Is life what you make it, or what society makes of you? Are individual’s products of their environments, or their decisions? Are “rags to riches” transformations even possible in modern American society? In Ain’t No Makin it, Jay MacLeod presents his groundbreaking ethnographic study of the altering affect that aspirations and perspective have on individual outcomes and how social inequality is reproduced from one generation to the next.
MacLeod sets up the work by describing the two groups of boys being studied in immense detail. He even went as far as to give the specific story behind each member of each group. The Hallway Hangers and The Brothers live in the same housing project in New Hampshire, and their family, economic and social backgrounds are strikingly similar. This is the tale of most housing projects were the lack of economic diversity creates communities of people with similar demographics. The only overt difference in the two groups is race, a factor that along with class, MacLeod argues influences their aspirations and consequently, their outcomes.
The Hallway Hangers, primarily white, are cynical about their future and spends most of the time hanging out in a hallway, drinking and smoking weed and crack. The Brothers, primarily black, believe in the popularly accepted achievement ideology that says that you can do and be anything as long as you work hard enough at it, and thus they work hard in school and generally refrain from smoking and drinking.
The early chapters focus on the boys in the mid-80s and discusses their expectations and aspirations. Throughout the literary work, MacLeod inserts sociological theory between dialogues, to present real life examples of the theories he is describing. The later chapters take place eight years later, when MacLeod returns to the project to find out how the boys had fared. Most of them - regardless of which group they hung out with in high school - are struggling to hold down jobs at all, or are...