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Critical Review of Sidewalk

Kathryn Hall

CORE 425: Social Constructions of Disability

Dr. Bonnie Laschewitz

November 1, 2016

Summary: In 1992, Duneier delved into an ethnographic study of the streets of Greenwich

Village, centering on the men and women who live, and work there. Duneier yearned to

develop insight on how their world works and how they see it (p. 10) as well as how these

persons live in a moral order (p. 9). Thus, over seven years he dedicated his time and efforts

to directly participating alongside the men and women, all the while meticulously observing,

questioning and excavating information and narratives. He extended his focus outwards as

well, to larger social structures, tensions and constraints at play, giving a truly all-

encompassing view of Sixth Avenue. In his immersion with the vendors, and the sidewalk life,

Duneier was able to better understand that the seemingly mundane, often looked down upon

behaviors and interactions in which the vendors engage, serve an important purpose.

Duneier postulates this community has been mistakenly portrayed as units of dysfunction,

standing in the way of social order, when his research and findings point to the contrary.

Duneiers Creation of Believable Social Science: Duneier succeeded in developing a rich,

nuanced understanding of how the vendors live their lives, think, behave, and interact in the

cultural, social milieu of the sidewalk. He presented a detailed view of the vendors behavior,

and meaning of these behaviors on the vendors own terms, instead of from a predominantly

outsiders perspective. Duneier succeeded in his endeavors to humanize the street vendors,

by constructing a nuanced, multi-dimensional perspective of sidewalk life. Duneiers genuine

fascination with this cultural milieu culminated as an exceptional piece of social science,

which changed my own perspectives vastly. Duneiers findings and his assertions prompted

me to think more deeply about preconceived notions and social constructions I hold, as well

as question, with newfound ire, the injustices and dismissals so readily practiced against

marginalized groups such as the sidewalk vendors. The sociological insight he provides from

years of fieldwork, coupled with theoretical discernments, culminated in what is possibly the

most profound piece of literature I have come across. Duneier constructed his claims with

immaculate method, and prodigious reflexivity, which I saw essentially no flaw in.

Duneier the Human Instrument: A Preeminent Examination of Roles, Influence and

Personal Bias: Duneier realized from the onset of his study that objectivity and detachment

were neither possible, not desirable for him as an ethnographic researcher. Duneier

conceded to readers that being a social scientist does not preclude having strong opinions,

values, or feelings (Duneier, 1999, p. 78). To Duneier what is most important is that [he] try to

help the reader recognize the lens through which the reality is refracted (Duneier, 1999, p.

14) throughout his accounts of life on the sidewalk. He accomplished this by remaining

transparent in stating the multiplicity of ways his role, and his findings, were influenced by his

judgments, as well as his quintessential qualities and subjectivities as a researcher and a

human being.

Duneier acknowledged he was documenting lives very different from [his] own,

prompting him to ask himself: how might my social position influence my work? (Duneier,

1999, p. 352). Duneiers self-reflexivity capabilities were exemplified through the transparent,

candid admissions of his personal limitations, made throughout the ethnography. He establishes

from the onset he is not exempt from having finite and fallible abilities. His willing admittance

that his influence, and judgments do impact the study abetted him to establish a heightened

level of consciousness and adaptability. Duneiers awareness of self, and criticism of his own

method ultimately proved beneficial and worthwhile to the entire research process, as well as

his end product and the overall effectiveness of his claims. His cognizance of the cluster of

value based subjective phenomena of which could skew his scholarship, led him to adapt his

approaches, resulting in better practice. Some of Duneiers adaptive, innovative tactics and

procedures included: his use of the tape recorder, his constant, incessant fact checking, his

return to various sites to seek corroboration of actualities, as well as having Hakim critique his

work, and including an afterword written from the actual perspective of Hakim, a street vendor,

to culminate the ethnography. If Duneier had not acknowledged his value-based physiognomies,

or prospects of influence over his subjects, and data, I believe the level of depth, and accuracy

of his findings would be largely absent. It is his awareness of bias that led him to engage in

more scrupulous, careful procedures, purging the level of researcher effect.

Purposeful Examination and Insertion of Rival Arguments and Postulation: Duneier

appeared to spare no detail, divulging his observations, and the data he collected, no matter

if it stood to support, or refute his claims. Duneier appeared to have a vast appreciation and

level of respect for the vendors, however I do not believe he enacted his study without

application of a critical eye. Thus, Duneier refrained from romanticizing the sidewalk, or

painting the vendors in an overly sympathetic light. Personally this made me view Duneier,

and his study with higher regard, because of the seeming unedited nature of the data he

included. Duneier indicated a desire to look carefully at-counter evidence in regard to [his]

theme (p. 342), that the informal system of social control the vendors provide, makes

sidewalk life viable. Duneier did just that, by devoting four chapters to highlight the limits of

informal social control, and examine some of the most contradictory evidence including

various instances of deviant, unattractive behavior. The counter evidence he included stands

to refute his claims, and instead support Wilson and Kellings (1982) broken windows theory,

of which his study essentially attempts to discredit. He very well could have omitted the

contradictory evidence he observed, or censor deviant behaviors some vendors engaged in

to strengthen his arguments. Instead, he commendably pursued to cover instances such as

urination in public in greater detail, seeking to understand the behavior from the perspectives

of those engaging in the acts.

Furthermore Duneier actively sought out to interview various stakeholders, such as

people from the Business Improvement Districts, government officials, as well as owners of

small businesses and pedestrians on the streets. These parties expressed views of the

vending community that were not only contradictory to those Duneier holds, but many in fact

voiced fierce contempt, and discomfort of the vendors presence. Duneiers inclusion of these

instances, even though they stood to rebut his claims, speaks volumes to his devotion to

creating a transparent, all-encompassing view of the sidewalk. Ultimately Duneier left it to

readers to test [his] observations against their own (Duneier, 1999, p. 11), stating reverie that

his concepts and representations be regarded as veritable, and with any luck, offer

transferability to other venues of misunderstood milieu.

