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Sudhir Venkatesh

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Title: Sudhir Venkatesh  
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Sudhir Venkatesh

Sudhir Venkatesh
Born 1966 (age 48–49)
Chennai, India
Fields Sociology, social economics
Institutions Columbia University
Alma mater University of California, San Diego (B.A.),
University of Chicago (Ph.D.)
Known for Urban Ethnography

Sudhir Alladi Venkatesh (born 1966) is an Indian American sociologist and urban ethnographer. Born in India, he is a professor of sociology and African-American studies at Columbia University. He was a board member at Philadelphia-based nonprofit Public/Private Ventures until it disbanded on July 31, 2012. In his work, Venkatesh has documented criminal gangs and the drug trade, and has written about the dynamics of the underground economy including street prostitution, contributing his findings to the research of economics professor Steven Levitt.

Venkatesh received a B.A. in mathematics from the University of California, San Diego in 1988.[1] He attended graduate school at the University of Chicago where he studied under Professor William Julius Wilson, focusing on Robert Taylor Homes, a housing project in Chicago about which he wrote a book, American Project. Venkatesh also authored a 2008 book titled, Gang Leader For A Day: A Rogue Sociologist Takes To The Streets. The book chronicles the life of urban poor in Chicago, particularly the Robert Taylor Homes and the gang, Black Kings, whose leader J.T. he befriended. He found that most foot soldiers in drug gangs make only $3.30 an hour.

In a separate research project with Steven Levitt, he hired former sex workers to track working street prostitutes in Chicago, finding that they make about $30–$35 an hour, with those working with pimps making more and suffering fewer arrests.[2][3] A street prostitute was arrested about once per 450 sexual encounters ("tricks"). Condoms were used in only 20% of the contacts.[4]

In 2009 Venkatesh became director of Columbia University's Institute for Social and Economic Research and Policy, or ISERP. In 2011 Venkatesh was the subject of an investigation on spending at ISERP. In 2012 Venkatesh revealed to The New York Times that he had reimbursed Columbia University for approximately $13,000 for funds that were misallocated during his tenure as director of ISERP.[5]


  • American Project. The Rise and Fall of a Modern Ghetto, Harvard University Press, 2000
  • Off the Books. The Underground Economy of the Urban Poor, Harvard University Press, 2006
  • Gang Leader for a Day: A Rogue Sociologist Takes to the Streets, Penguin Press, 2008
  • Floating City: A Rogue Sociologist Lost and Found in New York's Underground Economy, Penguin Press, 2013

He has also contributed to Steven Levitt's Freakonomics in a chapter entitled, "Why Do Drug Dealers Still Live With Their Moms?"


Sudhir Venkatesh at a New York book signing
  • "Dislocation." In February 2002, families living in the Robert Taylor Homes public housing development were given a 180 day notice of eviction. In six months, the community that had been their home for generations would be demolished. Dislocation chronicles the lives of tenants in one building as they move through the six-month relocation process.[6]
  • "At-Risk." This book highlights both the experiences of individuals who are operating under conditions of risk and the efforts of organizations who are providing assistance to them. The film will focus on the role of the United States as a place of refuge and a base for advocacy.[7]
  • "Abhidya" This narrative feature film examines one South Asian-American woman's exposure to the post-9/11 effects on her community.[8]
  • At the Top of My Voice - a 2009 documentary about events in the Republic of Georgia in late 2007 and early 2008.

See also


  1. ^ [1]
  2. ^ Steven D. Levitt and Sudhir Alladi Venkatesh, "An Empirical Analysis of Street-Level Prostitution", September 2007
  3. ^ The Other Chicago School, Forbes Magazine, 13 April 2009
  4. ^ In the Windy City, prostitutes sleep with police more often than get arrested by them, 7 January 2008
  5. ^ Columbia’s Gang Scholar Lives on the Edge, The New York Times, 30 November 2012
  6. ^
  7. ^
  8. ^

External links

  • Researcher Studies Gangs by Leading one on NPR website
  • Everything you always wanted to know about street gangs but didn't know whom to ask Venkatesh answering questions by readers of the Freakonomics blog
  • Steven Levitt: the Freakonomics of inner-city gangs (video) Steven Levitt discusses the economics of street gangs and Venkatesh's findings (TED 2004)
  • SAJAforum web radio interview with Venkatesh (one hour) - a conversation about his books, his work and academia with Sree Sreenivasan of
  • interview with Venkatesh, February 3, 2008Q&AC-SPAN
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