Street Ethnography

Modern world is highly competitive and people are in a constant race for enrichment and money because income affects quality of life, health, and social well-being. Even working hard does not guarantee social success and acknowledgement because some people have more opportunities and live in more prosperous environments than others. Crime thrives in poor areas and infects people with adjusting social deviations, making theft and beggary a common and trivial sign of modern highly industrialized urban cities.

The problem is not new and it originates in poverty and approaches of officials to combating this evil. There are people who have hardly enough money to provide food and water for themselves and their families and there are people who possess endless bank accounts and can afford more than they want. High rates of income discrimination have become a serious threat to the world stability in the twenty first century and have led to development and thrive of street gang crime. It has become one of the most dangerous and latent forms of offence.

Depending on delinquency prevention conditions, societies form psychological climate in the country and attitude to the state authorities and criminal justice. Street criminals are usually young people with antisocial behavior, formed on the background of the use of alcohol or drugs or leading a parasitic way of life. The problem originates in the crisis in economic, cultural, spiritual, and legal spheres of society and modern polarized world. The inability of social adaptation and marginalization make people get and return behind the bars again and again. Mark S. Fleisher discusses dimensions and roots of the problem in his book Beggars and Thieves: Lives of Urban Street Criminals issued in 1995. He investigates peculiarities and evils of ramshackle areas in Seattle and carries out a research based on personal experience of living in the street and in a real jail.

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Being a social scientist, anthropologist Mark S. Fleisher (1995) tries to perceive the problem of thieves and beggars from inside and applies some modifications of traditional research methods. He wins confidence of felons and law offenders by establishment of equal and trustful relationships with them. He puts an aim to weave into the criminal social network by means of authoritative inmates (Fleisher, 1995). This way, he can perceive the problem of theft and beggary through the prism of criminals’ vision.

Stylistics of the author is far from scientific writing. He adheres to numerous descriptions, reflections, and stylistic devices while depicting lively and characteristic signs of the street life. He writes in the first person singular and tries to use the same language as criminals because his first purpose is to weave into illegal social networks and be able to communicate positively with the outlaws.

The primary method is an interview. Fleisher adapts questions to rules of the criminal world to make the interview relevant and lively. For example, simple questions about family background and marriage status can sound offensive because of socio-cultural non-adaptation and frustration. In cases with criminals, Fleisher has first obtained reference of some meaningful people to prove his liability. He invites people into a conversation through common dining and drinking bear. He does not conceal his intentions and tells sincerely about his purposes. Some criminals understand and some reject. However, in all cases the author underlines the necessity to be the same and non-conspicuous with his real social status and relevant social success.

The essence of conditions created by Fleisher consists in sincere revelation of free and profitless ideas and evidences of those who just want to share their story and to relief their soul and conciseness. The collected database shows not only statistical information, but contains a lot of reflections and assumptions of the misdemeanants on the problem of poverty and possibility to combat it, conditions of first abuse, and acquaintance with drugs and substances.

In his research, Fleisher (1995) feels sympathetic with criminals and tries to understand motives of their behavior. The author foresees possible conclusions about his empathy to the offenders. His free statements about the scope of drug traffic and consumption can lead to a thought that he has personal addiction to drugs and in such way only justifies his own weaknesses. The author does not give a direct answer about his own addictions. However, he admits that behaving like a criminal imposes certain destructive habits just by definition. He uses rude lexical units and behaves blatantly and offensively, as well as not shaving daily, as it is accepted in the middle class society. “Illegal behavior, to some degree, is required of researchers studying criminals” (Fleisher, 1995, p. 69).

Fleisher sees that police officers and criminal authorities follow definite unspoken rules and support each other in providing order and its maintenance. The author started establishing connection with the criminal world through the local police. He wanted to study and analyze the street ethnography before entering jail conditions. Local cops turned out to be the most helpful and instructive guides.

According to the Fleisher’s research (1995), the street is unsafe in certain areas, which are under control of criminal authorities and the police. There are representatives of various cultures and minorities, which often becomes a reason of discrimination and polarization of certain marginal groups. Thieves and beggars do not want to be homeless and vulnerable to abuse. However, they often fail to see the essence of their problem and discuss it with representatives of other ethnic group.

The concept of connections seems to be crucial in establishment of relationships with criminals. Fleisher addressed the police in order to direct him in his street ethnography. He met Popcorn who became his green card into the world of drug dealers and hustlers. The man was a character whom Fleisher observed as being free and then in jail (Fleisher, 1995).

Fleisher (1995) shows the connection between street crimes, ordinary thieves and beggars, and organized groups and syndicates. He explains gang signs seen on jail tattoos. By the way, he starts his interviews from the explanation of tattoo meanings and criminals are willing to discuss the topic. The scientist underlines that the international organized crime is flourishing in the United States despite strong legislation and political will to deal with this problem. The root can be in the division of responsibility between local law enforcement agencies, state, and federal authorities because they are fully exploited by criminal groups. Since the mid 60s, the US has expanded the arsenal of tools to fight organized crime and gangsters. The first law in this area became a universal law of 1968 on combating crime and ensuring safety on streets. It was passed against organized crime and included a large number of legal institutions. In particular, it established special investigation agencies, which provided a guarantee of immunity to witnesses. They introduced a special penal provision for the punishment of participants of criminal organizations. Moreover, supporting programs for the most vulnerable and poor layers of the population were adopted and implemented.

