Read Ain't No Makin' It: Aspirations and Attainment in a Low-Income Neighborhood by Jay MacLeod Online


 This classic text addresses one of the most important issues in modern social theory and policy: how social inequality is reproduced from one generation to the next. With the original 1987 publication of Ain’t No Makin’ It Jay MacLeod brought us to the Clarendon Heights housing project where we met the “Brothers” and the “Hallway Hangers.” Their story of poverty, race, an This classic text addresses one of the most important issues in modern social theory and policy: how social inequality is reproduced from one generation to the next. With the original 1987 publication of Ain’t No Makin’ It Jay MacLeod brought us to the Clarendon Heights housing project where we met the “Brothers” and the “Hallway Hangers.” Their story of poverty, race, and defeatism moved readers and challenged ethnic stereotypes. MacLeod’s return eight years later, and the resulting 1995 revision, revealed little improvement in the lives of these men as they struggled in the labor market and crime-ridden underground economy. The third edition of this classic ethnography of social reproduction brings the story of inequality and social mobility into today’s dialogue. Now fully updated with thirteen new interviews from the original Hallway Hangers and Brothers, as well as new theoretical analysis and comparison to the original conclusions, Ain’t No Makin’ It remains an admired and invaluable text. Contents Part One: The Hallway Hangers and the Brothers as Teenagers 1. Social Immobility in the Land of Opportunity 2. Social Reproduction in Theoretical Perspective 3. Teenagers in Clarendon Heights: The Hallway Hangers and the Brothers 4. The Influence of the Family 5. The World of Work: Aspirations of the Hangers and Brothers 6. School: Preparing for the Competition 7. Leveled Aspirations: Social Reproduction Takes Its Toll 8. Reproduction Theory ReconsideredPart Two: Eight Years Later: Low Income, Low Outcome 9. The Hallway Hangers: Dealing in Despair 10. The Brothers: Dreams Deferred 11. Conclusion: Outclassed and Outcast(e)Part Three: Ain’t No Makin’ It? 12. The Hallway Hangers: Fighting for a Foothold at Forty 13. The Brothers: Barely Making It 14. Making Sense of the Stories, by Katherine McClelland and David Karen...

Title : Ain't No Makin' It: Aspirations and Attainment in a Low-Income Neighborhood
Author :
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ISBN : 9780813343587
Format Type : Paperback
Number of Pages : 537 Pages
Status : Available For Download
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Ain't No Makin' It: Aspirations and Attainment in a Low-Income Neighborhood Reviews

