Professor Jooyoung Lee on developing ethnographies of gun violence

Professor Jooyoung Lee recently published an article on Items, where he discusses the concept of “social loss” and taking an ethnographic approach to studies of gun violence. Professor Lee discusses how victim-centered research has helped him understand the social losses felt by victims, their families, and entire communities after a shooting. Through this approach, and personal encounters with victims themselves, he gained insight into the “invisible scars” that victims carry long after they have been released from clinical care, which includes aspects of fear, anxiety, and addiction to various painkillers.  Items is a digital forum associated with the Social Sciences Research Council (US) that seeks to highlight the impact of social science research and “shape current conversations through curated essays that reflect on the state of the social sciences today.”

Professor Lee is  an Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Toronto, a faculty member in the Centre for the Study of the United States, and a Senior Fellow in the Yale University Urban Ethnography Project. His research interests are focused around how gun violence transforms the social worlds and health of young Black men in different contexts. His recent work examines how murder transforms families and communities; how we can use videos to enhance research on interaction; and a collaborative SSHRC-funded study with Professor Julian Tanner and Professor Scot Wortley on youth experiences with guns in Toronto. He is currently writing a book called Ricochet: Gun Violence and Trauma in Killadelphia about the social impacts of gun violence.

Read the full article here. We have included an excerpt below.

I once attended a talk where an audience member asked panelists, “How much does gun violence cost us?” Panelists offered different responses, each highlighting the broad economic burden of shootings. One person talked about the public tax dollars that fund emergency and inpatient care for uninsured gunshot victims. Another panelist noted that shootings often knock a person out of the labor market indefinitely, thus diminishing tax revenues that would have come from their labor. A third person mentioned that the estimated annual costs of firearm injuries exceed the annual budget for the Department of Education and the Department of Homeland Security combined.

I learned a lot from this panel, but left wondering: What might gun violence research look like if we centered our analysis on victims? What would this growing field look like if we broadened our notion of loss? What if we also focused on the social losses felt by victims, their families, and entire communities after a shooting?

Ethnographers are uniquely positioned to answer these questions. Immersive, long-term fieldwork enables researchers to be “there” with victims as they navigate life after fatal and nonfatal shootings. This is a difficult, but precious vantage point. By spending time with victims, ethnographers gain access to domains of suffering that are often neglected in social science work on gun violence. It’s one thing to read statistics about injury, death, and their associated costs, and an entirely different thing to witness suffering up close. Prior theoretical concerns become less urgent when you are spending time with a mother who is mourning the murder of her child, or when you are with a victim who cannot afford to buy new colostomy bags…

Read the full article