You Owe Yourself a Drunk: An Ethnography of Urban Nomads by James P. Spradley
301 pages, $36.95 list
eBook availability
You Owe Yourself a Drunk
An Ethnography of Urban Nomads
While You Owe Yourself a Drunk was far from the first anthropological study of a non-native population in North America, its appearance marked an early stage in an increasingly evident shift toward “bringing anthropology home.” Now available from Waveland Press, Spradley’s carefully researched portrayal of skid row men in Seattle in the late sixties documents their treatment by jails and the legal system in a time before homelessness became a recognized problem. As a result of Spradley’s elegant and impassioned writing, the book became a sharp challenge to politicians, policymakers, judges, police, and others inclined to punish people “for the crime of poverty.” The insights he gained from studying the tramp culture of Seattle ultimately were seen as highly significant in the treatment of recidivist alcoholics as well as in creating a more appropriate and human response to public drunkenness.

This now-classic landmark study in urban ethnography stands as a shining example of the direct application of distinctly anthropological concepts and methods to address real-world problems. But more important, it represents a poignant challenge to society about our capacity to endure and accept nonconformity and social diversity. The Waveland reissue includes a valuable retrospective introduction by Merrill Singer.
“Spradley’s You Owe Yourself a Drunk stands the test of time, combining as it does careful scholarship, a concern for social policy, and a palpable compassion for the human beings whose lives are depicted in such rich ethnographic detail.” —Michael V. Angrosino, University of South Florida

“While some of the data may have changed since the research was conducted thirty years ago, Spradley’s superb combination of ethnographic method, analytical skill, and personal empathy continues to shine through this pioneering study of life on one of the margins of urban America. You Owe Yourself a Drunk reminds us of the sense and understanding that anthropology can bring to the study of contemporary issues.” —Lawrence B. Breitborde, Knox College

“Both sound ethnographic reporting and quintessentially relevant applied social science, this book reflects how Spradley’s investment of time and effort in sensitively portraying the way of life of a marginal population (long before “the homeless” became a fashionable cause), resulted in realistic and humanitarian adjustments in the criminal justice system of some major cities.” —Dwight B. Heath, Brown University

“In the years since Spradley’s classic study of urban nomads first appeared, the anthropology of alcohol and drug studies has come of age, applied anthropology has grown enormously, and medical anthropologists increasingly have engaged in public health and social justice issues. Many of the matters that Spradley addresses remain with us today in only slightly altered form, e.g., the high rates of alcohol and other substance abuse among contemporary homeless populations in America and the ways these are handled by the police and other law enforcement agencies. It is wonderful to once more have this book available for classroom use.” —Mac Marshall, University of Iowa

“Spradley’s respect for the complex cognitive worlds and textured social relations of urban nomads, his outrage at the criminal justice system that oppresses them, and his respectfully rendered ethnography always inspire many students.” —Brett Williams, American University
Table of Contents
Introduction (Merrill Singer)
1. A World of Strangers
2. Destination Unknown
3. A Bucket Full of Tramps
4. Pick Up Your Bed and Walk . . .
5. Making the Bucket
6. They Make You Feel Like a Bum
7. Doing Time
8. Freedom to Hustle
9. A World of Strangers Who Are Friends
Appendix A: Questionnaire
Appendix B: Componential Definition of Trusty Domain
Appendix C: Componential Definition of Flop Subdomains