  • Clif
    2019-07-09 17:03

    So you think you are an individual, self-sufficient, a rational decision maker, responsible for where you are in life? It is a comfortable idea for the successful, to be able to take a nice warm shower in your own self-image, but it's hell for those at the bottom. Far from the conservative image of deadbeats who look for a free ride on the backs of hard-working people, this book shows how the poor share the idea of personal responsibility and beat themselves up mercilessly for their plight. From top to bottom, the capitalist idea of individual agency is so strongly held it is blinding and this is Jay MacLeod's lament.MacLeod dearly wants class to be recognized, that what we become in life is very much dependent on where we happen to be born in the social hierarchy; that class makes all the difference to how we turn out, no matter how much effort we make. He points to generations that sit stuck in poverty. Surely it is the environment that is largely determining their fate, killing their chances of a decent life before youth reach adulthood.MacLeod says the idea that you are your own result encourages people to put up with gross inequality of wealth; if only I had tried harder I could be rich too! This keeps those at the bottom punishing themselves for failure instead of going after the unjust system the keeps them down. MacLeod realizes this is largely but not entirely a myth; an American religion. The faithful include the subjects of MacLeod's study, two groups of lower class males, one largely made up of whites and the other of blacks that, at the beginning are in their mid teens and by the end are in their late 30's.MacLeod yearns for these young men to wake up and see the nature of the oppression they are under - to see the class stratification that would provoke them to become active politically to change things in a socialist direction. Despite an occasional class insight, they are overwhelmingly convinced they are to blame for their plight (or success).Great credit must go to the author because, despite his agenda, he puts it aside and lets the guys speak for themselves. The questions he asks them are wide open. The result is a fascinating study of the underclass way of life. It's enthralling.In a turnabout, and I confess I had the feeling I was being set up for a big point to be scored about race - it is the group of black males who have the greater sense of doing well by behaving in school and going for the educational ring that is said to offer success. MacLeod speculates that these boys, "The Brothers", who become men in the book, believe that civil rights advances have truly opened a door that they need to use. They try to live according to the American myth.The mostly white group, the "Hallway Hangers", are rowdies of the most extreme kind. Look at one wrong and he will put out your lights. Drugs, drinking, a fight from time to time, fathers nowhere to be found, they live for the moment and continually fail in school, end up in prison, move from being fired at one dead-end job to being fired at another.MacLeod lets each life story play out fully. With a couple of exceptions, all the males of both groups end up as he would predict - not breaking out of the lowest class, even if they do escape the 'hood, struggling near the bottom. Almost all of them do survive drug and alcohol dependency after change is forced on them by the influence of a woman, of a child of their own, or simply age.So what can we as a society do about this situation that reproduces people who must struggle to survive, while heaping wealth on those who already have it? How can there possibly be equal opportunity for every child when there is the original injustice of birth being a chance thing - heads you're in a middle or upper class family, tails you're in squalor.MacLeod looks to socialism, but I think the trouble is more basic and only band-aids are possible. The progressive income tax is one, early childhood education is another, but these will not bring a cure. The root of the problem is modern civilization. Neither capitalism or socialism or communism addresses the root of the illness.The root cause is the loss of individual/social bonding.I don't believe that modern society is the peak of human civilization. That peak was reached by tribal peoples, best exemplified by native-Americans as they were found by Europeans on the Great Plains. These tribal groups had survived with little change for thousands of years and the coming of the horse brought them to their peak, just before their complete destruction.What puts them at the top of civilization in my thinking is the value placed by the tribe on every single individual within it. Was this person homosexual? So what, there was a place for him/her and respect went with it. Was that person aggressive? There was a place in limited inter-tribal warfare for such a temperament, again with respect going with it. Did someone hallucinate? Then surely that person was in touch with the unknown and could be valued. Could drugs be used? Yes, and it would bring visions of value.What about the natural environment? There was no dividing line. Animals were persons to be respected, learned from, used for food as needed with an apology for the killing. The sky at night, the wind, the clouds, the rain, all had a message.And this or that tribe of 100 people, usually less, were thus tightly bound through respect. Nobody was rejected for peculiarities or appearance and as a result each individual felt psychologically at home and deeply responsible to others.Tribes endlessly skirmished, honor was important. But rage was directed and contained. People died but how many in comparison to those who die today in the chaos of Syria or too many places in Africa?The problem of modernity is the fit of the individual to society is lost and must be built from scratch with each child born. We can't go back - tribal societies lived with myths that are completely exploded now. Talking of spirits and mother earth etc. is simply silly. It worked when it was deeply felt, but now it's all make-believe and each of us can choose the fairy tale we prefer. Awe and grandeur are not easy to feel when your sibling or neighbor is laughing about your chosen myth. Deeply religious folk are right to be worried about the future, but there is no stopping it.The price paid for modernity is beautifully documented in "Ain't No Makin' It", which is of minds twisting and turning to adapt to a society of others who are equally floundering, in an environment from which no sense can be made and where sensual escapes (drugs) are self-destructive because they occur within a vacuum of meaning.The human psyche created very serviceable, flexible, sometimes frightening but ultimately comforting mythologies over the millennia to fit human thought to the material world. Rational scientific thought, a glory in itself, has gutted them all. Continual anxiety about one's place in the world is the price we pay to know objective reality. To make a play on the title of this book - regarding the humanist society that's gone: there ain't no re-makin it.

