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Code of the Street - Essay Example

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Code of the Street

As a result, mainstream institutions such as the law, are experienced and interpreted through a different lens. This essay will critically analyse and reflect upon Anderson's code for the purposes of determining both its validity and viability.
The code of the street is defined as "a set of prescriptions and proscriptions, or informal rules of behavior organized around a desperate search for respect that governs public social relations, especially violence" (Anderson, 1999: 9). Within the code people operate under a "threat of vengeance" which acts as a shield to violent encounters (Anderson, 1999: 10). The code is "a set of informal rules governing interpersonal public behavior, particularly violence" in inner-city neighborhoods (Anderson, 1999: 33). It is residents' form of "law" or their "street justice" (Anderson, 1999: 10). The code thus is an alternative system to the middle-class norm. While it may be difficult for outsiders to evaluate the validity of the state due to lack of lived experience with street life, one can safely assert that Anderson's analysis rings true insofar as it appears to stem from the very nature of social systems' rules and regulations. Any social setting is governed by a set of rules which must be strictly followed should one wish to negotiate his/her way through the system in question and interact with members therein. The street, according to Anderson, is no different.
Proceeding from the above stated, it is necessary to point out that in any social setting, self-esteem is important, as is its preservation. The street is no different. In inner-city communities, respect is key to one's self-concept and as such, the code prescribes "the proper way to respond if challenged" (Anderson, 1999: 33). On the street, one's reputation is highly valued and important to his self-identity. To maintain reputation, there is a constant "threat of violence" against those who may attempt to trample another's standing in the community (Anderson, 1999: 15). Anderson argues that the code regulates violence on the street as it offers approved justifications for those desiring to aggress against another. Whether or not you engage in violence, you are aware of the penalty if there is a rule violation (Anderson, 1999). The code thus is one's defense on the street. The code "provides a framework for negotiating respect" and is a "practical" mechanism for surviving on the street (Anderson, 1999: 134). Respect is a powerful commodity on the streets of inner-city America and is "a form of social capital " Anderson (1999: 66) Respect is premised on "being treated right" and given deference (Anderson, 1999: 33). Respect is external and must be demonstrated and seen. On the street, young Black males must constantly prove themselves often using physical violence. Once you have established yourself, respect acts like shield of protection. To maintain respect, one must have a hardened image and appear unbreakable. While life off the street emphasises respect and self-esteem, it does not prescribe violence as a means of attaining and later preserving it. In other words, societal culture and street culture have different perceptions of the meaning of respect and its determinants, despite their both outlining and highlighting its importance.
Just as is the case with society in general, street society is not homogenous but comprised of different groups, cultures and ...Show more


The code of the street is a theoretical framework developed by Elijah Anderson to describe life in the inner-city. In the mid-1990's Anderson engaged in an ethnographic study of two Philadelphia neighborhoods. One was predominately poor and Black and the other was a multi-racial, middle-to-upper class community…
Author : julietnicolas
Code of the Street essay example
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