Academic journal article Theory in Action

Code of the Suburb: Inside the World of Middle-Class Drug Dealers

Academic journal article Theory in Action

Code of the Suburb: Inside the World of Middle-Class Drug Dealers

Article excerpt

Book Review: Scott Jacques and Richard Wright, Code of the Suburb: Inside the World of Middle-Class Drug Dealers. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015. ISBN: 978-0-226-16411-3 (Paperback). 194 Pages. $25.

[Article copies available for a fee from The Transformative Studies Institute. E-mail address: journal@transformativestudies.org Website: http://www.transformativestudies.org ©2016 by The Transformative Studies Institute. All rights reserved.]

In their book, Code of the Suburb: Inside the World of Middle-Class Drug Dealers, criminologists Scott Jacques and Richard Wright examine the social milieu of young, suburban drug dealers. Both authors are associated with what has been referred to as the "St. Louis tradition" of studying active offenders (see Lasky, Jacques, & Fisher, 2015). The lead author, Scott Jacques, is a protégé of Richard Wright, an ethnographic researcher, who is well-known for interviewing a variety of characters ranging from gang members to stick-up artists. In this book, the researchers turn their attention from the inner city to the suburbs and demonstrate that underground drug markets have the potential to thrive in affluent communities, even in those that are overwhelmingly White and seldom, if ever, identified with illegal activity.

The methodology employed throughout Code of the Suburb is unique in that the first author had a preexisting relationship with many of his research subjects. Jacques was friends with eighteen of the thirty interviewees, all of whom were young suburban drug dealers. This aspect of the book is, in and of itself, fairly interesting, especially in light of a recent scholarly examination of "friendship as a method" (Owton & Allen-Collinson, 2014). Jacques' friendships with key informants proved to be quite advantageous. For example, aside from giving participants the occasional six-pack of beer, it was not necessary or appropriate for Jacques to provide them with any type of monetary compensation. The respondents also referred Jacques to their friends, a strategy that was successfully employed by the second author in his classic examination of residential burglars (see Wright, Decker, Redfern, & Smith, 1992).

It is evident from reading this book that the research respondents trusted Jacques. The subjects were notably forthcoming as they responded to a series of open-ended questions. All of the interviews were audio-recorded, transcribed, and then analyzed for themes by both authors. The respondents ranged in age from eighteen to twenty-three years old, and virtually all of these middle-class drug dealers were enrolled in a college or university. Given that members of racial minorities disproportionately make up the bulk of those who are arrested for drug offenses (see Alexander 2012; Goffman 2014), it is also noteworthy that all but one of the participants in this study was White (one subject was Asian).

From the opening pages of Code of the Street, the authors candidly examine the motivations of young, middle-class drug dealers. As Jacques and Wright argue, in spite of having privileged lives, most middle-class youth lack a professional career that is sufficient to generate a meaningful amount of income. As a result, these actors are largely dependent upon their parents and know that it will take several years for them to achieve a sense of social status in their own right. The authors contend that high school is an arena where teenagers attempt to campaign for respect from their peers; "in-school assessments affect who hangs out together and who is (dis)respected during and outside of school hours" (7).

According to Jacques and Wright, some middle-class adolescents perceive that they can resolve the dilemma of peer respect by using drugs as a way to demonstrate their attractiveness and likeability.2 In the chapter titled, "The Pursuit of Coolness," the authors describe how adolescents living in the suburbs use drugs as a strategy to become popular and achieve short-term success; they argue that young people use drugs to become "cool" and enhance their social status. …

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