Today: Jul 14, 2024

Urban ethnographer lectures at SCSU

photo courtesty southernct.eduCHRISTIAN CARRIONStaff Writer

At the age of 8, a boy in a Northeastern city became a lookout for the drug dealers in his neighborhood. At 12, he was selling drugs himself on street corners. At the age of 16, he had his own full-fledged drug operation. But at the age of 22, he was on death row, convicted of murder.
Dr. Waverly Duck, assistant professor of sociology at the University of Pittsburgh, was called in to survey the man’s neighborhood, formulate a narrative concerning life in the area and collect data for mitigating circumstances, in the hope that his life could be spared. The results of Duck’s research served as the basis for his lecture, “How Poor Communities Make Sense of Drug Dealing,” which he delivered in Southern’s Archie Tracy Lecture Hall Wednesday night.
“What I found was a very intricate drug scene,” said Duck, who holds a doctorate in urban sociology from Wayne State University. “How could residents who had been living here for over 30 years stay safe? What determined the orderliness of the drug scene? That was the mystery I wanted to solve.”
As an urban ethnographer, Duck said he believes the best way to learn about these areas is to be immersed in them. In order to gain a sense of life in the area and to gain the trust of those around him, Duck took a job as a community organizer. It was during those three years in that role when he discovered the familiar nature of the neighborhood.
“What I noticed in this neighborhood,” said Duck, “was that the drug dealers were not necessarily predators. The dealers and the other residents were one in the same and it was a very close-knit community.”
Duck, who grew up in Detroit, said he knows firsthand what the flow of drugs can do to a close neighborhood such as this.
“There was a very intimate network of families in my neighborhood until crack cocaine,” Duck said. “Then things got really bad—people were stealing from their own families, parents were leaving their kids alone at home for days on end.”
In his lecture, Duck explained that various forms of collective efficacy—a group’s belief in its capabilities to take action and achieve a goal—create disorder within the community.
“The middle-class families keep to themselves,” Duck said. “A group of young men organizing to sell drugs is a form of collective efficacy, in the same way that a group of people who decide not to do that is also a form.”
“I thought his lecture was extremely informative,” said Sam Kusiak, a graduate student majoring in sociology. “I really appreciate people who are so dedicated to my field and especially someone so interesting.”
Kusiak, an intern at Southern’s Disability Resource Center, said she can also appreciate someone who is willing to stay in a high-crime area for years in order to get to know the people he’s studying.
“Just the fact that he stayed there for so long and was able to gain their trust is pretty phenomenal,” Kusiak said.
Dr. Jon P. Bloch, chair of Southern’s sociology department, was also impressed with Duck’s presentation.
“I enjoyed his lecture very much,” Bloch said. “Dr. Duck is an engaging speaker, and he made connections between poverty, drug dealing and location that I hadn’t known about before.”

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