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Ask the Gang Guy: Q&A With Sudhir Venkatesh

Of all the stories we told in Freakonomics, the most popular was the section on the economics of crack cocaine. While it related a lot of particular facts about the crack trade, I believe that readers responded most vigorously to the daring and smarts of the researcher we wrote about, Sudhir Venkatesh, who went and hung out with the crack gang in Chicago for several years. He and the gang met cute, sort of: while administering a door-to-door survey, Venkatesh stumbled upon some junior members of the gang and was held hostage overnight.

Back then, Venkatesh was a grad student in sociology at the University of Chicago. Now he teaches at Columbia University; he is also writing his own book about his research, Gang Leader for a Day, which will go well beyond what we covered in Freakonomics; it is scheduled to be published in January.

Although he has since done a lot of research that has nothing to do with criminal gangs, Venkatesh still knows more about gangs than … well, just about anyone. So when I saw this A.P. article yesterday about urban gangs, I thought we should ask Venkatesh if he’d be the subject of one of our interactive Q&A’s where you, the readers, ask the questions.

Here is the article’s lead:

Anti-gang legislation and police crackdowns are failing so badly that they are strengthening the criminal organizations and making U.S. cities more dangerous, according to a report being released Wednesday.

It is worth reading the whole thing. But feel free to pose questions of any sort to Venkatesh, not just those relating to the article. For instance: does he still dress like a Deadhead?