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Cityscape: Volume 15 Number 2 | Article 15


Mixed Messages on Mixed Incomes

Volume 15 Number 2

Mark D. Shroder
Michelle P. Matuga

Acknowledging the Structural Features of Choice

Sudhir Venkatesh
Columbia University

These comments relate to the articles in this Cityscape symposium by Basolo, by Skobba and Goetz, and by Oakley, Ruel, and Reid.

The orderly way in which we present research certainly belies the roundabout way in which insights are obtained. Some years back, in the middle of my study on Chicago public housing transformation, an elderly tenant withdrew from my study. She said that my interview was making her depressed. She decided to stop the interview just as I had completed about 30 of the 60 questions in my hand. She shook her head and said—

I've had enough. You keep asking me about what I want, what my choice is, what's going to happen. I don't see how any of this will be helpful.
I explained (for the second time) what was written on my informed consent form—the form that I would read to ensure that respondents understood the purpose of my visit. I said slowly that we were interested in the decisions that poor families made as they entered the private market after years in public housing. If they had a choice, I said, would they choose to live in better off neighborhoods? It seemed like a reasonable question, until I heard her answer.
It's not about what we choose to do. Any fool can make choices, but you want to know the difference between you and me? When you make a bad decision, it won't matter. You'll be fine. See, when poor folk make choices, it can go terribly wrong. Terribly wrong. You want to help us? Make it so it doesn't matter if we make a bad choice.

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