Venkatesh studied sociology at the University of Chicago. Upon graduation, he set out to investigate the deplorable conditions of the residents of the neighboring vicinity. At that time, there were power conflicts between blacks and the whites trying to take control of the town. He had the burning desire to understand the real situation on the ground. Thus, he began research work as a sociologist fresh from University.
He prepared questionnaires. His professors had approved them. He, however, altered them with his own questions along the way. Unfortunately, the questions were crafty, and his target respondents could not take them kindly. For instance, he asked how someone felt being black and poor. To his disappointment, no one gave him an answer among his choices.
He bumped into some young black men who he later recognized as members of the Black Kings; they controlled radical underground activities in the town’s projects. They had doubted whether a serious man from the university would act the way he did. Later, he realized his strategy would not work; his questionnaires had failed the test of reliability.
He changed his strategy. He chose the overt participant observation approach. With the aid of one of the Black King’s leaders, he started going from house to house. He started getting direct contact with the people who faced challenging conditions and became one of them in order to get firsthand information.
He faced challenges in his entire journey. Initially, people thought Venkatesh was out to offend them with his silly questions. Later he realized that some others would not freely open up to him. He also faced challenges of insecurity; the Black Kings’ enemies did not his association quite well. Therefore, he always needed to be protected. These are challenges that other researchers face in the field.
In my opinion, Venkatesh’s use of surveys to gather information did not fail. He only failed to win people’s trust in his first approach because of his crafty questions. Somehow, people found them mischievous and offensive in the way he organized and presented himself. His first impression failed him; not the use of questionnaires.
He decided to use a one-on-one technique as an alternative to his earlier method. He read the mood of his respondents. He noted they were unhappy with the questionnaires because of his rude questions, as they may have felt. The people’s mood and attitude towards him and the entire agenda hampered any favorable result from such findings. He had no choice but a change of plan.
When he chose to accept the invitation by the Black King’s leader (JT), he only saw an opportunity taking him closer to the entire society. It gave him advantage. He not only gathered information from the ordinary members of the projects but also from the gang that had a massive influence in the lives’ of the many families in the area.
Since he was working closely with a gang that scared any member who never cooperated with them, anyone he approached thought of the repercussions if he or she did not give the details requested of them. He earned the respect of a leader, too. People, like a group of women, started approaching Venkatesh for guidance on what they wanted to do for themselves.