I suggest to you one more of my book reviews. So let's start by describing the book.
The book under discussion is “Homegirls in the Public Sphere” by Keta Miranda. It was published in 2003 by University of Texas Press.
Usually, people have a special attitude towards girls in gangs. Some criticize them, other are sure that they must be treated with rejection. Most people do not understand them and even consider that their work does not allow being active participants in public life. In this book, Marie "Keta" Miranda shares the ethnographic results of her co-work with Chicana gang members. Throughout the book, these representatives narrate of self-identity during a documentary film It's a Homie Thang!
The research that takes place in the Fruitvale community of Oakland, California, unites not just representatives of that ethnic group, but also an ethnographer who is engaged in this study. Miranda’s project has a great effect on public opinion as to the image of young women that more often were mistakenly mixed in reality. Miranda did a huge work: she listened to the gang members and worked in partnership in the production of documentary. That all helped to investigate the politics of representation and ethnography as well as the ways how internal city adolescent Chicanos behaved in diverse publics. She also explains the way in which Chicana gangs really function.
Analysis of Content
The strengths of Miranda’s arguments are predetermined by the way the book is written. Miranda's work sets up a teamwork with the young women and creates a reading that they help work out; this can be marked as one of the most significant and different features of other works on youths in gangs. The weakness of the reading is that Miranda presents rather feminist analysis of the issue. She and the ten gang members from the community of Fruitvale in Oakland, California, together develop a "co-discursive partnership reflecting our different stakes in the issue of representation" (Miranda Keta, 2003, p. 5). Moreover, the collaboration with these young women also is reflected in a video It's a Homie Thang! That also made a change in the paradigm of Miranda’s plans as to the direction of the research and changed the goals of the project. It is a book of both particular ideologies. The author tries to change the society’s attitude towards this issue and, in this way, hopes for changes not just in social paradigm of perception but in future political perspective.
The goal of the author of the book is “to unsettle the typical image of girls in gangs" (Miranda Keta, 2003, p.6). However, she manages to do more than that. Firstly, Miranda’s book is clearly written that makes it very popular among different categories of readers. Secondly, it touches public sphere and centers on life and identity of the co-participants in the study that makes this book alive and rather realistic. It does not just describe something but has a link with the actual state of affairs.
The structure of the book is usual; it is divided into seven chapters with an appendix, where the writer includes frequently asked questions about girls in gangs. In the first three chapters, the researcher sets up the structure of her study and explains her idea of the book. Really, her goal was to move the genre of gang studies away from unrealistic and full of wrong believes accounts of life of homegirls. Her investigation of how girls in gangs are seen by others proves that in most cases, people retranslate and perceive their real image, because they represent themselves in absolutely another way. The strength of Miranda’s study is in the fact that she explains the way these mistaken believes shape public opinion and how the young women become a driving force in structuring and shaping these depictions. This new approach, the findings, and the writing can be considered as an innovative and significant addition to the literature in the field of ethnography and urban and women's studies.
The fresh ideas of the researcher move to recognize the subject position of an ethnographer in any study and to reveal his/her role in determining any results of a study, especially for those parts where ethnographic methods of data gathering are used.
Miranda interlaces such self-responsiveness throughout the book about homegirls; moreover, she devotes a whole chapter called "An Ethnographer's Tale" to the topic. At this point, she presents an ethnographic vignette and, in this way, outlines her own anxiety as to the success of the project. She attempts to raise a serious and complicated problem of power relations in the field of treatment of the girls.
Miranda uses Clifford's and Rosaldo's methodology and theories that arrange her book in a special way. She thoroughly connects ethnographic work with particular cases in interpretation. That makes Miranda's text multi-layered; it involves some levels of story and where necessary parts of analysis and finds, proving that the young women have a right to express their views. The subaltern speaks and at the same time presents her position and her location, where these women “render their reality real for themselves and others” (Miranda Keta, 2003).
Miranda successfully uses Chela Sandoval's analytical model and manages "to situate the expressions of resistance and or accommodation that the girls exercise within each of the public places where they speak" (Miranda Keta, 2003, p.107). Moreover, Miranda raises the question concerning whether subaltern public places can be sites for challenging power structures and probable social scripts or not. She points up how the young women place themselves within the fixed spheres of public conversation such as the conferences and other public settings where they demonstrate their video and engage in question-and-answer disputes with their audiences.
