Floating City

Floating City

A Rogue Sociologist Lost and Found in New York's Underground Economy

Book - 2013
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"[A] fascinating X-ray of the city...Venkatesh''s engrossing narrative dissects the intricacies of illegal commerce." -- Publishers Weekly (STARRED review)

New York is a city of highs and lows, where wealthy elites share the streets with desperate immigrants and destitute locals. Bridging this economic divide is New York's underground economy, the invisible network of illicit transactions between rich and poor that secretly weaves together the whole city.

Sudhir Venkatesh, acclaimed sociologist at Columbia University and author of Gang Leader for a Day , returns to the streets to connect the dots of New York's divergent economic worlds and crack the code of the city's underground economy. Based on Venkatesh's interviews with prostitutes and socialites, immigrants and academics, high end drug bosses and street-level dealers, Floating City exposes the underground as the city's true engine of social transformation and economic prosperity--revealing a wholly unprecedented vision of New York.

A memoir of sociological investigation, Floating City draws from Venkatesh's decade of research within the affluent communities of Upper East Side socialites and Midtown businessmen, the drug gangs of Harlem and the sex workers of Brooklyn, the artists of Tribeca and the escort services of Hell's Kitchen. Venkatesh arrived in the city after his groundbreaking research in Chicago, where crime remained stubbornly local: gangs stuck to their housing projects and criminals stayed on their corners. But in Floating City , Venkatesh discovers that New York's underground economy unites instead of divides inhabitants: a vast network of "off the books" transactions linking the high and low worlds of the city. Venkatesh shows how dealing in drugs and sex and undocumented labor bridges the conventional divides between rich and poor, unmasking a city knit together by the invisible threads of the underground economy.

Planting himself squarely within this unexplored world, Venkatesh closely follows a dozen New Yorkers locked in the underground economy. Bangledeshi shop clerks like Manjun and Santosh navigate immense networks of illegal goods and services, connecting inquisitive tourists with sex workers and drug dealers. Hispanic prostitutes like Angela and Carla feel secure enough in the new city to leave their old neighborhoods behind in pursuit of bigger money, yet abandon all the safety they had when their clients were known locals. Rich uptown women like Analise and Brittany have the changing city at their beck and call, but both turn to sex work as an easy way to make ends meet without relying on their family fortunes. Venkatesh's greatest guide is Shine, an African American drug boss based in Harlem who hopes to break into the elusive, upscale cocaine market. Without connections among wealthy whites, Shine undertakes an audacious campaign of self-reinvention, leaving behind the certainties of race and class with all the drive of the greatest entrepreneurs. As Shine explains to Venkatesh, "This is New York! We're like hummingbirds, man. We go flower to flower. . . . Here, you need to float."

Floating City: A Rogue Sociologist Lost and Found in New York's Underground Economy chronicles Venkatesh's decade of discovery and loss in the shifting terrain of New York, where research subjects might disappear suddenly and new allies emerge by chance, where close friends might reveal themselves to be criminals of the lowest order. Propelled by Venkatesh's numerous interviews and firsthand research, Floating City at its heart is a story of one man struggling to understand a complex global city constantly in the throes of becoming.

"Venkatesh brings to life the underground economy of New York, where rich and poor and varying ethnicities and backgrounds meet and function while they "float." An enlightening book."

"Displays a piercing sense of empathy and ability to translate dry sociological principles into an understanding of the difficult lives of the urban poor... Venkatesh has established a singular voice in urban sociology, and his immersive research and insights remain penetrating and unique. "
Publisher: New York : The Penguin Press, [2013]
ISBN: 9781594204166
Characteristics: 287 pages ;,25 cm


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bibliotecarria Jan 04, 2016

A different type of book than the author's lauded Gang Leader for a Day, Floating City explores Venkatesh's complicated relationship with his work as an urban ethnographer as much as it describes those he studies. As a new arrival to New York City, Venkatesh struggles to understand an environment much more fluid and global than his previous home, Chicago, ultimately realizing that the paradigms he relied on previously may not serve his work well in New York. He questions his own motives for his work and sees his role as research scientist in difficult situations increasingly unclear. Throughout this time, the fascinating people he studies - Shine, Margot, Analise, Angela, and more - offer him much more than data for his work. It is through these relationships that Venkatesh both questions and comes to understand himself.

I enjoyed learning about Venkatesh's process as an urban ethnographer in New York, and I appreciated that he shared his uncertainties and vulnerabilities with us. I found it interesting to read about the sometimes thin line between sociology and journalism, which Venkatesh's colleagues at Columbia often warned him about. If you're interested in a thoughtful, behind-the-scenes look into sociological field work, try Floating City!

Feb 25, 2014

Riding off the coattails of his 1st book, Gang Leader For A Day, the author basically writes another book and makes it literally all about himself and his problems. That coupled with his apparent support for crime by saying that people have no choice to be prostitutes and drug dealers and society NEEDS them, made this book boring and hardly readable. He even has reviews for Gang Leader on the back of this new book--all in all a very lame attempt at keeping the popularity of that first effort going. If he feels compelled to write another slop fest of a book, I won't be reading it.

msmigels Jan 11, 2014

Too much self-promotion; too many sentences beginning with “I” as the subject or “me” as the object. Sudhir is not a disinterested researcher, but very involved with his subjects. Thus, this reads much more interestingly as mainstream journalism than professional sociology.

hgeng63 Nov 01, 2013

Readable but shallow "portrait" of NY's illicit sex trade, Shine the drug dealer, & Venkatesh's identity crisis. Disappointing.

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