  • Jessica
    2019-06-21 13:15

    Ain't No Makin' It: Aspirations & Attainment in a Low-Income Neighborhood was an assignment for my Foundations of Sociology and Culture class. It's an ethnographic study of two groups of teenage boys living in a housing project in New Hampshire in the 1980s and 90s. It's interesting, if depressing, material. One group of boys, primarily white, is cynical about their futures and spends most of the time hanging out in a hallway, drinking and smoking weed and crack. The other group, primarily black, believes in the popularly accepted achievement ideology that says that you can do and be anything as long as you work hard enough at it, and thus they work hard in school and generally refrain from smoking and drinking. The early chapters focus on these boys in the mid-80s and discusses their expectations and aspirations. The later chapters take place eight years later, when MacLeod returns to the project to find out how the boys had fared. Most of them - regardless of which group they hung out with in high school - are struggling to hold down jobs at all, or are working for barely more than minimum wage. Many struggle with serious drug addictions and several are often in jail. Only a couple could be considered to have "succeeded" in any way, and still their successes seem paltry compared to most of middle-class America. Nearly all of them have remained in or near the housing project they grew up in.MacLeod's research suggests that class structure in America is much more of a determining factor in one's life than most of America is willing to admits. Although "rags to riches" transformations are possible in American society, they are rare and rely as much on chance as on effort. Furthermore, the fact that these "rags to riches" transformations ever take place allows the rest of America to deny that class structure in this country is a problem that is not getting any better.So, yes, interesting but bleak. MacLeod does a good job of emphasizing the boys' humanity and individuality in painting their dreams and aspirations, making it clear that simple stereotypes of poverty cannot even begin to describe the people who actually live it. He's also honest about his shortcomings as an ethnographer. Overall it was a very worthwhile book to read.

  • Miss Night
    2019-06-19 15:15

    An academic dissertation: interesting from a clinical perspective, but not necessarily engaging on an emotional level.

  • Gina
    2019-06-18 12:09

    In the concluding field notes section, MacLeod mentions struggles with organization. That surprised me, because this is superbly organized. Information was easy to follow, and every time I began to wonder about certain aspects the questions were either answered or it was mentioned that it would be treated in a later chapter. That shows not just thoroughness but a natural flow. His notes are a reminder that this does not happen automatically.Even though the work is decades old, it is still relevant. Racism still functions as a way of helping the white lower class misplace blame. Achievement ideology has only become more toxic. It is important to see how buying into it may delay some pain, but not indefinitely. It is also important to see that while the rejection of a belief in opportunity by the Hallway Hangers isn't the answer either. They do get some boost in self-esteem and friendship, but the esteem still has too many other attackers, and the pervasive alcoholism and drug use in these teenagers is very disturbing. You can argue that misery outside of jail is better than misery with frequent stops in jail, but neither is a great option.The number of layoffs mentioned indicates a poor job market at the time, but it is also clear that the lack of value of the boys as individuals - especially based on social class and place of residence - made things worse. Even with good intentions the schools enforced that.35 years later we still need to do better.

  • Tess
    2019-07-13 12:06

    Thought provoking! Read parts one and two for class.

  • Fajar Martha
    2019-06-28 16:01

    The book has taught me everything there is to know about ethnography. The fact that The Brothers -- predominantly black teenager -- are more positive towards America's achievement ideology is baffling, thus as a non American reader made me curiously followed subsequent pages to know what happen to them in the future (job-related life, changed perceptions, etc). Their counterparts, on the contrary, Hallway Hangers (whom Macleod compared to Paul Willis' lads), were had realised from their early age that the achievement ideology was mere a sugar coated propaganda for the poor by the regime. They understood that the only way to make ends meet is to do an informal, and sometimes, illegal works such as drug dealing, theft, etc. While the Hallway Hangers were negative from beginning, the Brothers members were passionately active in school and perceived that the key to success in life was determined by their educational progress (some of them even foolishly set the future to become a lawyer or computer programmer).This book focused on said teenagers aspiration/perception on three structural basis: schooling, family, and economy/work. Those recorded aspirations were being analysed and compared to other works and Macleod won't bore you with too conflicting ideas/theories. Macleod's way to probe their aspirations is tragically funny, or funnily tragic. For example, when he came back to one of the teenagers for an interview, the now adult interviewee said that Macleod did this as he ran out money so he'd need to write an expanded edition. He'd spent his time with them as a social worker so his status was relatively close to them, and made the dangerous environment (high criminal rate) friendly. Started as undergraduate work in Reagan-era America, this expanded edition (that span in three decades!) is a fundamental study of urban poor and theory of social reproduction. Surprisingly and sadly, the naivety of these young men's perception on social class, social inequality, and neoliberal agenda couldn't be more relevant these days.