Miranda also comes to grips with the continuous self-analysis after her data gathering. She is suspicious in order not to become a prey to "essentialist solidarity" with her collaborators. She is represented as a member of this group, where each one can have his/her own position.
Chapter 2 features the socio-economic conditions, making principal of the Fruitvale development as a certain urban underclass community. The third chapter narrates the dilemmas that insider ethnographers deal with. Here, the author also mentioned those who work with poor classes of population and those who suffer from wrong stereotypes. Initially, the study was designed as an audience responses to the female gang members and male-dominated media images of gang life. However, Miranda changed the direction of the whole the project because “Of what value is it to talk about the absence of women in films, since it just amounted to criticism without results?…The girls needed to present their world and worldviews to fill, not analyze, the gap”.
The second half of the book puts in the pictures how the Fruitvale homegirls achieved that goal. In chapter 4, Miranda gives a textual analysis and a production summary of It’s A Homie Thang! The video touches the twin themes of likeness and difference of teens. Homie breaks off fixed ideas of gang organization as based on pathological, socially destructive behavior and shares her idea that those members are usual teens but with sole concerns. Other topics include language, membership, stereotypes, enemies and fights, origin stories, poetry, body language and the practice of “hangin’” or “kickin’ it” with the girls.
Chapter 5 describes the relationship between homegirls and points that the main social networks are based on friendship. Gang membership is also characterized by solidarity and partnership. Home girls influence each other, advice and support concerning various problems: family problems, romantic relationships, and fights with competitors. The peer group supply teen girls with an autonomous arena, which gives an opportunity to create individuality in resistance to their sexual objectification. Implementing an asexual dress style and hostile position and speech patterns, the girls stand their sense of self-worth on hostility prowess and peer support rather than competition for boys. That is why their reaction to the plot of Mi Vida Loca, where two homegirls could not share the same man, was rather strong: “You can’t be in a gang and do that shit…a dude ain’t worth it, you know?” (Miranda Keta, 2003, p.150).
Chapters 6 and 7 deal with the problem of self-representation. Very often, homegirls are invited to some public discourse about them, but people ask questions based on the wrong stereotypes about the homegirls. Miranda gives good examples, describing their responses at a film festival, in professional and academic conferences, and a community health clinic. Usually, they are asked about incidence of physical violence, teen pregnancy, defining the female gang body in terms of dysfunctional sexuality.
Homegirls is a rather complex phenomenon as it exists as a unique women subculture, where each member supports and communicates with each other. Dr. Marie "Keta" Miranda is a well-known professor in Mexican-American Studies and an excellent cultural ethnographer. She relates her professional life to Chicana/Latina and Native American women's issues and tries to contribute as much as possible into this sphere. She has already published numerous studies that touche the topic of contemporary Chicana gang members in California, civil rights, 60s Chicana youth in the context of a post-war economy, the "Mod" subculture, Catholicism, conjunto dance, and organization in South Texas.” Homegirls in the Public Sphere” is one of her best publications.
Though Miranda’s book neither presents documentation nor cites from scholarly studies, it is written mostly from the world of the homegirls. In some parts, we can observe the lack of details about participants. This is namely their ages, biographies, family background, and gang conduct. Of course, it frustrates, but the missing information is most likely to be a result of the writer’s concern with protecting personal data of the informants. Despite this, Miranda’s work is a great contribution to the research of social world and provides groundwork for further subjects such as gang life shaped by gender/sexuality, ethnicity, and inter-generational kin and community ties. The time frame of the book is not very broad as it examines the current groups; however, it situates the issues within a larger historical context, because such homegirls are not only today’s phenomena, it was and will be.
This book makes a valuable contribution to Latino Studies or Criminal Justice, because t gives a better understanding of Latinos, crime, and justice. This volume can be used in various courses such as Women’s Studies, Chicano Studies, Urban Ethnography, Media Studies and seminars on socialization, youth subculture, and gender rebellion. The second part of the book is especially useful in studies related to politics of representation.