Leaps of Faith in Levitt and Bourgois

in Language of the Gun

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print February 2006 | ISBN: 9780226316086
Published online March 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226316079 | DOI:
Leaps of Faith in Levitt and Bourgois

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This chapter explores in detail two of the leading works in the field of youth gun studies—one from the economics camp, Steven Levitt's rigorous “Juvenile Crime and Punishment” (1998), and one from the critical cultural camp, Philippe Bourgois's ethnography In Search of Respect: Selling Crack in El Barrio (1995). The chapter demonstrates that neither of these works avoids taking a leap of faith. It is precisely along the dimensions of the correspondence map that the various policy positions in the youth gun field make critical assumptions about human agency. It is here that methodological sensibilities—preferences for the phenomenological, or structural, or practice-oriented, or performative—shape policy recommendations. Levitt finds that “the change in relative punishments for juveniles and adults can account for roughly 60 percent of the differential rate of change between juvenile and adult violent crime rates.” However, he does not endorse increased juvenile custody because the financial costs of such a policy, especially the high cost of incarcerating juveniles, may outweigh the benefits.

Keywords: Philippe Bourgois; Steven Levitt; youth gun studies; ethnography; human agency; incarceration

Chapter.  4552 words. 

Subjects: Criminal Law

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