There are areas in Chicago like Marquis Park, a black neighbourhood, which some people say are not safe to walk into even on a bright summer's day.
But Sudhir Alladi Venkatesh, who has spent many days this past decade in several desperately poor and dangerous black neighbourhoods in Chicago, would not stay away even at night.
Over six years ago, Venkatesh who grew up in the affluent Orange County area in California, put together his understanding of an endangered community in a book, American Project: The Rise and Fall of Modern Ghetto.
The 40-year-old professor of sociology and African-American studies at Columbia University, New York, has now published another book, Off the Books: The Underground Economy of the Urban Poor.
In his first book, Venkatesh, who earned his PhD from the University of Chicago in 1997 and went on to do another degree at Harvard, revealed a long-drawn struggle in a Chicago ghetto to overcome crime, drug abuse, rape and adultery.
In the new book, he writes about the role of the underground economy in an American neighborhood. While he provides detailed stories about the dynamics of the alternative economy, he also ruminates about the long-term harm such an institution does to the community.
The author and sociologist spoke recently to Rediff India Abroad Managing Editor (Features) Arthur J Pais.
Photograph: Paresh Gandhi