed into carceral felons and/or pharmaceutically-dependent pariahs fulfilling a script of violent pathology. Award period: July 1, 2013 - June 30, 2015