Sudhir Venkatesh

Sudhir Alladi Venkatesh (born 1966) is an American sociologist and urban ethnographer. He is a former professor of sociology and African-American studies at Columbia University. As of September 2016, he has taken a position at Facebook. He was a board member at Philadelphia-based nonprofit Public/Private Ventures until it disbanded on 31 July 2012. In his work, Venkatesh has documented criminal gangs and the drug trade, and has written about the dynamics of the underground economy including street prostitution, contributing his findings to the research of economics professor Steven Levitt.

Sudhir Venkatesh
Sudhir Alladi Venkatesh

1966 (age 53–54)
Alma materUniversity of California, San Diego (B.A.),
University of Chicago (Ph.D.)
Known forUrban Ethnography
Scientific career
FieldsSociology, social economics
InstitutionsColumbia University; Facebook
ThesisAmerican project : an historical-ethnography of Chicago's Robert Taylor Homes
Academic advisorsWilliam Julius Wilson

Raised in Irvine, California, Venkatesh received a B.A. in mathematics from the University of California, San Diego in 1988.[1] He attended graduate school at the University of Chicago where he studied under Professor William Julius Wilson, focusing on Robert Taylor Homes, a housing project in Chicago about which he wrote a book, American Project. Venkatesh also authored a 2008 book titled, Gang Leader for a Day: A Rogue Sociologist Takes To The Streets. The book chronicles the life of urban poor in Chicago, particularly the Robert Taylor Homes and the gang, the Black Kings, whose leader J.T. he befriended (J.T. was renamed in the book for anonymity). He found that most foot soldiers in drug gangs make only $3.30 an hour. In 2015, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg selected the book for his "A Year of Books" book club.[2] In 2017, it was reported that AMC Networks would be developing a drama series adaptation from the book.[3]

In a separate research project with Steven Levitt, he hired former sex workers to track working street prostitutes in Chicago, finding that they make about $30–$35 an hour, with those working with pimps making more and suffering fewer arrests.[4][5] A street prostitute was arrested about once per 450 sexual encounters ("tricks"). Condoms were used in only 20% of the contacts.[6]

In 2009 Venkatesh became director of Columbia University's Institute for Social and Economic Research and Policy, or ISERP. In 2011 Venkatesh was the subject of an investigation on spending at ISERP. In 2012 Venkatesh revealed to The New York Times that he had reimbursed Columbia University for approximately $13,000 for funds that were misallocated during his tenure as director of ISERP.[7] Venkatesh currently writes about the advertising industry. He also served as co-editor of the American Sociological Association journal entitled "City & Community".


  • American Project. The Rise and Fall of a Modern Ghetto, Harvard University Press, 2000
  • Off the Books. The Underground Economy of the Urban Poor, Harvard University Press, 2006
  • Gang Leader for a Day: A Rogue Sociologist Takes to the Streets, Penguin Press, 2008
  • Floating City: A Rogue Sociologist Lost and Found in New York's Underground Economy, Penguin Press, 2013

He has also contributed to Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner's Freakonomics in a chapter entitled, "Why Do Drug Dealers Still Live With Their Moms?"


Venkatesh at a New York book signing
  • Dislocation – In February 2002, families living in the Robert Taylor Homes public housing development were given a 180‑day notice of eviction. In six months, the community that had been their home for generations would be demolished. Dislocation chronicles the lives of tenants in one building as they move through the six-month relocation process.
  • At-Risk – This book highlights both the experiences of individuals who are operating under conditions of risk and the efforts of organizations who are providing assistance to them. The film will focus on the role of the United States as a place of refuge and a base for advocacy.
  • Abhidya – This narrative feature film examines one South Asian-American woman's exposure to the post-9/11 effects on her community.
  • At the Top of My Voice – a 2009 documentary about events in the Republic of Georgia in late 2007 and early 2008.

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