Analysis of The Book "Street Code: Decency, Violence and The Moral Life of The Inner City" by Elijah Anderson

Topics: Youth Violence

Introduction & Purpose

In his book Code of the Street: Decency, Violence, and the Moral Life of the Inner City, Elijah Anderson analyzes the subculture of impoverished, inner-city neighborhoods that were based on gaining and maintaining the juice, a combination of respect, status, and reputation (73). The book discusses a myriad of issues such as teen pregnancy, the underground economy, and child delinquency. Anderson concentrated on the overarching problem of the street’s “code” that persuade some youth to employ violence to acquire influence and respect.

Anderson considers the importance of the street code, examining how this unwritten decree affects the lives of people in specific neighborhoods. Anderson defines two categories of residents whose treatment is determined by the code: “decent” implies individual have middle-class values and participate according to social standards whereas “ street-oriented” suggest people operating on interpersonal respect through violence and illegitimate activities (35). Anderson collects residents’ survey and interview responses and synthesizes a collection of experiences from each resident group.

Anderson uses the theoretical framework of gaining status and respect at any cost to guide his research.

Participant Selection

Anderson selects youth and fam lies who meet the classification of either decent or street-oriented and reside in a particular neighborhood. Race and economic level are other key concepts Anderson notes in participants, prioritizing African-Americans and recording financial condition as poor or middle-class. Anderson does not give a clear number of participants; he generally states that he has conducted numerous interviews and surveys throughout the study. Anderson predicts youth were either decent or street-oriented but both would use violence as a method to gain and keep the respect.

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A particular participant that sticks out is John Turner, who is Anderson’s ideal-typical character as a decent kid that falls victim to the street code. Although he was raised in a decent family, Turner still adopts the beliefs of his community that the ideal respected man has the juice and multiple children because that made him a manly (262). However, Turner is in a small situation that gets him arrested and sucked into the ways of the streets because he begins earning respect. Anderson ponders on where it is possible to escape the vicious cycle of street life.

Sampling Strategies

Anderson utilizes purposive sampling to select participants because he needs to find individuals that meet the characteristics of his study. Through purposive sampling, Anderson can pick both street-oriented and decent individuals who would incorporate violence to achieve respect. Especially, Anderson attempts to use theoretical sampling to discover and explain the relationship between individuals and the code. Anderson relies on collected data to reveal theories, which can either produce a more comprehensive understanding of poor, urban life as repetitive or biased analysis of urban poverty because the data is left for open interpretation.

Data Collection/Method

Anderson collects information from participants, conducts interviews, and gives surveys to take. In his interviews with families and youth, Anderson asks some basic question questions, about the family background but eventually focuses on the individual’s experience with the street code. Through interviews and surveys, Anderson gains more information about his participants and their values. Anderson’s usage of analytic technique is appropriate because it allows people, whether decent or street-orient, a chance to explain their lives to someone and justify their responses to living in their community and facing the daily struggles such as youth violence, teen pregnancy, underground economy, child delinquency, and broken families. Although he would be present with a lot of information, Anderson would be able to pinpoint the participants’ most telling beliefs, logic, and reaction to their existing conditions.


As he conducted more and more interviews, Anderson conveys that all participants, regardless of differences in morals and values, felt they could achieve respect from others based on their toughness. I believe Anderson did a great job of wrapping everything up together in his conclusion. Although Anderson concludes that all individuals who yearned for respect are willing to resort to violence for such respect, I still question how universal is this theory or whether it applies solely to poor people, poor black people, or black people. Anderson does not present readers with quantitative data, but I feel he supplied sufficient qualitative information from participants through surveys and interviews. By depicting the intimate details of some of his participants’ lives, such as John and Rob, Anderson adopts Du Bois’ style of writing of making the readers completely aware of the struggles of blacks by forcing the readers to become a part of the subjects’ lives. In the case of his study, Anderson rightfully relies on personal narratives because statistics would not have humanized the individuals and illustrated how the street code systemically aids in the criminalization of poor blacks.


Overall, I love the book. Since it was my first time reading it, I think I may have overlooked some important topics but can easily recall a lot of the interesting things I have learned from the book. I think Anderson did a great job at letting individuals tell their stories. While some may debate over Anderson’s final theories, I think there is something extremely powerful and disheartening in the conclusion. Anderson assumes that youth in poor, urban communities tend to fall into the trap of the street code because they have lost all hope in their abilities to find legitimate future opportunities and conclude they are not allowed entrance into mainstream society. In turn, the youth accepts that the only other option for success is through fulfilling the milestones of street life. I would have preferred Anderson to use some more pre-existing data from other inner-cities about how poverty influences individuals’ success (conforming to mainstream standards or street vices). After reading the book, I think ethnographic interviews would be something I would love to consider doing for my research study that would not benefit from statistics alone. I like how Anderson immersed himself into gives the neighborhood and into the lives of his subjects, observing how things look and people behaved. In my opinion, Anderson did a great job making the qualitative research interested and clear. I would recommend the book to others who are interested in ethnographic research.

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Analysis of The Book "Street Code: Decency, Violence and The Moral Life of The Inner City" by Elijah Anderson. (2022, May 14). Retrieved from

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