Code of the Street by Elijah Anderson Book Review


In life, you can choose your friends, but you can never choose the family or neighbors. Different families have a culture which guides on the behavior of individuals; every neighborhood also has a culture which the residence adopt as they live in the area. Neighborhood culture impacts values and beliefs in different ways some cultures may bring positive impacts and others might bring negative consequences. Neighborhood culture in cities is dependent on various factors such as the economic level of the residence, security of the area and the health condition of the area. In the united states, the regions which are occupied by African Americans are different from those occupied by European Americans. Hence there is the difference in cultures in the different neighborhoods.  The outcomes of the neighborhood context in African Americans results in victimization, delinquency, and violence. The main contributor to the consequences is because of the disadvantages that the African American neighborhood experience in society. According to Anderson (1999), neighborhood street culture is the set of informal rules governing public, interpersonal behavior particularly violence which provide a condition for those who are inclined to aggression to participate in violent behaviors.  He goes further to outline that street code is an individual level process which an individual fully or partially accepts the norms of the street culture. The main themes that the book addresses are that of racial discrimination, violence, inequality, and social interaction. By looking at these themes, Anderson outlines how the disadvantages of their neighborhood contribute the violent behaviors among the African Americans in the inner cityneigbourhood. The author takes the perspective of the neighborhood context which discusses the ecological and structural factors which contribute to the establishment of the street code in the disadvantaged neighborhoods.

The author starts by outlining the various studies that have been done in the area of criminology. He describes that multiple studies have been done addressing the issue of neighborhood context, few studies have however been done linking neighborhood street culture to violence in the disadvantaged neighborhood. The work by Anderson is the first to address the connection between neighborhood street culture and street code to violence in underprivileged neighborhoods.  The work of Wilson (1987) outlined the link between poverty and disadvantaged community. According to Anderson (1999), there are multilevel processes in which such as macrostructural patterns of disadvantage, racial inequality, and limited economic opportunities which foster street culture and encourage violent activities.  The author in his article code of the street outlined that the factors result to hopelessness and cynicism concerning the societal rules and how they are applied which leads to the development of street culture to guide and to generate the norms which the neighborhood should follow.  The street culture is developed as a result of the structural disadvantage in the neighborhood which shapes the values that breed violence among adolescents.  The street culture acts as an institution which individuals are provided with knowledge and conditions which dictate on the structures of public interaction especially violence.  The author argued that street culture is an ecological element that is eminent in structurally disadvantaged neighborhoods which shape the values and influence violence among adolescents.  The article stipulates that the primary source of violence in such neighborhoods is not only on the individual adoption of the street code, but it also includes the ecological aspect which forms a broader basis in the social context.  Anderson pointed out that individuals beliefs attitudes and behaviors are aligned with the neighborhood context which they are placed.  According to Oliver (2006), street culture is at the same level as the church and the education system which plays a significant role in shaping the behaviors and beliefs of individuals in the society.  He points out that street cultures impacts on psychosocial development, cognitive landscape and develops the individual beliefs, values, and behavior. The work of Anderson, however, fails to address the history of the black ghetto, there is need to discuss the historical background of the black ghetto to help the individuals in understanding the root course of the condition.

Other authors such as Elison et al. (1989) have focused at the local level of racial factors and regional conditions which contribute to an increase in violence. Few studies have focused on the individual level and the neighborhood context as the main contributors to violent behaviors among individuals. The work by Anderson (1999) is the first to address the aspect of individual behavior and neighborhood context as being the contributor to violent behaviors. In his thesis, Anderson outlined various themes such as economic inequality, victimization, discrimination, and poverty as being the main issues which contribute to the establishment of the street culture. To support this concept, the author outlined the work of Stewart and Simons (2006) which used 700 African American adolescents in their study to describe that neighborhoods with high structural disadvantages and violence led adolescents to adopt a street code which they believed that interpersonal violence is the only way to gain respect in the streets.  Their study further outlined that the adoption of individual-level street code beliefs contributes to violence. By using such evidence in his article, the author described the condition that adolescents who are raised in violent neighborhoods will also be violent. The sample used by the two authors portrayed that individual adoption of street code values predicted violence among adolescent African Americans. Anderson in his article stresses the theme of violence and their direct relationship with the ecological and structural context of the neighborhood.

By using data from Family and Community Health Study (FACHS) which constituted of 763 African American adolescents from 71 different neighborhoods the article can be relied to give insight on the aspect of neighborhood street culture. The author based his study in the multi-ethnic neighborhood of Philadelphia to outline the struggle for respect among individuals which the system has neglected them. The author describes that being brought up in a disadvantaged neighborhood with high illiteracy and discrimination by the federal government, the street code is established by the residence to act as the system of law.  The main aim of the author is to create awareness on the way of life of individuals in such neighborhoods and how they live by the code to aid in social interaction.  The author also sheds light on the factors which contribute to such behaviors such as the absence of economic opportunities, lack of affordable housing and high illiteracy. The elements portray economic marginalization which leads to behavioral patterns by the disadvantaged individuals to modify their survival tactics in such an environment.

