Forrest Stuart book about L.A.’s Skid Row earns top honor from UChicago Press

Laing Prize honors sociologist for Down, Out & Under Arrest

The University of Chicago Press has awarded the Gordon J. Laing Prize to Asst. Prof. Forrest Stuart for Down, Out & Under Arrest: Policing and Everyday Life in Skid Row, the UChicago sociologist’s close-up look at the relationship between police and the poor living in Los Angeles’ Skid Row.

The Laing Prize is the Press’ top honor, awarded annually since 1963 to the UChicago faculty author, editor or translator of a book published in the previous three years that brings the Press the greatest distinction.

“Publishing our faculty is a special privilege, and the Laing Prize is a wonderful opportunity to spotlight these vital works,” said Garrett Kiely, director of the UChicago Press. “Forrest Stuart’s Down, Out & Under Arrest is a deserving winner that fits neatly into the Press’ prestigious list of ethnographic studies that are both timely and timeless.”

In his research, Stuart investigates how recent developments—specifically mass incarceration, zero-tolerance policing, digital social media and new forms of music—have reshaped the social fabric of disadvantaged neighborhoods in the 21st century.

Stuart said that the book and his career in sociology were inspired by pioneering UChicago sociologist Gerald D. Suttles, who lived for three years on Chicago’s West Side in researching The Social Order of the Slum: Ethnicity and Territory in the Inner City (1968).

“It was one of the first sociology books I ever read,” Stuart said of the work, which received the Laing Prize in 1970. “Suttles reinvigorated this tradition that UChicago established, which was about getting out of your office and getting intimately immersed within the community. That was actually my huge inspiration to go into sociology and do the work for Skid Row.”

In researching Down, Out & Under Arrest, Stuart lived in Skid Row in Los Angeles, long regarded as the “homeless capital of America.” His work has received rave reviews, and in 2017 was honored by the American Sociological Association as the best book in community and urban sociology.  

Stuart is currently researching his second book, which looks at the intersections of poverty, culture, digital social media and hip-hop on Chicago’s South Side. His goal as a scholar is to recreate what Suttles did in the 1960s at UChicago, making the Department of Sociology the “epicenter” of up-close field work.

“You spend years every day following people and shadowing them, meeting their moms and their pastors, going to work and school with them,” Stuart said. “You can produce really original findings about how the world works with the shifts in how we communicate and how communities are tethered with the digital economy.”