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In the episode where the policemen ask Popcorn to show Fleisher how he plays his game, all men appear as allies. The episode evidently shows that the police and criminals know about each other much more than they reveal or report. “As long as a cop plays by street rules, local gang boys do not hold a grudge against him” (Fleisher, 1995, p. 30).

Street gangs and bands represent branches of the organized criminal world. They prefer to involve young people and unite them in a typical way of clothing and behavior. The youth follow the general group trend in violence and appearance. It happens because in many situations streets of large and small settlements create a psychological climate for the population living there. It helps in evaluation of the criminal situation in a particular locality and region. It stipulates a social favorable or unfavorable effect on the formation of public opinion about activities not only of criminal justice, but also of the government in general. The study of regional aspects of street crime conducted by Fleisher reflects regional peculiarities and determinants of specific criminal manifestations in Seattle and other urban regions of the American gang world. In most cases, street gangs display aggression and offence and try to violate social norms.

Distorted Families

Mark Fleisher researches early memories of thieves and beggars in a natural trustful conversation. All interviewed criminals reveal signs of early violence experiences and abuse. The author underlines effects of parents’ negligence and evil environment on further aggression and illegal activities. He puts questions of what can and should be done for delinquents’ prevention from offensive forms of behavior. He comes to a non-consoling conclusion that it is too late to change their fate at that time of their life. In the last chapter, Fleisher (1995) underlines that thieves and beggars are much better settled in jails than in life outside the bars. They have food and shelter and have the job to be done. They have time for rest and different facilities such as ping-pong and library. Outlaws can meet and communicate with relatives if they have any. Description of a Seattle jail includes two televisions. The author shows that the convicted feel much more realized in jail than in the real social environment they originate from (Fleisher, 1995).

Such situation shows absence of a necessity to rehabilitate and socialize in the modern highly competitive world. People do not strive to change and improve anything in their lives. They accept as a fact that their fate is to go with the flow and do not look for some opportunities or promotion in life. The government gives up, facing this challenge of criminals’ self-rejection. They do not offend the social order and do not die of hunger or cold and here the official mission is completed. Fleisher reveals this in dialogues with misdemeanants and reveals their perception that little can contribute to the improvement of their self-esteem and social rehabilitation.

He sees special mission in preventing children from imprinting addictive and destructive forms of behavior and, especially, home violence. Fleisher’s main suggestion is fencing of the new generation from evil aggressive misdemeanors. He underlines that parents and local authorities should detect cases of home violence and abuse with more accuracy and attention. Causes of domestic violence are numerous. According to Fleisher, the phenomenon has a socio-cultural nature and is an integral part of stereotyped notions about the nature of family relationships perceived through early childhood impressions. It represents the only possible model of behavior. The abuse may be the result of personal life experience of individuals and, thereby, they create moral and psychological grounds to consider this type of relationship as versatile. Another group of causes is associated with childhood trauma, which is an early devastating experience that makes the individual develop his/her child’s complexes (Fleisher, 1995).

Fleisher gives examples how domestic violence results into offensive and abusive behaviors in adult life of the observed criminals. Social and psychological frustration caused by external influences exceeds limits of personal resilience of individuals, forcing them to seek compensation and revenge.

The author has found a special role in the growth of violence in such mental factors as weakening control instincts, frustration, aggression, alcoholism, and psychopathology. Violence is closely associated with social stress in the family. Among many problems that can raise the level of tension and lead to violence are differences in parenting, sex deviations, pregnancy, money problems, unemployment, or the need for long-term medical care. Constant parents’ irritation can partly be explained by chronic anxiety about unresolved issues, which creates a mismatch between desires and capabilities.

Non-participation in social activities and limited availability of social support increase the risk of violence. Fleisher’s studies have shown that alcohol and drugs are not the same. Even a small amount of alcohol can affect aggressiveness and lead to aggression. In cases with a drug dose, people, on the contrary, soften and differentiate. People do not display violence because they have taken drugs, but because they cannot accept them. Therefore, some cases of violence appear in an attempt to get money from relatives for buying drugs.
In cases of abuse of the elderly, a major psychological factor is the role change and dependence of adult children on parents. At the same time, certain characteristics of the victim, such as constant claims and complaints, can also contribute to violence.

Adolescent Survival

According to Fleisher’s observations (1995), the problem of juvenile offence can originate from family and social environment of adolescents. For example, poor relationships with parents can become the main reason of aggression and offence of the youth. In families where parents experience difficulties with personal social adaptation, children tend to be neglected, stressful, and frustrated. They are apt to using drugs, alcohol, or other addictive substances as their parents do.