  • Marie
    2019-06-24 12:13

    This is actually the author's thesis, repackaged and updated, largely consisting of interviews with disaffected youth in a particular inner-city housing project. What he finds are two groups in the project - the "Hallway Hangers", white, drug-using, school-skipping miscreants, and the "Brothers", black, hard-studying, 'good kids'. MacLeod is interested in their "leveled ambitions" - meaning that the way these boys temper their dreams to their reality. The most ambitious dream among the Hallway Hangers is to own a pizza shop. The Brothers have higher dreams, but even these are tempered. One says he wants to be a doctor, and then, being ridiculed for this in the group interview, amends himself down to computer technician.The book looks at the forces that cause these boys not to aim higher. One factor the boys mention themselves is that even if they do well in school, they won't get a good job. This sad opinion bears out - at the end of the book, our author returns to the neighborhood a few years later to find that the studious high-school graduates of the "Brothers" clique hold no better jobs than the drop-out "Hangers".It's sad reality in all its glorious detail. You get to follow the stories of several youths as they struggle to define themselves, keep their self-worth, and steadily re-assess their chances. Juan wants to be a cook, takes a special vocational education cooking course in high school, ends up looking for work as a mechanic and then, when that fails, ends up at McDonald's. That's the kind of story they all have. Not a read for when you're in a depressed mood.Interspersed with the excerpts of interviews is a lot of theory on the subject, since this is an academic work, and a discussion of field methods in sociology.

  • Crystal Belle
    2019-06-23 15:05

    Overall, I respect MacLeod's ethnographic study which followed a group of young white and black men in a housing project in New Hampshire in the 80s. He did a great job of applying Bourdieu's social reproduction theory to the everyday lives of the young men and even during his 8 year follow up after the initial study. Although I have serious issues with the fact that he did not reveal that he was doing research on the young men until a year into his study, I can understand why he might have believed this was his only wan "in." I think some of his analysis of the young black men had severe limitations, especially with regard to the achievement ideology. I feel that because of this book's high success, he could have shared some of his earnings with the subjects which he failed to do, while boasting that he still feels like a "good person" because he sold his Chevy Impala to one of the boys eight years later. That kind of entitlement and exploitation of subjects for your own research gains disgusted me. Yet still, I think anyone interested in ethnography can learn a lot from this text. Lastly, I thought he did a good job of problematizing the impact of race, class and gender on academic success and social mobility.

  • Beth
    2019-06-24 15:02

    MacLeod follows two groups of boys in an inner city housing project for many years and the results -- that the students who bought into the American achievement ideology and worked hard in school in order to successfully join the workforce are in the same low socioeconomic position as adults as those students who gave up on school, is as hard to take as it is unsurprising, given the data we now have on this subject. Covering the topics of race and class and the way the education system is failing kids, this book should be required reading for anyone involved in education reform. The next time you hear someone say, "If kids just worked harder in school they could write their ticket out of poverty," give them this book. It's an eye-opening, utterly heartbreaking account of how that is, sadly, very rarely the case.

  • Kelly
    2019-06-28 17:03

    Really good book, especially for the sociologically-inclined but pretty depressing. Very eye-opening in terms of understanding the lower class and aspiration formation. Amazing the first half was his senior thesis--i suck. Favorite quote (from Frankie, the leader of the Hallway Hangers): I grew up thinking I was a bad fucking kid....I look back there—there aren’t any bad kids—there’s a lotta kids that just had a f*cking tough life (255).

  • Keena
    2019-06-27 15:07

    "Our occupational structure is shaped much like the Eiffel Tower. There is little room at the top, a larger but still limited number of tolerably well-paid positions in the middle, and near the bottom a wide band of inferior positions (with no "positions" at all for the unemployed). This roughly pyramidal structure ensures that even if everyone excels in school and strives ceaselessly for the top, the great majority are automatically bound to be disappointed."

  • David
    2019-07-17 12:46

    This is probably one of the best books I've ever read about sociological concepts. There are two groups of ideologically composed kids whose lives and thoughts are analyzed as they live and grow older. It seems like a lot at first glance but it's an easy read. Most of the text is composed of interviews of the different boys, and their views on the present and future. It got me emotionally at one point, and that doesn't happen very often. Powerful stuff!

