Excerpt: Introduction and Chapter 1
Origins of Network Inequality in Everyday Life
(2004, University of Chicago Press)
* Robert E. Park Best Book Award (2005)
* C. Wright Mills Award for Best Book of 2004
* Mirra Komarovsky Best Book Award, Honorable Mention (2005)
* Sociology of Culture Section, ASA, Best Book Award, Honorable Mention (2005)
Villa Victoria examines how of a group of low-income Puerto Rican migrants with little formal education living in a Boston enclave resisted the efforts of the city to relocate them in the name of "urban renewal." After a successful grassroots movement, the group earned the right to become developers of the parcel of land, creating, instead of a slew of luxury condominiums, a new mixed-income community of townhouses and public gathering areas, a community they named "Villa Victoria." Examining what happened next, and why, becomes an occasion to study the consequences of concentrated poverty and the sustainability of social capital.
Villa Victoria explains why social relations in this housing complex did not follow the expectations of standard sociological theories about the effects of concentrated poverty. The answer lies less in the neighborhood than in the theories, which do not consider how much the effects of neighborhood poverty depend on the conditions of the given neighborhood and of the city in which it is located.
For decades now, scholars and politicians alike have argued that the concentration of poverty in city housing projects would produce distrust, alienation, apathy, and social isolationthe disappearance of what sociologists call social capital. But relatively few have examined precisely how such poverty affects social capital or have considered for what reasons living in a poor neighborhood results in such undesirable effects.
This book examines a neglected Puerto Rican enclave in Boston to consider the pros and cons of social scientific thinking about the true nature of ghettos in America. Mario Luis Small dismantles the theory that poor urban neighborhoods are inevitably deprived of social capital. He shows that the conditions specified in this theory are vaguely defined and variable among poor communities. According to Small, structural conditions such as unemployment or a failed system of familial relationsmust be acknowledged as affecting the urban poor, but individual motivations and the importance of timing must be considered as well.
Brimming with fresh theoretical insights, Villa Victoria is an elegant work of sociology that will be essential to students of urban poverty.
From the back cover:
"In this highly original ethnographic study, Mario Luis Small's systematic ethnographic research of a Boston barrio generates insights that lead to a critical examination and reconstruction of central theoretical arguments in the field of urban poverty. Small's contribution to our understanding of poverty and social capital is enormous. Indeed, Villa Victoria is one of the most creative and important studies of poor neighborhoods ever written."
William Julius Wilson, Harvard University
"Words like 'brilliant' and 'incisive' should not be used lightly, but in Villa Victoria we find a volume that merits high praise. Mario Small subjects ideas like social isolation and social capital to a searching theoretical critique and shows, through historically grounded field research, how they must be reconceptualized to account for changing forms of participation in Boston's Puerto Rican barrio. Small exemplifies the sociological imagination at its best and the field is in his debt for providing this landmark study of urban poverty."
Katherine Newman, Princeton University
"Small has written the most comprehensive, detailed, and engaging study of Villa Victoria to date. This book is a must read for those currently engaged in trying to transform the lives of Latinos and others in our inner cities through policy and community development."
Felix Matos Rodriguez, Centro de Estudios Puertorriquenos, Hunter College
"Villa Victoria analyzes the scientific debate about the nature of slum communities that was touched off by the original 'culture of poverty' theories of the 1960s and then reawakened by William Julius Wilson's ideas about the truly disadvantaged. Mario Small cuts through the political fog that made these debates seem interminable and recommends what he calls a conditional mode of analysis that is more precise and useful. This is an excellent book."
Howard Becker, author of Outsiders and Tricks of the Trade