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June 25, 2015


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Does it strike anyone that a very young and impressionable person, from a fairly privileged background with little or no life experience, became deeply involved with her so-called "subjects" and then wrote a work of fiction about it?

What is so striking is the repeated claimed license to make stuff up, and then change it later at will, to suit a personal interest.

Why was this work of fiction afforded great scholarly value and acclaim as an "ethnographic" study in the first place?

"Ethnography. The branch of anthropology that deals with the scientific description of specific human cultures."

This was hardly that.

What is wrong with an establishment of elders who can't seem to fathom the difference between truth and fiction, value and pretense, integrity and opportunism?

Again, this is a specific human culture the deserves a "scientific" description. It is a bizzaro world of moral relativism (e.g., breaking the law may only be discerned by "lawyers" who see the law differently from sociologists). Honestly, you can't make stuff like this up!


I hasten to add that I would not blame AG in the slightest.

After all, this work was done, as I understand it, as part of her education.

IMHO, it is totally the fault of her "educators" for rewarding and encouraging the subjects of criticism I've read in these articles.


Anon @ 7:25 PM, she was a woman in her late 20s when she wrote her dissertation. I agree with you that she did her graduate studies in an environment that encouraged and probably even required the finding of unending racism and inequality in American society but she was more than old enough to know the difference between honesty and fabrication.



True enough. But ...

Here's the "wiki" version of the chronology:

"On the Run: Fugitive Life in an American City (University of Chicago Press, 2014, ISBN 9780226136714), began as a research project Goffman started as a second-year student at the University of Pennsylvania, when she observed the lives of a group of young men in an unnamed, mixed-income black neighborhood of Philadelphia she called "Sixth Street." She moved into an apartment in the neighborhood, taking in members of the group as roommates as she studied their lives Goffman continued working on this project as a gradate student at Princeton, eventually turning it into her doctoral thesis and book. Issued in paperback in April 2015, the book demonstrates the ways in which the way young, black men are treated and mistreated by police, the legal system and the prison system is reshaping the lives families in America's poor, black neighborhoods."

There is so much to mine just in this.

First, is it correct she was a sophomore in college? I'll double down on my prior comment, if so.

Second, she lived with some of her subjects "in her apartment"? And, if I am not mistaken, I read that she doled out money as well. And, I've read other comments about other entanglements. That wouldn't be "science"? If these items are correct, it would seem to be more a form of elitist tourism with a touch of another old stereotype that any real member of her "subjects'" community would have known. (TO be fair, I don't know if AG dealt with this issue in her book.)

If AG really did all this, and I certainly don't know whether she did, and then fictionalized the account of it, then I wonder, again, how ANY person in authority could have allowed such behavior, let alone have praised and rewarded it. Where were her mentors, advisors, educators? Again, I can't find a sophomore in college to blame here, if that is when it all began.

Finally, it is implausible for AG defenders to now claim that sociologists are entitled to their own version of reality when it comes to their "subjects" view of the "legal system." AG's thesis, if the "wiki" is correct, belies that risible claim: "[She examines] the way young, black men are treated and mistreated by police, [and the way] the legal system and the prison system is reshaping the[ir] lives."

So, are we to conclude that a "sociologist" is able to either: a.) fabricate conclusions about these issues based on fabricated facts without regard to the truth or the law, or b.) pretend that her fabrications of the distortions found in her "subjects" perceptions lead to any "real" conclusions about reality that are worth reading and thinking about?

This is all so dodgy. Again, anyone in the least familiar with these issues knows that fabrications about the distorted and sometimes insincerely held "beliefs" about reality that might be expressed in certain contexts are not even understood to be real among those who have expressed them. From what I read in the articles about AG elsewhere, some of the participants have said as much.

What begins to emerge is, as usual, politics. That seems to be the substitute these days for everything else.


Thanks to all of you who are revealing troubling aspects of "ethnography" today. I only write to tell you that while I have nothing to add, I have been deeply informed by your input about this author's farcical pretension in the guise and under the mantle of scholarship.

Albert Barkley

Your article gave me lot of information about the dissertation writing. Thanks.


I found this review on very helpful in understanding the flaws of this book and author:

1.0 out of 5 stars A Bizarre Work of Moral Blindness, July 12, 2014

This book is a sociologist's Ph.D thesis. It is endlessly repetitive and demonstrates the author's shocking moral blindness.
As a career criminal defense attorney in a crime- ridden American city,, I am well aware of police excesses and brutality. Philadelphia, about which this book is written has a police department that historically has many things to answer for in its treatment of the Black community.
That being said, the author's thesis is essentially that the neighborhood she studied, and the criminal she came to know and love, have their lives constantly interrupted by the police who use sophisticated techniques and relentless pursuit to track down and arrest its residents.
The author attended 19 funerals occasioned by violent death in the neighborhood, mentions in passing dozens of almost casual shootouts engaged in on public streets, her subjects (now friends) shooting into houses, she is present when robberies are planned, she hides a man in her apartment who is sought for attempted murder, she helps someone smuggle drugs into jail, and she exults when a teacher who is the victim of a violent crime by one of his students ( one of her subjects ) fails to come to court, and she believes that giving information to the police to help them apprehend violent felons ("snitching") is unforgivable.

Finally, after one of her armed friends is killed by someone who thought her friend was going to kill him, she sets out with an avenger with a Glock looking for the perpetrator. "I just wanted him dead" says Ms Goffman. Nice.

She describes without comment the FIRST children of teenagers and their "baby mamas" well after the fact, implying they've had more.
After describing a crackhead mother living in an apartment with all utilities cut off, the walls and floors alive with flies and roaches, and the bathtub used as a toilet, she confines her outrage to the fact that the police threaten to take the woman's children away unless she cooperates with them (they should take them away no matter what, but the author doesn't think so).

There are frankly unbelievable descriptions of devotion by young women in the neighborhood to their criminal boyfriends who spend most of the time in custody or running from the police. She describes them several times as feeling "a sacred duty" to love, honor and protect these men. She spent several years living in the neighborhood, describes dozens of relationships and doesn't mention the endemic and pervasive domestic violence surely present in that community even once.

The authors view is that her subjects have constructed meaningful lives full of tender emotion as they commit crimes, elude the police, inform on each other, accuse innocent people of crimes to protect friends who actually committed them (all in the book) and that the remorseless presence of the police is disrupting this community in some inchoate racist way.


Steve, I agree with the point above that she probably considers you an adverse party here.

More to the point,she may very reasonably assume that by publicly accusing her of a crime, then reaching out (as you've said you have) to several Pennsylvania prosecutors and giving them the facts from her book, that you are very specifically trying to put her in prison and prodding prosecutors to make sure she ends up in there.

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