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Street Corner Society


Street corner society refers to a book authored by Whyte. This book entails the study of the phenomenon of neighborhood complexity among police, gangs, politicians and racketeers’ setting in the Northern End part of Boston. This part was known as Cornerville. This book is a representation of the pioneering works in the study of gangs in sociological explorations. It attempts to show different issues of the observations of a participant and the contemporary enthnographical studies within the Northern End of Boston.

Whyte studies the second Italians generation in this work where the gang that is led by Doc is called corner boys. These boys are claiming a space in their neighborhood. Together with his gang, Doc assumed a street corner as their turf. This gang did not undergo formal education. Chic as well as the other club members focuses on acquiring college education as well as social mobility. The politicians and racketeers’ social structure within this community as well as the complexity of their working organizations is a characteristic of a racketeering business within Cornerville. This paper aims at analyzing the nature that the society of the street corner depicts with more emphasis being put on different subsystems that are in existence in the story’s plot and the gangs’ nature as well as the role that the racketeers play in this social structure.

Although there is a complex setting that exists comprising of corner boys and highway robbers whose aim is to destabilize social order in the society, this is not necessarily an implication that disorder will prevail in this community. In his research, Whyte explains that there are different subsystems that exist in this setting. The gangs’ social organization is one such subsystem. In his work, Whyte disputed the idea that the society of street corner is experiencing disorganization. According to Whyte, these peer groups appear disintegrated. However, they are organized and structured properly because they depict hierarchical structures which the members follow. The researcher also shows that there is strong leadership in these organizations and this guides the members in running the group’s affair. College members belonged to the group of an Italian community. Chic led this group while the corner boys were led by Doc. There was proper structuring and organization of both groups.

One of the features that emerge from the Cornerville members’ relationship is leadership. There are strong bonds in both groups. These bonds and leadership enhances the coordination of the group members. This seems to have contributed to the establishment of their social relations. College boys have formal relationships while corner boys have information relationships.

The book expresses friendship that is shown by the society of the street corner and the city setting. There are variances and similarities of these settings in the explanation of friendship in these groups. The work focuses more on the gang’s position and every side attempt to express the essence of friendship. The friendship relationship in the society of street corner is highlighted by society dwellers instead of those outside the setting. The society gangs of street corner were joined together from the time they were children. People who live together in the setting depict social contacts which maintain their friendship ensuring their harmonious living.

The setting has a variation as shown in different variations that are seen between corner boys and college boys. The existing relationship between the racketeers and corner boys and the politicians led to repentance. This work indicates the society as a failure of the social organization because it declined to integrate into a society of the Americans the way other immigrants did (Whyte 2012).

Social mobility and social structure have also been handled in this book where different social structures are depicted among college boys and corner boys. Both settings highlight the differences that these groups have because there are different characteristics for every group. There is a group that had undergone formal education. The other group underwent informal education. Therefore, this led to differences in the social classes where people have low expectations for the society of the street corner. This had negative impact on the members of this group. Whyte discovered that this can be seen from the fact that African Americans have low IQ when compared to European Americans. The stereotyping led to negative behavior among the society of the street corner because it made them feel interior to educated people.

In the society of the street corner, gangs are made of children who grew up in the North Eastern End of Boston together. The operations and support of the group member were the responsibility of the gang leader. This was due to the fact that these boys were unable to satisfy their own needs using what they got. As such, they had to depend on support from their leaders. Members of the gang had varying status. Therefore, they operated on the basis of mutual satisfaction. As such, this means that the group was held together by special activities or operations of the members which they did together. The group was no longer able to remain united following the employment of Doc in the settlement house at Cornerville.

Although many street gangs are seen on daily basis in the street, they were unable to see one another outside the zones which they occupied because each group had its own allocated time at this corner. Such activities kept the groups together.

With many groups as well as the community in this region, the explanation of Whyte differentiates college boys from corner boys because the concern of college boys was on getting good education as well as advancing socially. Corner boys on the other hand focused on living in certain streets as well as in the surrounding shop (Whyte, 2012). Corner boys belonged to the lower class of the society. Their lives depended on the local people’s mercies. However, college boys aimed at progressing socially. In regards to the relationships and associations of the college boys with the entire society, Whyte observes that Cornerville is a pre-arranged setting.

This idea contradicts common beliefs that there are no proper structures in the slums and these are usually informally muddled places. Similar to political and racketeer structures, the gang had an organization of a hierarchical nature. This can be attributed to the way the group understood each other as time went by (Whyte, 2012). Cornerville has several problems that include poor housing, scarcity and joblessness which corner boys face. This gave them the name “corner boys” as a way of depicting how they spent time out in the streets. Cornerville was also shaped by the racketeers’ social structures.

In the society of the street corner, racketeers had an important role to play. They influenced Cornerville the way corner boys influenced it. Due to the social structure, they are the main figures that can be seen out in the 1930s’s streets (Whyte 2012). Their influence was felt in people’s affairs, political arenas and the structures. Their impact and influences were distributed over the Norton’s or corner boys’ life. They also influenced Cornerville representatives and the people’s social construction. Using their powers, the racketeers were able to undertake different projects of self achievement although they were giving back to their society. An example of this is how they used their impact in controlling politicians. Additionally, via politicians, the racketeers could change or sway social structures in Cornerville.

Racketeers had business experience and money. Majority of them possessed local connections with local authorities. They bribed them in order to do anything that they pleased. They also engaged in different illegal acts that included gambling. They used their money in enticing corner boys. This way, they influenced corner boys’ lives on daily basis.

The racketeers influence on local boys also emerged from their manipulation. Being a group that was isolated, they were connected to local gangs via their leaders. Therefore, leaders of these gangs could organize their activities without direct participation (64). The people of Cornerville could not know the impact that the racketeers had on corner boys’ lives. They could organize gambling and this was very important for corner boys. Any time these boys won they felt honored. The boys could pay bills and debts after gambling. The racketeers channeled the money that they gathered to their society via the organization of social entertainment which brought the boys together. Some of it was used to organize dances and purchasing local wares from local enterprises. As it was reported by a young man, the gangsters were fine guys that you would want to meet because they will do so much for you (142). This is an indication of a decent reputation that they had established and this influenced corner boys.

Racketeers also influenced the politicians because they bribed policymakers and local politicians so that they can
come up with laws that were favorable to them. On the other hand, politicians depended on their influence to get support during the elections. As such, every side needed something from the other. The politicians’ campaigns were also funded by the racketeers as indicated by Carrie. From these facts, it is clear that politicians were highly influenced by the racketeers.

Additionally, the racketeers also influenced the structure of the society because they changed both the inheritance of the Italian and the old style of the Americans. Since the racketeers partly controlled the politicians, it became obvious for them to change social structures. According to Whyte, as long as there was a plan by the boys, the racketeers had to offer them support (145). Because the racketeers already joined local politicians, changing local enterprises in regards to politics, the people and businesses was easy.



Whyte, F. (2012). Street Corner Society: The Structure of an Italian Slum. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.



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