Dr. Laurence Ralph, Harvard: "On Gang Nostalgia and the Problems of the Present"

Smith-Buonanno, Room 106

This talk explores how various generations of young gang members develop their worldview, while clinging to the memory of a gang structure that has ceased to exist. Ever since a generation of gang members was incarcerated due to the “war on drugs” in the 1980s, the Divine Knights have been devoid of central leadership. This absence has caused the Divine Knights to splinter into increasingly violent subsets. Decades of gang fracture has had dire consequences for the Divine Knights’ youngest constituency—members, who gang leaders call “renegades” because they supposedly disregard the aspirations of the collective in favor of their own individual pursuits. The paper shows that each older generation of the gang sees their juniors through the lens of their own “coming-of-age” era. Their nostalgic view of the past blinds them to the problems of the present.

Reception and book signing of Renegade Dreams to follow the lecture.

See also:

Seminar with Dr. Laurence Ralph: "Ethnography in Urban Spaces"
Friday, February 13, 9 - 10:30 a.m.  

Laurence Ralph is an Assistant Professor in the Departments of Anthropology and African and African American Studies at Harvard University. He is the author of "Renegade Dreams: Living Through Injury in Gangland Chicago" (University of Chicago Press).

His scholarly work explores how the historical circumstances of police abuse, mass incarceration, and the drug trade naturalize disease, disability, and premature death for urban residents, who are often seen as expendable. Theoretically, his research resides at the nexus of critical medical and political anthropology, African American studies, and the emerging scholarship on disability. He combines these literatures to show how violence and injury play a central role in the daily lives of black urbanites. Laurence explored these diverse themes in Anthropological TheoryDisability Studies Quarterly,Transition, and Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power

Ralph earned a PhD Master of Arts degree in Anthropology from the University of Chicago, and a Bachelor of Science degree from Georgia Institute of Technology where he majored in History, Technology and Society.

"Renegade Dreams is a tour de force—[Ralph's] explicit discussion of the interconnections of inner-city injury with government, community institutions, as well as how it is related to historical and social processes, is a major contribution.”
William Julius Wilson, author of The Truly Disadvantaged: The Inner City, the Underclass, and Public Policy

"In Renegade Dreams, Ralph has achieved what few ethnographers, investigative journalists, and drive-by sociologists ever do: a radical empathy for his subjects that refuses to impose a colonial worldview ... Theoretically rich and superbly written, this book exposes what is hidden in plain sight: the full humanity of people whose lives are greater than the sum of their pain and peril and far more connected to ours than we'd like to believe." 
Khalil Gibran Muhammad, author of The Condemnation of Blackness: Race, Crime, and the Making of Modern Urban America

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