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Street capital

Street capital: Black cannabis dealers in a white welfare state

Sveinung Sandberg
Willy Pedersen
Copyright Date: 2009
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  • Book Info
    Street capital
    Book Description:

    'Street capital' introduces the worlds of young black men dealing cannabis at a drug scene called The River in Oslo, Norway. The lives of these men are structured by a huge and complex cannabis economy and they are involved in fights, robberies and substance abuse. They lack jobs and education, and many of them do not have family or close friends, yet they do have 'street capital': the knowledge, skills and competence necessary to manage life on the streets. Centred on this concept of 'street capital', this unique book presents a new theoretical framework - inspired by and expanding on the work of Pierre Bourdieu, the French sociologist - for understanding street cultures. It is based on extensive fieldwork and repeated in-depth interviews with dealers aged between 15 and 30, which explore themes including marginalisation, discrimination, cannabis dealing and drug use, violence, masculinity, hip-hop culture, experiences with the welfare system, and issues of immigration and racism. The book also analyses the discursive practice of marginalised people on the street and identifies the narratives by which these young men live.

    eISBN: 978-1-84742-175-3
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-ii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. iii-iv)
  3. Preface
    (pp. v-vi)
  4. ONE Introduction
    (pp. 1-14)

    The river Akerselva divides Oslo – the capital of Norway – into its eastern, working-class parts, and the more prosperous west. From a distance, the area seems peaceful and cultivated. There are green parks and old brick houses – some of them former factories, remnants from the early industrial period. However, the area has a long history of poverty and social marginality. For the young minority ethnic men who are portrayed in this book, hanging out at ‘The River’, as they say, means selling cannabis.

    A hundred years ago, the area was poor, inhabited by working-class families and even elements...

  5. TWO Trajectories to The River
    (pp. 15-32)

    Most of the dealers we met had roots in sub-Saharan Africa, but some came from the Arab world. They ranged in age from 17 to 30, with most of them in their twenties. To the casual passer-by, there was little to distinguish one cannabis dealer from another. In reality, however, the differences among them were quite striking, as were their trajectories to The River. To capture this diversity, we present the life stories of three dealers – Daniel, Usman and Hassan – who represent three different groups of dealers. The concept of ‘street capital’ will help us understand these marginalised...

  6. THREE Street capital
    (pp. 33-52)

    The most important concept introduced in this book is ‘street capital’. Street capital is inspired by Pierre Bourdieu, the French sociologist. Street capital is knowledge, skills and objects that are given value in a street culture. The concept is used to capture the ‘cultural capital’ of a violent street culture. We have already seen how the concept in a rather commonsensical way can help us understand why Daniel, Usman and Hassan started dealing cannabis. In this chapter, we hope to demonstrate further the fruitfulness of such a theoretical framework when studying, for example, practical rationality, the social and historical process...

  7. FOUR Marginalisation and resistance
    (pp. 53-76)

    It was a bitterly cold winter’s night. We had been walking our planned route along The River but had finished earlier than expected.¹ Not many people were around, and we were cold, tired and looking forward to a dry room and something hot to drink. Towards the end of the round, we spotted the light of a fire under a bridge. We knew that the dealers at The River and some ethnic Norwegian street addicts often sought sanctuary there in bad weather. They were burning planks found in the vicinity. The warmth of the fire made it a good place...

  8. FIVE Drugs and masculinity
    (pp. 77-98)

    Most of the young men at The River grew up in Norway and started smoking cannabis with their peers in their early teens. The initiation into cannabis use was a rite of passage; it signified the end of childhood. It was a gateway to thrills and adventures and meant a gradual incorporation into new networks. Cannabis use became a key element of a youthful subculture. It was an activity far from parents, teachers and conventional values.

    However, the importance of cannabis – and partly also other psychoactive substances – went wider. Cannabis gradually became a key element in their ‘street...

  9. SIX Street dealing and drug markets
    (pp. 99-120)

    Selling cannabis is illegal, and its illegality shapes the transactions at The River. In quick succession, an offer must be made, the goods displayed and sampled, a price agreed upon, and money and commodity exchanged. Throughout this process, the participants risk being seen by the police. To survive in the longer term, therefore, dealers need to develop a quick hand and a sharp eye, and to know their way around.

    Ebo and Denis learned much about crime as teenagers in their neighbourhood, a multi-ethnic, working-class suburb of Oslo. They stole, sold drugs, and ran errands for an older gang of...

  10. SEVEN Violence and street culture
    (pp. 121-140)

    We were sitting one night in a pub with John, one of the cannabis dealers. He had just completed his last trade for the day. We drank coffee, warmed ourselves and talked about how to avoid the perils of drug debt. John saw something through the window and remarked drily:

    John:‘They’re gonna fight. D’you see?’

    Interviewer:‘How do you know?’

    John:‘I know them, they’re dealers too.’

    Interviewer:‘Ah. But how do you know they’re going to fight?’

    John:‘Because there’s a bunch of them. If you go around in twos or threes, you’re dealing. If there’s a crowd...

  11. EIGHT Between the street and the welfare state
    (pp. 141-162)

    We met up with Johs one autumn afternoon. He was one of the dealers with a long criminal record. It was raining, and we had already been at The River for several hours.¹ Two dealers suddenly crossed the road, obviously eyeing an opportunity to make a sale. We said “no thanks” but told them about the book we were writing. One of them, Johs, was immediately intrigued – his friend, he told us, did not speak Norwegian. If we wanted to do an interview, it would have to be with him. Putting an arm around our shoulders, he said he...

  12. NINE Conclusion
    (pp. 163-170)

    The River is probably the largest street cannabis market in the Nordic countries. Day and night, all through the year, a handful of young men sell cannabis – in all kinds of weather. The market shares many parallels with the 7-Eleven in the legal economy: the prices are high, the quality is low and customers therefore tend to buy small quantities. The advantages are that the market is easy to find and always ‘open’. The River is constantly fuelled by a large pool of customers from the gentrified white middle-class area around the market. Despite increasing pressure from property owners...

  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 171-186)
  14. Index
    (pp. 187-193)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 194-194)