Crime, Law and Social Change

, Volume 57, Issue 1, pp 33–75 | Cite as

Interaction orders of drug dealing spaces: local orders of sensemaking in a poor black American place



Based on ethnographic data, this essay analyzes the social order properties of a poor urban street, in a small city in the northeast United States, on which drug dealing is the principle occupation. Rather than treating drug dealing as an agent of disorder, we focus on the order properties of drug dealing and the ordered character of the local code of conduct that develops around it. Like Sudhir Venkatesh (American Journal of Sociology 103:82–111, 1997) we examine the interface between drug dealing and the neighborhood. However, in this small urban space the drug dealers are not outsiders, rather, they are long term residents: established insiders who are well integrated into community life. As such their work practices and the requirements they place on behavior in public spaces impact the neighborhood in comprehensive ways. We detail the phenomenon Elijah Anderson called the “code of the street” (Anderson 1999) as a set of practices and social markers, a local Interaction Order (Goffman, American Sociological Review 48:1–17, 1983; Rawls, Sociological Theory 2:136–149, 1987), that furnishes basic day to day sensemaking tools for residents (Rawls 2009). We propose that this order has a constitutive character that furnishes stable expectations (Garfinkel 1963, 1967) for meaningful social action and identity in the neighborhood. In a context of industrial decline and urban poverty, drug dealing careers constitute a major socialization factor, that touches everyone here—especially children.


Social Order Public Space Collective Efficacy Interaction Order Local Order 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