When parents fail in establishment of friendly and trustful relationships with their children, there can appear hostility and disbelief in young hearts. The lack of moral and financial encouragement can lead to poor learning skills development and illiteracy. Children need happy, confident, and successful parents, i.e. a positive example and trust in the world. If adults in a family need corrections themselves, they should be treated and rehabilitated together with their children. They have to be taught about modern principles of non-violence and abuse avoidance by specially trained people or in specially organized groups.

Problems of trust deficiency in a family and absence of support make young people vulnerable to numerous addictions of the twenty-first century such as alcohol, cigarettes, and drugs. They start neglecting social rules and norms and look for protection and self-realization by joining certain youth sub-cultures and deviant groups.
It is not a secret that nowadays the youth adhere to processes of differentiation. Differentiating factors appear more visibly than integrating ones. Under conditions of a radical transformation in the society, there have appeared profound changes in its stratification. Social polarization reflects trends relating to disengagement of traditionally preserved connections and values (Fleisher, 1995).

Social crisis has spawned break of principles and norms of public morality: what was good has suddenly become obsolete and devoid of practical significance. Various marginal flows have poured into subcultures of the young generation, hence ensuring total rejection of traditional cultural values. Delinquency, rejection, and denial of any rules and regulations have started flourishing on that fertile soil. When gathering in gangs, teens can despise the law and morality or show wanton vandalism. What makes them act this way? What underlies these protests?
Fleisher believes that antisocial sub-cultural groups and gangs arose in response to differences in initial conditions of the native environment. A subculture is a kind of reaction of the society, especially its younger generation, to the inability to become owners of decent life, namely to get good education and job or become rich, successful, and acknowledged. Subculture has appeared as an answer to the contradiction. Young people could achieve goals, sometimes illegally, while maintaining their own self and ensuring acquisition of their unique nature.
As with other categories of social science, rejection is a form of perception of social reality. In Fleisher’s view, human development is moving towards increasing freedom that not every person can adequately take advantage of (Fleisher, 1995). It can cause a number of negative experiences and mental states, which lead to alienation. As a result of exhausting struggle, young people sometimes lose themselves, social stability, trust of relatives and step into the way of crime.

Attention to problems of thieves and beggars is crucial because of their uncontrollable affects on the future generation and well-being of whole human settlements, especially in large urban regions. Fleisher generates a set of circumstances that form the distinctive shape of crime in big cities. It becomes evident not only in the quantitative characteristics prevailing in the criminological situation, but also in qualitative changes of the concepts of crime in the broadest sense. The author implies that in many cases criminals adhere to unspoken rules and behavior, which are effective and relevant to the current situation of addiction and abuses. The perception of justice and crime has acquired new features in the growing generation and the signs of aggressive reactions and rejection of social norms and rules point out evident drawbacks and lacunas in the system of education and upbringing.

Fleisher reveals numerous examples of cruelty and cases where the imperturbable crowd watches a violent crime on the streets of a big city without calling the police. These are symptoms of indifference and insensitivity, developing under the influence of the general structure of a modern large city. The anonymity of city streets facilitates crime and fleeing of criminals. There is a vicious circle in which, on the one hand, the fear of crime is driving people off the streets, out of parks and squares. On the other hand, the emptiness of streets and parks promotes growth of street crime, which reinforces the fear. Architecture of modern large cities, including land, streets, parks, and squares does not enhance primary informal social control, but has a rather destructive effect, which in turn increases social isolation and fear of street crime among urban residents.

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The book of Mark S. Fleisher (1995) raises crucial problems of the increasing amount of delinquents in modern global connections and communication. Modern thieves and beggars shift their evil habits from the street to the Internet. The lack of morals and a desire for quick and easy enrichment make them scammers and cyber crime abusers. Formation of a thief or beggar remains conditioned by those social ties to the environment from which the person originates and grows. Antisocial attitudes, aspirations, inclinations, and other negative traits of an individual are undoubtedly a product of assimilation of similar views and orientation based on the surrounding social environment. Young people are in a constant and direct communication with other people, as well as in a range of roles and relationships that they perform every day. It affects strategies of stating and achieving goals.

According to Fleisher (1995), the personality of a street criminal is characterized by such features as high sensitivity in interpersonal relationships, adherence to oppressive and violent methods in various conflicts, poor knowledge of the requirements of legal and ethical standards, and alienation from the society and its values. These features form a specific typology of thieves and beggars for whom offenses are a norm and a usual way of behavior. People repeatedly commit crimes because they have not seen other forms of communication and getting what they want in their past. The inability to resist adverse circumstances leads to reinforcement of negative and offensive activities. Personal characteristics of law perpetrators make them avoid negative effects and they fail to look for possible success.

Attempts of the government to change the situation have not led to any sufficient results. On the contrary, it should be noted that the offensive psychology acquired in the street criminal experience now appears in other spheres of social media activity. For half a century, the police have persecuted, accused, imprisoned, and even ruined criminals. They have a professionally organized, well-trained service for investigation of organized crime and a disclosure set of intricate conspiracy involving dangerous criminals. They spend billions of dollars on ceasing the drug trade borders, eradicating union extortionists, and checking taxes paid by speculators and gamblers. However, the organized crime continues to conduct business as usual and involves millions of new victims every year.

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