Floating City: A Rogue Sociologist Lost and Found in New York's Underground Economy

Floating City: A Rogue Sociologist Lost and Found in New York's Underground Economy

by Sudhir Venkatesh


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New York is a city of highs and lows, where wealthy elites share the streets with desperate immigrants and destitute locals. Bridging this economic divide is New York’s underground economy, the invisible network of illicit transactions between rich and poor that secretly weaves together the whole city.

Sudhir Venkatesh, acclaimed sociologist at Columbia University and author of Gang Leader for a Day, returns to the streets to connect the dots of New York’s divergent economic worlds and crack the code of the city’s underground economy. Based on Venkatesh’s interviews with prostitutes and socialites, immigrants and academics, high end drug bosses and street-level dealers, Floating City exposes the underground as the city’s true engine of social transformation and economic prosperity—revealing a wholly unprecedented vision of New York.

A memoir of sociological investigation, Floating City draws from Venkatesh’s decade of research within the affluent communities of Upper East Side socialites and Midtown businessmen, the drug gangs of Harlem and the sex workers of Brooklyn, the artists of Tribeca and the escort services of Hell’s Kitchen. Venkatesh arrived in the city after his groundbreaking research in Chicago, where crime remained stubbornly local: gangs stuck to their housing projects and criminals stayed on their corners. But in Floating City, Venkatesh discovers that New York’s underground economy unites instead of divides inhabitants: a vast network of “off the books” transactions linking the high and low worlds of the city. Venkatesh shows how dealing in drugs and sex and undocumented labor bridges the conventional divides between rich and poor, unmasking a city knit together by the invisible threads of the underground economy.

Venkatesh closely follows a dozen New Yorkers locked in the underground economy. His greatest guide is Shine, an African American drug boss based in Harlem who hopes to break into the elusive, upscale cocaine market. Without connections among wealthy whites, Shine undertakes an audacious campaign of self-reinvention, leaving behind the certainties of race and class with all the drive of the greatest entrepreneurs. As Shine explains to Venkatesh, “This is New York! We’re like hummingbirds, man. We go flower to flower. . . . Here, you need to float.”

Floating City: A Rogue Sociologist Lost and Found in New York’s Underground Economy chronicles Venkatesh’s decade of discovery and loss in the shifting terrain of New York, where research subjects might disappear suddenly and new allies emerge by chance, where close friends might reveal themselves to be criminals of the lowest order. Propelled by Venkatesh’s numerous interviews and firsthand research, Floating City at its heart is a story of one man struggling to understand a complex global city constantly in the throes of becoming.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780143125792
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 08/26/2014
Pages: 304
Sales rank: 375,844
Product dimensions: 5.30(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.80(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Sudhir Venkatesh is the William B. Ransford Professor of Sociology and a member of the Committee on Global Thought at Columbia University. His most recent book is Gang Leader for a Day, a New York Times bestseller that received a best book of the year award from The Economist. Venkatesh’s writings have appeared in the New York Times, the Chicago Tribune, and the Washington Post. He lives in New York City.

Read an Excerpt

We reached a dark staircase in the back of the strip club; he pushed me up one flight, then pressed me against the wall with his massive palm while his other hand rapped on a metal door. Inside sat three extras from a John Cassavettes movie – a young woman in lingerie and two middle-aged men with gaunt faces and greased black hair combed back over their heads. One of them had a calculator in his hand, the other played with a small rubber band. Both had unbuttoned shirts and silver chains in their chest hair. Both shot me bored looks as the half-naked girl continued with what she was saying.

Excerpted from "Floating City"
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Copyright © 2014 Sudhir Venkatesh.
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Publishing Group.
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Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

1 When Worlds Collide 1

2 New York, New York 27

3 The Shifting Ground Beneath Your Feet 65

4 Moving On Up 97

5 Sex is a Passport 149

6 Adventures in Role Playing 175

7 Boundary Issues 207

8 Exit Strategies 245

Acknowledgments 275

Author's Note 277

Index 279

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

Praise for Venkatesh’s Gang Leader for a Day

The New York Times

“Compelling . . . dramatic. . . . Venkatesh gives readers a window into a way of life that few Americans understand.”

“An eye-opening account into an underserved city within the city.”
Chicago Tribune

“A rich portrait of the urban poor, drawn not from statistics but from vivid tales of their lives and [Venkatesh’s], and how they intertwined.”
The Economist (A Best Book of the Year)

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Floating City: A Rogue Sociologist Lost and Found in New York's Underground Economy 3.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Floating City vaguely begins where Venkatesh's previous autobiographical account Gang Leader for a Day left off: he leaves Chicago for NYC as a new professor at Columbia University. Though he already has contacts in the City's underground economy from some of his informants from his dissertation, the premise of Floating City is that he eventually realizes NYC needs a different kind of sociology altogether. While this is in-and-of itself problematic because all cities have the kind of underground networks he postulates as ‘unique’ to NYC, albeit through very different geographies, more problematic is his 'me-search' narrative. More specifically, the constant dialogue running through the book about his own type of research versus the sociological 'formalistic' approaches practiced by his colleagues gets old by the second chapter but keeps on going to the bitter end. There were some interesting parts of the book. For example, his connections with the young white elite, a few of whom have gotten themselves involved in the underground economy more out of greed and the thrill of it then about survival, is interesting. But Floating City falls flat because Venkatesh let his ego get in the way of a what could of been a really good book. I rate this book as good because I don't regret reading it, but I probably won't recommend it to others.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago