In our course on urban inequality at Harvard this semester, we want our students to understand the roots of the social conditions in America's inner cities. To that end, we get some help from Bodie, Stringer Bell, Bubbles and others from HBO's "The Wire." Take this scene in a Baltimore housing project from the show's first season: Two teenage drug dealers marvel at the ingenuity of their boneless Chicken McNuggets and imagine the inventor who must have become incredibly rich off his creation. An older dealer, D'Angelo, mocks their naivete, explaining that the man who invented the McNugget is just a guy in the McDonald's basement who dreamed up a money-making idea for the real players.
One thing I know is that it’s extremely important to discuss how race and poverty are framed in public policy discussions. How we situate social issues in the larger context of society says a lot about our commitment to change.
Scholars, including urban poverty researchers, have not seriously debated the important issues that Loïc Wacquant raised in his controversial review of books by Elijah Anderson, Mitchell Duneier, and Katherine Newman concerning the disconnect between theory and ethnographic research. Despite the tone of Wacquant’s review, we feel that he made a contribution in raising important issues about the role of theory in ethnography. The responses to his review that address this issue, especially those by Anderson and Duneier, are also important because they help to broaden our understanding of how theory is used in ethnographic research. What we take from this exchange is that good ethnography is theory driven, and is likely to be much more reflective of inductive theoretical insights than those that are purely deductive. Moreover, we show that in some ethnographic studies the theoretical insights are neither strictly deductive nor inductive, but represent a combination of both.