Gang Leader for a Day


Sudhir Venkatesh

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Gang Leader for a Day Themes

Themes and Colors
Hustling Theme Icon
Teaching and Learning Theme Icon
Objectivity and Empathy Theme Icon
Crime and the Police Theme Icon
Poverty Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Gang Leader for a Day, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.


One of the central concerns of Gang Leader for a Day is “hustling.” The term itself has multiple meanings and contexts. Most simply, hustling means whatever one does to survive in the projects. This can involve overt criminal activity, like prostitution or theft; grayer-area criminal activity, like the reselling of goods of questionable origin; or non-criminal odd jobs, like the repair or cleaning of old cars or electronics. Sudhir’s idea of hustling changes throughout…

read analysis of Hustling

Teaching and Learning

Sudhir is preparing for a career in academia—the teaching of college students. But the interaction with his “subjects” produces a far more complex web of teaching and learning, one in which the “subjects” often teach Sudhir about the reality of their lives in the projects. Thus, Sudhir is far from the only teacher in his account, and the people he studies are certainly not the only “learners.”

At the beginning of his tenure in the…

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Objectivity and Empathy

Throughout his research, Sudhir wonders how he can balance an “objective,” or scientific, account of life in the projects with an empathic, or emotionally-infused, view of that world. An apprentice sociologist, Sudhir identifies a divide within his own academic discipline. On the one hand, he perceives that his field is a “science” that hopes to “know” about the world of people and societies, without projecting the biases of those doing the research into the studied…

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Crime and the Police

Sudhir recognizes, early in his research, that the relationship between “illegal” acts and the “police,” who are supposed to arrest those committing them, is far different from the relationship he’d known till now, as a suburban youth in California.

In simplest terms, the police in the Robert Taylor Homes do not uphold the law, as there appears to be very little that the law does to support those in need. Outside the projects, in wealthier…

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Underlying all the above themes are the material conditions of those living in the projects. Put simply, essentially everyone in the Robert Taylor Homes is poor—that is, lacking in some of the basic needs of human life, and having difficulty securing those needs regularly. Some need food and clean water, others need clothing, others need medicine, shelter, heat, or electricity. When Sudhir encounters the depth of the need in the community, he wonders there is…

read analysis of Poverty