Sudhir Venkatesh

Black Market Justice: Maintaining law and Order in the Urban Ghetto

March 7, 2011

Sudhir Venkatesh is William B. Ransford Professor of Sociology at Columbia University in New York. He is a researcher and writer on urban neighborhoods in the U.S. His most recent book, is Gang Leader for a Day (Penguin Press), received a Best Book award from The Economist and has been translated into Chinese, Korean, Japanese, German, Italian, Polish, French and Portuguese. His previous work includes Off the Books: The Underground Economy of the Urban Poor (Harvard University Press, 2006) about illegal economies in Chicago, which received a Best Book Award from (2006) as well as the C. Wright Mills Award (2007). His first book, American Project: The Rise and Fall of a Modern Ghetto (2000) explored life in Chicago public housing.

His editorial writings have appeared in The New York Times, The Chicago Tribune, and The Washington Post. He writes for, and his stories have appeared in This American Life, WIRED, and National Public Radio. His research on the economics of drug dealing was featured in the bestselling book Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything by Steven Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner, and Venkatesh has discussed his work on PBS NewsHour and The Colbert Report. His next book, under contract with Penguin Press, will focus on the role of black market economies—from sex work and drug trafficking to day care and entertainment— in the revitalization of New York since 1999. Venkatesh is also completing an ethnographic study of policing in the Department of Justice, where he is currently a senior research adviser.

Venkatesh’s first documentary film, Dislocation, followed families as they relocated from condemned public housing developments. The documentary aired on PBS in 2005. He directed and produced a three-part award winning documentary on the history of public housing for NPR. He recently completed At the Top of My Voice, a documentary film on a scholar and artist who return to the ex-Soviet republic of Georgia to promote democracy and safeguard human rights.

Venkatesh received his doctorate in sociology from the University of Chicago. He was a junior fellow at the Society of Fellows at Harvard University from 1996-1999. He is director of the Institute for Social and Economic Research and Policy at Columbia University. He holds a visiting appointment in Columbia University’s Law School and he is a voting member of the Institute for Research in African-American Studies.