The author goes ahead to explain that all individuals are not violent but given the neighborhood they have to stick to the street code. He outlines that there are decent moral and ethical families, but they have to learn the code of the streets to enable them to navigate through the various parts of the neighborhood. Anderson outlines that there is a difference between decent families and street families in that street families represent the inner black community.   The street code unlike the other ethical rules in the society are not written, but to ensure coexistence, all families and individuals must live by the code failure of which will result in death. He outlines that the code of the street stipulates that every man is on his one and there is only one way to fight your battles which is through violent means.  It is from such fights that individuals gain respect among their peers.  Even individuals who do not approve the street code have to know the codes to help them in conducting their daily activities since the failure of such might place them in hard situations.

The author outlines that the main reason for the development of the street code is because of a lack of faith in the police and the judicial system.  The disadvantaged individual view the police as being representative of the white population because of their harassment and misjudgment due to their skin color. The judicial system is also viewed as unfair since when cases are presented against black people, the courts are not lenient compared to when the case involves European Americans. Because of the imbalance in the system the individuals in the inner-city neighborhood resort to designing their code which will guide their conduct and enhance their survival in the unjust society. The article stresses on the reputation that individuals in violent neighborhoods have to build to avoid being viewed as weak and to gain respect in the streets. The approach is used to assign that the individuals can handle themselves in a violent environment. Single damage of reputation spreads fast and gaining respect will be difficult; hence individuals have to be always harsh and fight for their position in the streets.  In the article, the residents of Philadelphia which were used as the respondents outlined that unlike decent families who call the police when there is violence in the neighborhood, the street families stick by the street code of handling their problems through violence.

The lesson learned from the findings of the article is that racial discrimination in America is the primary cause of the various ills in the society which has negatively impacted the lives of African Americans.  The central inequalities which the African Americans in their neighborhood are exposed to include; inequality in health, educational facilities, employment opportunities, and residential disparities.  During the start of the article, Anderson outlines these factors; however, throughout the content, he fails to address the elements and the underlying causes which contribute to such conditions.  There is a need to critically analyze the underlying factors if the inequality in America is to be addressed which will later contribute to the reduction of violent cases and homicide.  The federal government needs to address the issues to ensure that the societal view that the African Americans are uneducated and uncivilized I eliminated. Unless actions are taken, the street code will continue to act as the primary principle and guide in such neighborhoods.

Anderson argued that the implementation of the street code would aid in the reduction of victimization and enable individuals to navigate and survive in disadvantaged high crime neighborhoods.  In a contradicting situation, Stewart et al. (2006) highlighted that there is no supporting evidence that the adoption of street code reduces victimization in such neighborhoods. The author had the intention of drawing attention to the problems or urban communities in America. The failure of the author to address the structural differences in the allocation of resources might negatively impact on the reputation of the African Americans. In that, the whites and other ethnic groups might justify using his study that the blacks are always violent and the harassment by the federal police officers will continue without reaching a solution. There is a need to shift the attention from the racial ground to the structural aspect of the communities. A case should be established where the African Americans are awarded the same facilities and the same infrastructure as those of the whites. The study should then analyze the behavior of the African Americans at an advantaged position and compare to that of the whites at the same advantaged positions.


The article forms a reasonable basis on the element of environmental and structural neighborhood differences which contribute to the difference in neighborhood behaviors. The article does not adequately address the structural factors which contribute to the establishment of street code in African American neighborhoods. Extensive research should be done on the area by disaggregating elements to help in obtaining reliable information concerning individual behavior. The government should use the article as the basis for addressing the challenges facing the African American communities. Racial discrimination is the contributing factor to the increased violence; policy formulation should ensure equitable resource distribution across various neighborhoods to reduce the cases of violence.

Theoretical application

Basing on the article, there are theories which were presented during the classwork that was applied in the study by Anderson. Basing on the rational choice theory on the concept of deterrence, the article outlines that the violence is committed by individuals not because there are no laws but because they know it is hard to be caught. The main contributing factor is because of the inequality that exists between the white and black neighborhood in terms of federal police service and the judicial system. The adolescents in the black neighborhood are involved in violent behaviors for the thrill of gaining respect in the streets. The social strain theory which relies on the positivist school of thought outline that environmental and external forces impact on individual behaviors. Basing on the points of Auguste Comte who was the father of sociology he explained how societies change and how it maintains social order. The use of street code in the article links with the perspective since the street code supports and determines social interactions in the neighborhood context. Adolphe Quetelet also outlined the aspect of social determinism by looking at the economic differences and how they impact societies; he uses the term relative deprivation to explain the context. In line with Anderson’s work social structures theory outline that crime is a product of the characteristic of the society. The article outlined the link between violence and the structural and ecological context of black neighborhoods. The difference between primary means and prescribed goals according to the strain theory leads to various forms of adaptation such as; conformity whereby individuals accept the consequence and the situation they have been placed in and moves on.  Another type is an innovation which drives the individuals to look for alternative ways to survive in the condition they have been set like the involvement in violent crimes as indicated in the article by Anderson. Retreats give up on life and decide to join street families and become homeless, however, the last form of adaptation which is rebellion is different from the retreat approach because the individuals get rid of the societal codes and develop the norms which are in line with their interest. The form is prevalent in the article since the blacks in the neighborhood come up with street code which is dominated by violence and values respect as their primary interest. The theory of opportunity by Cloward and Ohlin outlines the prevalence of violence and other criminal activities such as drug dealing with helping the individual resident to gain their income since the government fails to meet their employment needs.