On the Run: Fugitive Life in an American City by Alice Goffman university of Chicago Press. 2014. 288 pp. $15 paper, $25 cloth.

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Alice Goffman\"s book On the Run: Fugitive Life in an American City is just one of the significant events in sociology the the past few years, earning high-profile praise, criticism, and controversy. (And Goffman\"s TED Talk has actually been viewed much more than a million times.) The book—originally released by the college of Chicago Press, yet issued in paperback by Picador—is one ethnography of a black community in Philadelphia, exploring how the citizens there are subjected come a watch ever-increasing level of punitive policing, from electronic surveillance come beatings and also arrests come bankrupting court fees and incarceration. Goffman spent some years through a little gang of young men from the neighborhood and also their families, and describes their attempts at typical life, their criminal activities, and also their brutal treatment by the carceral state. She areas this in the paper definition of mass incarceration policies, paint a vivid picture of a society life constrained and also corrupted by one irrational and also oppressive state.

I don\"t really check out the book as society science; i think it\"s much much more a sociological memoir, and also I don\"t mean that as a criticism that ethnography, to which I would not apply that brand in general. In fact, the book is the very least persuasive as soon as she tries come be most dispassionate. Because that example, Goffman addresses beforehand the problem of representativeness, which has raised the hackles of countless critics, and also she is clearly wrong when she writes:

Initially i assumed the Chuck, Mike, and their friends stood for an outlying team of delinquents: the bad apples the the neighborhood. After ~ all, few of them sometimes sold marijuana and also crack cocaine to local customers, and sometimes they also got into violent pistol battles. I grew to recognize that plenty of young guys from 6th Street were at the very least intermittently earning money by offering drugs, and the criminal righteousness entanglements of Chuck and his friends were on a par with what plenty of other unemployment young guys in the neighborhood were experiencing.

That\"s a non sequitur, with the usual slippery use of \"many\" to protect against empirically anchoring one anecdote.

Similarly, Goffman offers a meticulous counting of details events, yet they don\"t add up to helpful information because that the reader. I just discount description like this:

In that very same eighteen-month period, ns watched the police break down doors, find houses, and also question, arrest, or chase world through dwellings fifty-two times. Nine times, police helicopters circled overhead and also beamed searchlights onto regional streets. I noted blocks videotaped off and traffic redirected as police looked for evidence—or, in police language, secured a crime scene—seventeen times. Fourteen times throughout my an initial eighteen month of near day-to-day observation, i watched the police punch, choke, kick, stomp on, or win young males with your nightsticks.

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To me, this just means \"a lot.\" First, over there is no denominator. The is, there is no way to gauge how prevalent these events were compared with something else. \"Alot\" is a good metric because that this kind of observation, because any type of insights come native the details the follow, no from the recitation the frequencies. (There also is a frustrating absence of precision in this passages. Consider: \"I watched the police break down doors, find houses, and also question, arrest, or chase world through homes fifty-two times.\" What specifically happened 52 times? It might be 52 instances that police questioning people.) What this does tell the leader is other of Goff-man\"s evolving perspective and experience. \"Wow,\" we think. \"If I witnessed 14 police beatings firsthand, that would really impact me.\"

Many authors have actually wrestled with how to situate their ethnographies in a way that accurately mirrors their representativeness. In Goffman\"s case, she uses a community survey, performed with among her research subjects, \"Chuck.\" uneven the recitation of occasion counts, the survey is potentially reproducible. Various other researchers could conceivably conduct similar research in a different place or...


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