Code of the Street
“Code of the Street” by Elijah Anderson is an extensive research on the people of the streets whose behavior and social life is construed by the code defined by their own instincts for self-respect and dignity. Elijah Anderson conducted in depth field study to focus our attention to the extent youth has to resort to violent ways in reaction to the dishonor and disrespect shown to their masculine image. They involve and associate themselves with what is known as ‘street culture’ or ‘code’. Their following of the street code is not merely a reflection to the corruption and un-socialized behaviors that have to be faced consequently by the youths of the lower middle class on the streets and in its corners but also have to face insecurity and threat of violence in their dwellings in the darker corners of their so called urban communities.
In such communities, their adoption of the code of a street is a prerequisite and most necessary aspect for their survival whether they are themselves directly involved in it or not. Anderson adopted ethnographic approach to find out social and cultural factors that go behind this interpersonal violence, how the people adhere to these situations and how they adopt to these conditions? What assumptions do they make while taking decisions? What behavioral styles do they adopt as a result of these assumptions and what are their social consequences? The answers to all these questions he obtained through interviews, observations, direct observations and participant observations. He has also drawn his observations from various impressionist materials and social settings across the various sections of the people of Philadelphia from the public places like laundries, taverns, public schools and playgrounds etc. (Anderson (b), 1546)
In the whole book that follows, he took up to explore the interpersonal violence affecting inner-city youths. While youth violence has become a problem of various classes or races, here he is more concerned with the violent tendency that has taken youths in its grip and how this tendency has made the man commit the acts of aggression and violence against one another. This question coaxed him to find out the character and traits people follow on the streets and especially in the public social organization.
In the low-lying areas where economically distressed sections of the people prevail in the majority, the code of street has taken the place of all the rules of state laws and regulations. At the most fundamental point of this code, there are certain set of rules of behavior, which are adopted to ascertain their respectful position in their society. For maintaining self respect in the society and surroundings, there are certain set of informal rules or behavior that every one should follow while interrelations with others and which reflects how desperately youths are struggling to retain their respect. Maintaining the self respect in the society and in their surroundings induces youths to turn violent if they ever see their self respect is getting hurt.
In the constant poverty and deprivation what they have to feel proud of is their self-respect, honor and dignity and if someone challenges their dignity, they had to act in retribution. Respect is their shield with which they cover themselves from any violence in the street. The code of street begins from the point where the hands of the laws end and the people begin to feel the responsibility of their safety in their own hands. People especially hardboiled youth initiates to frame the law on their own basis. It is also a kind of social interaction, eye for an eye and enforces upon them the credibility to show the retribution. In outlining these intricate issues, the book gives the detail account of the sociological perspective of the interpersonal public behavior and also the changing roles they play in the inner city. The incident of 15-year-old boy leaves the incredible image of how the simplest daily errand can turn into a minefield. One Saturday, his grandmother sent his grandson, Tyree to buy bread and milk from the store and on the way back he happened to enter into the neighborhood area where he had to encounter a group of teenagers, who had taken upon themselves the responsibility to run the neighborhood. The kid jumped over the intruder and bumped him onto the ground. Tyree felt in his impulse to respond back but first he headed back home, cleaned himself and then returned back with full preparation and punched one of them down. This action of this Anderson calls as “campaigning for respect” (Anderson (a), 66) and later he had to enter into a full-scale fight. This is exactly what Anderson calls as the “Code of the Street”.
This code of the street phenomenon is not a latest trend but goes beyond the historical dates of the beginning of civilizations and societies. The street fight was a trend among the ancient Romans and among the world of the Shogun warriors or among the Americans at Old South. But now what is different is the easy access to guns, and their disintegration from the values. All the values so cherished by the societies inside the walls of home or at social circles are discarded when one enters on the street and the culture quite opposite of what is prevalent makes its presence felt. But there is a thread that ties between the cultures that is adopted on the streets and the culture prevalent inside the household. Anderson tries to find out this thread through the long passages that he has devoted on the various standards prevalent in the community. He talks about the black grandmother who is a dominant member of the family since the time of slavery and now her role has faded away since the industrial economy shook the earliest fabric of the society. He further writes that “she is now apt to feel tired and demoralized” (Anderson (a), 236) in this changing scenario where on one hand blacks have been accorded middle class status while on the other hand they are finding themselves plunged in unemployment, and poverty confining themselves into the inner cities where the male bread winners are decreasing in number and many middle class families have departed. This grand mother is herself completely dispirited.
Anderson’s research is confined only to two neighborhood areas of Philadelphia but his theme is universal and therefore we can also call it macro sociological approach. Highlighting in-depth detail of the subculture of streets that prevails in the areas, he has made it a universal theme. In our area too, outer side is dominated by the rich and civilized population while the inner lanes of the city are prevailing countless creatures of human souls who are dwindling in the poverty and drug abuse and their children have adorned themselves with the street cult what according to Anderson is known as the code of the street. There is all over prevalent varying subcultures of violence, abuse and degradation that sometimes mar or de-mar the very fundamental aspect of civilization. The “Code of the Street” is of a great interest for criminologists as they observed:
“Anderson’s account is perhaps the best description of a subculture of violence now available, and it is important because it makes us aware of the complexity of this subculture” (Brezina, Agnew, Cullen, & Wright, 304).
This book is a chronicle of the ugly phase of the Industrial revolution and a civilized world.
Anderson, Elijah. (a). “Code of the Street: Decency, Violence, and the Moral Life of the Inner City”. New York: W.W. Norton, 2000.
Anderson, Elijah. (b). The Ideologically Driven Critique. American Journal of Sociology 107.6 (May 2002): 1533–50.
Brezina, Timothy, Agnew, Robert, Cullen, Francis T. & Wright, John Paul.
“The Code Of The Street: A Quantitative Assessment of Elijah Anderson’s
Subculture of Violence Thesis and Its Contribution to Youth Violence Research.” Youth Violence and Juvenile Justice 2.4 (October 2004): 303-328.