Table of Contents
The book, Righteous Dopefiend by Phillippe Bourgois and Jeff Schonberg is an account of suffering solidarity, and betrayal of people, all that shapes their lives. The authors followed the homeless and addicts for years and recorded their personal lives and struggles, which they share in a particular manner to the readers. The book focuses on the homeless and drug addicts in the urban area in San Francisco of the United States. The authors of the book, Phillippe Bourgois, and Jeff Schonberg spent some time following the heroin addicts and crack smokers in San Francisco. During that time, they observe different lifestyles of the addicts such as Frank and Felix. “Frank pinches the back of his hand to search for a functional vein and then begins poking with the needle”/ “Felix “muscles” his heroin without trying to probe for a vein. He jabs the needle up to its hilt directly into his biceps and slowly pushes the heroin into his fatty tissue” (Bourgois and Schonberg 2009). Both authors followed these people and recorded their struggles to survive through actions such as burglary, recycling, labor, and panhandling.
The book consists of photographs, detailed fieldwork notes, and critical analysis of the situation in San Francisco. Notably, the central concepts focused on in the book are those of class, race relations, sexuality, trauma, inequality, suffering, and power. The authors take the readers through the episodes of everyday life in the streets; the spirit and determination to survive and hang on every day and get fixed through sharing. The community of the homeless and addicts go through their episodes of sharing drugs, solidarity, and personal betrayal.
We can do it today.
In this ethnography, the authors eloquently depict the survival techniques and lives of the black and whites addicts and the homeless. The economy of the urban areas does not care for everyone, especially the homeless. Such people must beg, work harder, scavenge, or steal to survive the streets. The case is worse for the addicts as they must find ways to get a fix every day, thus cannot survive alone in the streets. Therefore, the addicts develop solidarity and sharing virtues to enable survival. Social boundaries in the streets are often challenged by cases of hostility and racism. Even though all the people in the streets live to survive, there are cases of ethnic hierarchies. “During our first year, all the homeless in the central encampment were white, except Felix, whose parents were from Central America. We rarely saw African-Americans, Asians, or Latinos visit the encampments.” (Bourgeois and Schonberg 2009). Racism has a way of penetrating any social institution in the world from the rich to the street families in San Francisco (Bourgeois and Schonberg 2009). Each race in the society seems to have its way of life and working culture. In the American society, the white people have the upper hand to the black community. Similarly, this type of notion is seen the streets as the authors witnessed. “Despite their clear subordination within the local street-hustler hierarchy and their exclusion from mainstream white society, the durability of racism in the United States allowed the homeless whites on Edgewater Boulevard to hold on to an ideology of white supremacy” (Bourgeois and Schonberg 2009).
Gender relations in the streets are common with the Romaic relationships, violence, and sex work (Bourgeois and Schonberg 2009). Relationships between men and women in the streets were still prevalent. However, due to the conditions of living in the streets, the challenges of having any intimate relationships are obvious. Male domination is still apparent as seen in the case of Tina and Carter. Carter dominated Tina and wanted Tina to be his only. However, Tina loved favors in exchange for sex. According to the authors, her upbringing in which sex workers surrounded her must have influenced her life. Tina was raised a lonely girl in the male-dominant society, a life that made her gain control even with various sexual exploitations. “Tina described growing up as a bored, lonely girl seeking adult attention and pocket change for treats in front of the local corner store after school let out. This was long before she began purposely selling her body, when “I was still a virgin, but I was just used to standing with my hand on my hip. I didn’t know shit.” (Bourgeois and Schonberg 2009). Women are said to use sex work to resist male domination in their lives (Bourgeois and Schonberg 2009).
Money making on the streets makes them have a small economy of their own. The authors discuss the reasons for many homeless people in the streets of San Francisco. They point out that the disappearance of industrial jobs in San Francisco may have been the cause of the restructuring of the society (Bourgeois and Schonberg 2009). The people that could not adapt to the new economic changes and lack of jobs ended up homeless and had to survive in the streets laboring, panhandling, welfare and petty crime. San Francisco hosted the largest factories, most of them were in Edgewater, transportation and communication, shipyards, and utility centers were doing great until that came to a tragic end, leading to the homelessness and unemployment (Bourgeois and Schonberg 2009). In any urban area where houses are high in rent, inequality in income and low rental vacancy, people are bound to be homeless.
San Francisco is affected by both unemployment and housing problems, leading to an increase in homeless people. When the industrial jobs disappeared in the 1970s and 1980s, most people did not adapt back to the normal lifestyle. “The structural adjustments caused by globalization were rendered even more disruptive by the historical shift in the U.S. mode of governance away from rehabilitative social service provision toward punitive containment” (Bourgeois and Schonberg 2009). The Economic life of San Francisco changed, and the people who had previously worked in the factories and shipyards became homeless. The later generations became adapted to this kind of lifestyle, and most spend their life as manual laborers (Bourgeois and Schonberg 2009). For the homeless to survive, they too like in any society should compete for the limited manual jobs available. Evidently, homelessness began due to government and societal negligence. Social classification and capitalism have been the main contributor to homelessness in the city.
- Bourgeois, P. I., & Schonberg, J. (2009). Righteous dopefiend (Vol. 21). Berkeley: University of California Press