  1. 1.
    Anderson, E. (1978). A place on the corner. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Anderson, E. (1990). Streetwise: Race, class, and change in an urban community. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Anderson, E. (1999). The code of the street: Decency, violence, and the moral life of the inner city. New York: Norton.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Anderson, E. (2002). The ideologically driven critique. American Journal of Sociology, 107(6), 1533–50.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. 5.
    Becker, H. S. (1973). Outsiders: Studies in the sociology of deviance. New York: Free.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Bourgois, P. (1995). In search of respect: Selling crack in El Barrio. Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Bureau of Justice Statistics. (2003). Prevalence of imprisonment in the United States 1974–2001.
  8. 8.
    Duck, W. (2009). ‘Senseless’ violence: The sense to be made of murder. Ethnography. Forthcoming.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    Duck, W. (2009). Black male sexual politics: avoidance of HIV/AIDS testing as a masculine health practice. Journal of African American Studies, 13, 283–306.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. 10.
    Duck, W., & Rawls, A. W. (2009). Drug dealing as a career. Unpublished paper.Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    Duneier, M. (1994). Slim’s table: race, Respectability, and masculinity. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    Durkheim, E. (1893). The division of social labor. Boulder: Paradigm.Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    Gans, H. J. (1962). The urban villagers: Group and class in the life of Italian-American. Free Press.Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    Gans, H. (1995). The war against the poor. New York: Basic Books.Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    Garfinkel, H. (1963). A conception of and experiments with ‘Trust’ as a condition of stable concerted actions. In O. J. Harvey (Ed.), Motivation and social interaction (pp. 187–238). New York: Ronald.Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    Garfinkel, H. (1967). Studies in ethnomethodology. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall.Google Scholar
  17. 17.
    Garfinkel, H., & Rawls, A. (2006). Seeing sociologically: The routine grounds of social action. Boulder: Paradigm.Google Scholar
  18. 18.
    Goffman, A. (2009). On the run: Wanted men in a Philadelphia Ghetto. American Sociological Review, 74(3), 339–357.Google Scholar
  19. 19.
    Goffman, E. (1959). The presentation of self in everyday life. New York: Doubleday/Anchor Books.Google Scholar
  20. 20.
    Goffman, E. (1963). Stigma: Notes on the management of spoiled identity. New York: Simon and Schuster/Touchtone Books.Google Scholar
  21. 21.
    Goffman, E. (1983). Presidential address: the interaction order. American Sociological Review, 48, 1–17.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. 22.
    Horowitz, R. (1983). Honor and the American dream: Culture and identity in a Chicano community. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press.Google Scholar
  23. 23.
    Jacobs, B. A. (1999). Crack to heroin?: Drug markets and transition. British Journal of Criminology, 39, 555–574.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. 24.
    Jacobs, B. (2000). Robbing drug dealers: Violence beyond the law. Aldine.Google Scholar
  25. 25.
    Jacobs, B. A. (2004). A typology of street criminal retaliation. Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, 41, 295–323.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. 26.
    Jacobs, B. A., & Wright, R. (2006). Street justice: Retaliation in the criminal underworld. New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  27. 27.
    Jacobs, B. A., Topalli, V., & Wright, R. (2003). Carjacking, street life, and offender motivation. British Journal of Criminology, 43, 673–688.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. 28.
    Kelling, G. L., & Coles, C. (1996). Fixing broken windows: Restoring order and reducing crime in our communities. New York: Free.Google Scholar
  29. 29.
    Lewis, O. (1961). Children of Sanchez: Autobiography of a Mexican family. New York: Vintage.Google Scholar
  30. 30.
    Liebow, E. (1967). Tally’s corner: A study of negro Streetcorner men. Boston: Little, Brown.Google Scholar
  31. 31.
    Maher, L. (1997). Sexed work: Gender, race, and resistance in a Brooklyn drug market. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  32. 32.
    Manning, P. K. (1977). Police work: The social organization of policing. Cambridge: M.I.T.Google Scholar
  33. 33.
    Manning, P. K. (1980). The Narcs' game: Organizational and informational limits on drug law enforcement. Cambridge: M.I.T.Google Scholar
  34. 34.
    Manning, P. K. (1986). Drugs as Work. Research in the sociology of work. In: Simpson IH, Simpson RL (eds.). Elsevier Science & Technology Books.Google Scholar
  35. 35.
    Manning, P. K. (1997). Police work (2nd ed.). Prospect Heights: Waveland.Google Scholar
  36. 36.
    Manning, P. K. (2008). The technology of policing: Crime mapping, information technology and the rationality of crime control. New York: New York University Press.Google Scholar
  37. 37.
    Mauer, M. (2006). Race to incarcerate. New York: Norton.Google Scholar
  38. 38.
    Mayer, S. (1997). What money can’t buy: Family income and children’s life chances. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  39. 39.
    Morenoff, J., Sampson, R. J., & Raudenbush, S. (2001). Neighborhood inequality, collective efficacy, and the spatial dynamics of urban violence. Criminology, 39, 517–560.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. 40.
    Moynihan, D. P. (1965). The Negro family: The case for national action. Washington: Office of Policy Planning and Research, U.S. Department of Labor.Google Scholar
  41. 41.
    Orwell, G. (1936). The road to Wigan pier. London: Gollancz.Google Scholar
  42. 42.
    Pager, D. (2007). Marked: Race, crime, and finding work in an era of mass incarceration. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  43. 43.
    Pattillo, M. (2007). Black on the block: Politics of race and class in the city. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  44. 44.
    Pattillo-McCoy, M. (1999). Black picket fences: Privilege and peril among the black middle class. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  45. 45.
    Pettit, B., & Western, B. (2004). Mass imprisonment and the life-course: Race and class inequality in U.S. incarceration. American Sociological Review, 69, 151–69.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. 46.
    Rawls, A. W. (1987). The interaction order Sui Generis: Goffman’s contribution to social theory. Sociological Theory, 2, 136–149.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. 47.
    Rawls, A. W. (2000). Race as an interaction order phenomenon: W.E.B. Dubois’s ‘Double Consciousness’ thesis revisited. Sociological Theory, 18, 241–274.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. 48.
    Rawls, A. (2009). An essay on two conceptions of social order: constitutive orders of action, objects and identities vs. aggregate orders of individual action. The Journal of Classical Sociology. Google Scholar
  49. 49.
    Rogers, R. G. (1992). Living and dying in the U.S.A.: sociodemographic. Determinants of death among blacks and whites. Demography, 29, 287–303.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. 50.
    Rumph, S. (1996). Unpublished MA thesis. Wayne State University.Google Scholar
  51. 51.
    Sampson, R. J. (2004). Neighborhood and community: collective efficacy and community safety. New Economy, 11, 106–113.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. 52.
    Sampson, R. J., & Raudenbush, S. W. (1999). Systematic social observation of public spaces: a new look at disorder in urban neighborhoods. American Journal of Sociology, 105, 603–651.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. 53.
    Sampson, R. J., & Raudenbush, S. W. (2004). Seeing disorder: neighborhood stigma and the social construction of “Broken Windows”. Social Psychology Quarterly, 67, 319–342.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. 54.
    St. Jean, P. K. B. (2007). Pockets of crime: Broken windows, collective efficacy, and the criminal point of view. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  55. 55.
    Suttles, G. D. (1968). The social order of the slum. University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  56. 56.
    Thrasher, F. M. (1927). The gang. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  57. 57.
    U.S. Census Bureau. (1998). Population Characteristics.
  58. 58.
    Venkatesh, S. (1997). The social organization of street gang activity in an urban Ghetto. American Journal of Sociology, 103, 82–111.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. 59.
    Venkatesh, S. (2006). Off the books: The underground economy of the urban poor. Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  60. 60.
    Western, B. (2002). The impact of incarceration on wage mobility and inequality. American Sociological Review, 67(4), 526–46.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. 61.
    Western, B., & Beckett, K. (1999). How unregulated is the U.S. labor market? The penal system as a labor market institution. American Journal of Sociology, 104(4), 1030–60.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. 62.
    Whyte, W. F. (1943). Street corner society. University of Chicago Press, 2nd edition.Google Scholar
  63. 63.
    Wildeman, C. (2009). Parental imprisonment, the prison boom, and the concentration of childhood disadvantage. Demography, 46, 265–80.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. 64.
    Wilson, W. J. (1987). The truly disadvantaged: The inner city, the underclass, and public policy. Chicago: University of Chicago.Google Scholar
  65. 65.
    Wilson, J. Q., & Kelling, G. L. (1982). The police and neighborhood safety: Broken windows. Atlantic Monthly, 249(29–36), 38.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of SociologyUniversity of PittsburghPittsburghUSA
  2. 2.Center on Race and Social ProblemsUniversity of PittsburghPittsburghUSA
  3. 3.Department of SociologyBentley UniversityWalthamUSA

Personalised recommendations