  • Anna
    2019-07-03 12:14

    I love reading studies that follow-up with their subjects years later. This book follows two groups of high school boys living in a project in the 1980’s and applies sociological theories to their views on life and possible life outcomes. The author follows up with each boy eight years later and discusses possible reasons for their life outcomes to that point. I’d say its predictable, but also not so much. Is life what you make of it or what society makes of you?

  • Julia
    2019-07-12 11:47

    I had to read parts of this book for a class I was taking on social class. Parts of this book were incredibly interesting but where it goes wrong is that it was incredibly repetitive. Despite my frustration with reading so many things just said in slightly different ways multiple times throughout the three parts, I did find the study interesting so I did go and read the two chapters I didn't have to read for class.

  • Jamie Barringer (Ravenmount)
    2019-06-18 12:01

    This was a gloomy, depressing book all about how poor kids in bad schools are screwed from the very beginning, and how the system is set up to keep them poor and unsuccessful because of the way discipline, rewards and expectations are structured in our schools, and because of the lack of support from outside school that prevents kids from having much chance at doing well in school or after they leave school.

  • David
    2019-07-12 13:06

    Interesting qualitative sociological study about kids growing up in the ghetto, and how their lack of "cultural capital" seriosuly limits their ability to succeed. This book challenges the "achievement ideology" (the idea that in america, ANYONE can be successful & wealthy if they just try hard enough). Interesting read.

  • Jeb
    2019-06-20 14:02

    An important ethnographic look into the way social inequality is reproduced from generation to generation. More than a sociological text, however, MacLeod's look into the lives of two groups of children in a Massachusetts housing project is deeply personal as well, adding a much more human touch to the often overly deterministic theories of social reproduction.

  • Danielle Sullivan
    2019-07-13 12:14

    Excellent, graphic sociological study of inner-city teens. This book helped me obtain a better understanding of the complexities of sub-cultures within the dominant culture. Great read & easy to follow.

  • Patricia Timms
    2019-07-06 16:57

    Great book! Would have given it five stars if there had been even an acknowledgement that there were learning differences like Dyslexia between the Hallway Hangers and the Brothers. Still a great read though.

  • David Horney
    2019-07-09 10:59

    I read this one for school. The actual sociology parts dealing with achievement ideology and social theory are kinda dry. The ethnography bits (most of the book) which follow these young men from teens to middle age is fascinating and utterly readable.

  • Jamie
    2019-07-17 17:13

    Great read. It is a sociological study dating back to the mid-80s. The author follows a group of young men who live in the same housing project through their adolescent years and into early adulthood. Fascinating.

  • Katie Samples Dahlberg
    2019-07-16 12:08

    MacLeod's study demonstrates how social stratification in our capitalist society is reinforced through the expected norms and behaviors demanded by our society. Great read and would highly recommend to anyone interested in why social inequality continues to exist in the form that it does.

  • Mary
    2019-06-24 16:46

    I read sections of this book for my National Diversity and Change: United States class. It's a great sociological book, and I really enjoyed it. Very eye-opening. And, unfortunately, really depressing. I would like to go back and read some of the parts that weren't assigned.

  • Mary
    2019-07-05 14:04

    Every teacher, parent and lawmaker should read this book. The author does a fantastic, albeit bleak, job of presenting the world outlook of many living in poverty in a way that is both jarring and foreign to anyone who grew up in the middle or upper socioeconomic strata.

  • Tanjua
    2019-07-14 16:58

    Book About poverty

  • Ken
    2019-07-05 11:59

    Read this book as part of class readings for a class on immigration that I did in college.Very moving story. A page turner.

  • Beth
    2019-07-16 12:00

    This was a really good book to help you but into prospective what the lives of children and young adults who live in poverty and their ways of obtaining education.

  • Robin Rife
    2019-07-04 17:11

    If you are studying the field of sociology this is a must read!

  • Josefina Duran
    2019-07-19 10:48

    Reading for class

  • Pierre
    2019-07-17 14:48

    Good "real-world" observation of Bourdieu's Social Reproduction Theory. Even more amazing that this was all researched and written by a college undergraduate at Harvard.