Sterling Professor Elijah Anderson honored for pioneering work in ethnography

Yale sociologist Anderson receives criminology’s highest award for his groundbreaking studies of life and violence in inner-city African American communities.
Elijah Anderson.

Elijah Anderson (Photo by Michael Marsland)

Yale sociologist Elijah Anderson has been awarded the 2021 Stockholm Prize in Criminology for his groundbreaking urban ethnographies documenting violence and life in inner-city African American communities.

In announcing the annual award, the most prestigious in the field of criminology, the Stockholm Prize in Criminology Foundation said that Anderson’s scholarship “has considerably improved our understanding of the dynamics of interactions among young men and women that lead to violence, even among good friends.”

His years of immersion in street life in Chicago and Philadelphia provide a social microscope for observing and understanding the consequences of prejudice and blocked opportunities through the eyes of people growing up in those areas,” the foundation stated.

Anderson, Sterling Professor of Sociology and of African American Studies, is one of the country’s leading urban ethnographers and cultural theorists. As a doctoral student at the University of Chicago in the 1970s, he began studying street corner life at a local bar/liquor store located on Chicago’s South Side for his dissertation. He visited the same location nightly for nearly three years to gain a deeper understanding of the group of men he met there. This qualitative fieldwork provided the basis for his widely acclaimed first book, “A Place on the Corner: A Study of Black Street Corner Men,” which vividly depicts how the men he observed maintained their social status in the eyes of the others, revealing a complex social order regulated in part by violence.

He has since authored four other books that examined status and racial hierarchies and divisions in urban settings. His 1990 book, ”Streetwise: Race, Class, and Change in an Urban Community,” winner of the American Sociological Association’s Robert E. Park Award, explores the dilemma of both Blacks and whites, the underclass and the middle class, as they struggled with each other not only over prime real estate in a racially changing neighborhood but also for shared moral community.

Anderson’s 1999 book, “Code of the Street: Decency, Violence, and the Moral Life of the Inner City,” winner of the Komarovsky Award from the Eastern Sociological Society, delineates the cultural divide in Philadelphia neighborhoods formed between the codes of the street that regulate violence and often reward destructive behavior and the code of decency imparted by strong, loving, decent families.

The Cosmopolitan Canopy: Race and Civility in Everyday Life,” his 2011 book, provides detailed descriptions of encounters between whites and Blacks of different social classes in public spaces in large U.S. cities. It demonstrates how people maintain order through nonverbal negotiation for the use of sidewalks, coffee shops, and other public amenities, creating a framework for understanding racial controversies, such as the 2018 incident when two Black men were arrested in a Philadelphia Starbucks after asking to use the restroom when they hadn’t purchased anything.

His latest book, “Black in White Space: The Enduring Impact of Color in Everyday Life (University of Chicago Press), forthcoming in January 2022, ethnographically describes how Black people navigate the perceptual categories of “white space” and the “iconic ghetto,” a caste-like status that ascribes to Black people negative presumptions that they must disprove before establishing trusting relationships.

The Stockholm Prize in Criminology is an international prize established under the aegis of the Swedish Ministry of Justice and with major contributions from the Torsten Söderberg Foundation. First awarded in 2006, the prize recognizes outstanding achievements in criminological research or the application of research results to reduce crime and advance human rights. The 2022 recipients, announced concurrently with Anderson’s 2021 prize, are Francis T. Cullen of the University of Cincinnati’s School of Criminal Justice and Peggy C. Giordano of Bowling Green State University.

The prize announcement was delayed a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As part of the prize, Anderson will receive 1 million Swedish Kroner, which is about $116,000. The prize will be officially presented in June 2022 at a ceremony at Stockholm’s city hall.

Among other recent awards and honors Anderson has earned are the Cox-Johnson-Frazier Award and the W.E.B DuBois Career of Distinguished Scholarship Award, both from the American Sociological Association; the Eastern Sociological Society Merit Award; and the William Julius Wilson Award for the Advancement of Social Justice from Washington State University. He joined the Yale faculty from the University of Pennsylvania in 2007.

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