Ain’t No Makin’ It

Aspirations and Attainment in a Low-Income Neighborhood, Third Edition

Jay MacLeod

Third Edition • July 1, 2008 • 552 pages

Print ISBN: 9780813343587 • $45.00 USD$58.50 CAN

Ebook ISBN: 9780786731794 • $29.99 USD$29.99 CAN

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Jay MacLeod brought us to the Clarendon Heights public housing development and introduced us to Jinx and Mokey and their teenage friends—the Hallway Hangers and the Brothers—in 1987 with the first edition of Ain’t No Makin’ It. The dreams of one peer group and the defeatism of the other moved readers, challenged ethnic stereotypes, and suggested how poverty is perpetuated. Eight years later MacLeod returned to Clarendon Heights, and the 1995 revision revealed how the young men struggled in the labor market and crime-ridden underground economy.

This third edition chronicles the lives of the Brothers and Hallway Hangers into middle age. Having renewed relationships with the men, MacLeod allows them to speak for themselves in thirteen new interviews that are by turns heartbreaking and uplifting. Sociologists Katherine McClelland and David Karen analyze these stories in a concluding chapter, ensuring that Ain’t No Makin’ It remains an admired and invaluable testament to how social inequality is reproduced from one generation to the next.

Jay MacLeod is a parish priest in England. Combining Christian ministry with community work, MacLeod still plays streetball, or tries to. His working-class parish is one of the most ethnically diverse square miles in Britain, and MacLeod works closely with members of the local mosques to engage disaffected teenagers and to foster friendships across the lines of race and religion. He and his wife, Sally Asher, have three children—Asher, Kate, and Toby.

Part One: The Hallway Hangers and the Brothers as Teenagers
1. Social Immobility in the Land of Opportunity
2. Social Reproduction in Theoretical Perspective
3. Teenagers in Clarendon Heights: The Hallway Hangers and the Brothers
4. The Influence of the Family
5. The World of Work: Aspirations of the Hangers and Brothers
6. School: Preparing for the Competition
7. Leveled Aspirations: Social Reproduction Takes Its Toll
8. Reproduction Theory Reconsidered

Part Two: Eight Years Later: Low Income, Low Outcome
9. The Hallway Hangers: Dealing in Despair
10. The Brothers: Dreams Deferred
11. Conclusion: Outclassed and Outcast(e)

Part Three: Ain’t No Makin’ It?
12. The Hallway Hangers: Fighting for a Foothold at Forty
13. The Brothers: Barely Making It
14. Making Sense of the Stories, by Katherine McClelland and David Karen

Appendix A: On the Making of Ain’t No Makin’ It
Fieldwork: Doubts, Dilemmas, and Discoveries
Second Harvest: Notes on the 1991 Field Experience
The Latest Fieldwork: Part Three

Appendix B: Biographical Sketches

Ain’t No Makin’ It … has been taught in college classrooms for more than twenty years—and for good reason. … [T]he book’s continuing appeal and import goes well beyond sociology classrooms and pedagogy. It is, in many ways, a perfect introduction for any reader to the limited opportunities for mobility and success faced by many Americans, and the consequences of our continuing inability or unwillingness to see and understand these realities. And this new edition … not only reminds us of how these problems persist but reveals how they exert their effects over lifetimes, even in the face of remarkable resistance and resilience.”

“This classic book, which now spans twenty-five years, has done more to enhance our understanding of the complex relationship between institutional structures and attitudes, beliefs, and experiences than any other single publication. Readers of this new edition of Ain’t No Makin’ It will fully appreciate that the odds of succeeding in life tend to be remote for those who start at the bottom.”
—William Julius Wilson, Lewis P. and Linda L. Geyser University Professor, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University

“The i is dotted in this rich follow-up of the Hallway Hangers and Brothers, now in their forties. Their fortunes differ but they share the prosaic concerns of all middle-aged men. Jay MacLeod reveals his deep sensitivity as a field worker in this fantastic peek into the future.”
—Peter Bearman, Cole Professor of the Social Sciences, Director of Institute for Social and Economic Research and Policy, Columbia University

“As one of the original readers for a manuscript that was one day to be called Ain’t No Makin’ It, I became an early advocate of a remarkable book about the Hallway Hangers and the Brothers. For nearly a quarter of a century, the book met my highest expectations and is now considered a classic in the field. The new material in this edition, containing oral histories and an analysis by Katherine McClelland and David Karen, gives this volume a fresh focus and a powerful new engagement with the peril we face as a nation—as a country that not only fails to redress the injuries of class but that vehemently denies that the harsh reality of class exploitation even exists.”
—Peter McLaren, Professor, UCLA, Graduate School of Education and Information Studies

Ain’t No Makin’ It sets a new standard for illuminating, with passion and rigor, the connection among everyday life, race, and broader social forces that bear down on young people and adults. It ranks as one of the best ethnographies ever written not only because we can hear the voices of its central characters, but also because of its compassion, sense of justice, and extraordinary insights. This book is a must read for everyone who cares about youth, racial justice, and education. What is remarkable about this book is that it registers despair but never gives up hope as it moves from the hardships of youth to an adult world caught a theater of cruelty and never ending struggle.”
—Henry A. Giroux, Global TV Network Chair in English and Cultural Studies, McMaster University; author of Against the Terror of Neoliberalism

“By retracing at ground level the lifepaths of two sets of white and black working-class teenagers over a quarter-century, MacLeod has produced a remarkable sociological study of inequality and a unique documentary on American society viewed from below. The harsh reality of class, the continuing significance of race, the corrosive power of moral individualism, the tangled dance of objective chances and subjective hopes, the abiding yearning for recognition: all are vividly portrayed and skillfully analyzed in this new edition of Ain’t No Makin’ It that affirms its status as a classic study of poverty in dualizing America.”
—Loïc Wacquant, University of California-Berkeley; author of Urban Outcasts and Punishing the Poor

“Jay MacLeod’s Ain’t No Makin’ It is, simply, one of the best urban ethnographies of the past twenty-five years. There is not an ounce of romanticism in this study. It is not only a startling and beautifully crafted work of observation of the grim but vital lives endured by its subjects, but it has ideas about why and how the conditions he describes occurred. MacLeod’s people come alive in the text and, in this respect, the book can be read as a three dimensional novel which is a high compliment.”
—Stanley Aronowitz, City University of New York

Praise for previous editions:

“A masterful exercise in reconstituting the critical questions about the interconnection of race, class, gender, and experience in how mobility options are perceived and sought (or not sought).… It is the job of sociologists who are concerned about social mobility to read this book.”
American Journal of Sociology

“The new material provided here is as gripping as the old—in highlighting the new inequalities of the ’90s, and in a human depiction of the emergence of cocaine capitalism and of the developing crisis afflicting forms of working class masculinity. Rarely is ethnography given a longitudinal dimension, rarely so well.”
— Paul Willis, author of Learning to Labor

“This book is simply one of the classic ethnographies of the growing number of men who live marginal lives in American society.”
— Stanley Aronowitz

“The rich new material in Ain’t No Makin’ It takes on an even greater urgency because it pitches even more directly the challenge of redeeming ourselves amidst the failures of democracy.”
— Peter McLaren, University of California, Los Angeles

“An exciting book.. ethnography at close to its best. Anyone interested in adolescents, race, the equal opportunity ideology, poverty, ethnography, or the relation between structure and culture ought to read this book. The stories, arguments, and courage of its author will long remain with them.”
— Jennifer L. Hochschild, American Journal of Sociology

“A stunning window onto a world of youthful passion and desperation.… It is a wonderful teaching text.”
— Brian Powers, Socialist Review

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