Operative, Effective Claims-making: Rhetoric of effective claims making persuades

audiences to adopt the concerns voiced by the claims makers (Salmon, 2013, p. 245).

Duneier succeeded, doing just this, by backing his claims with a corpus of evocative narrative

centered descriptions and personal accounts. He engendered me to seriously contemplate,

and eventually adopt the concerns he voiced of the injustices and immoral actions against the

vending community. Duneier conducted strong logical reasoning as to why his claims have

merit, but also stimulated a strong sense of care and empathy in me towards the vendors.

Duneier constructed the identities of the vendors in personable, intimate manners, largely by

use of unfiltered narratives and detailed anecdotes from the vendors themselves. He used a

plethora of photos of various places and vendors he had spent seven years observing, as

another ingenious powerful claim-making strategy, to personalize the vendors and the

sidewalk milieu (Loseke, 2003). Duneier compelled me to accept his claims that the problems

he observed were not only highly prevalent, but extremely troublesome. Furthermore Duneier

induced me to care about the wellbeing of the vendors, and to stand behind his claims that

these problems and injustices can be changed, and that [they] should be changed (Loseke,

2003, p. 26).

Consultation of Ethnographic Research Sources: Duneiers study exemplified many of the

trademark features, and characteristics that ethnographic methodologists assert be present to

set up reputability in a study. This led me to credit Duneiers study as a reputable, sound

piece of ethnographic social science. The sources I consulted declared a requisite of

ethnographic research being a discovery based, emergent design, enacted on an inductive

platform (Yin, 2001, p. 21; Hoepfl, 1997). Duneier allowed his data and discoveries to drive

his research development, meeting the criterion of being a fundamentally inductive approach.

Duneier did however also incorporate deductive reasoning and insights into his research

process. Duneier was unequivocally well informed and aware of notable theories of public

space and safety presented by Jacobs (1961) and Wilson and Kelling (1982). He built his

study from consideration of their hypotheses, but ultimately substantiated his claims by

means of his data assemblage. I venture that his study was enhanced due to his thoughtful

incorporation of both inductive and deductive practices. Duneiers approach adds a layer of

depth, and reputability to his study that a solely inductive approach would not have given.

The sources I consulted also spoke to an amplified dependability and confirmability of

research as a central indicator of paramount ethnography (Lincoln & Guba, 1985; Yin, 2011).

Duneiers study exemplifies evidence of this, by his use of disclosure, and transparency of his

methods, which he argued held him to a higher standard of evidence. By providing an explicit

audit trail (Lincoln & Guba, 1985, p. 321), Duneier enables parties to investigate and

analyze his research for themselves. Duneier was straightforward in explaining his thought

process, and procedures from beginning to end. He concluded his ethnography with a lengthy

methodological appendix; which further illustrates his commitment to providing audiences

with substantive evidence of his studys dependability and confirmability.

The Call for My Ethnographic Project: The ethnographic project I would carry out is on the

experiences of families with children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). I have

noticed an ostensible gap in social science studies and research, investigating and illustrating

these familial experiences. This discovery precipitated my proposition for more intimate, in-

depth research to address these gaps, which I suggest take the form of ethnographic

research studies. My proposed study topic, while significant for many reasons, is especially

so because with the last decade, ASD has become the fastest growing, and most commonly

diagnosed neurological disorder in Canada (Autism Speaks Canada, 2016, para. 1). The

number of families affected, in need of supports and services makes it especially imperative

for professionals, and the public alike, to have access to findings offering a greater scope and

profundity. Professionals need more information, specifically if the form of narratives from

families themselves, so they can gain more comprehensive understandings, and be better

equipped to serve these families, and their real needs.

I believe ethnographic research serves as the preeminent, most effective method to

approach my topic of interest. The subtleties of families lived experiences and perspectives

would be divulged through rigorous participant observation tactics as well as the other intensive

qualitative data collection methods an ethnographic approach entails. I would envision carrying

out such an ethnographic project by first gaining entry through a local support group, or service

provider specifically for families of children with ASD such as the Autism Calgary Association. I

would engage with, and participate directly alongside various families, aiming to build a rapport

over time. My objective would be to expand my fieldwork outwards, into the homes of some

familys perchance, to observe their daily experiences and activities. I believe this would enable

me to gain a more intimate, holistic view, through attainment of candid perspectives in a variety

of settings. My research would allow audiences to get beneath the surface of textbook

generalizations of family experiences, deepening the scholarship, and overall understanding of

this ubiquitous group.



Autism Speaks Canada. (2016). Facts & FAQs. Retrieved from


Duneier, M. (1999). Sidewalk. New York, NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Hoepfl, M. C. (1997). Choosing qualitative research: A primer for technology education

researchers. Journal of Technology Education, 9(1). doi:10.21061/jte.v9i1.a.4

Jacobs, J. (1961) The Death and Life of Great American Cities. New York, NY: Random House.

Lincoln, Y. S., & Guba, E. G. (1985). Naturalistic Inquiry. Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications.

Loseke, D. R. (2003). Thinking about social problems: An introduction to constructionist

perspectives (2nd ed.). New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers.

Salmon, C. T. (Ed.) Communication Yearbook 34. New York, NY: Routledge.

Wilson, J. Q., Kelling, G. L. (1982). Broken windows: The police and neighbourhood safety.

Retrieved from http://www.manhattan-institute.org/pdf/_atlantic_monthly-


Yin, R. K. (2011). Qualitative Research from Start to Finish. New York, NY: The Guilford Press.