Is Alice Goffman the new Margaret Mead?

Why are ethnographers so gullible and so easily fooled? For example, just as Margaret Mead was duped by several Samoan girls on the island of Ta’u when she wrote her classic book Coming of Age in Samoa, it appears that Alice Goffman (author of On the Run: Fugitive Life in an American City) was likewise duped by a small group of drug-dealing youths in Philadelphia, a group she romanticizes in her book. As one commentator has noted: “Spend time in the ghetto and you quickly learn that criminals are not victims. The corner boys in West Baltimore are not heading off to college once drugs are legal. They will find new scams. They like crime and the drug game is their version of the self-actualizing career. Take that away and they find a new way to terrorize their communities. There are good arguments against the drug war, but romanticizing these people is naive.”

Don’t be so gullible next time around!

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8 Responses to Is Alice Goffman the new Margaret Mead?

  1. Fake Name says:

    A comparison of statistics from the Philadelphia Police with the information provided by Alice in her book, raises serious questions about the veracity of her work. I have documented thus far 15 problems in her book the most shocking of which is that nobody Chuck’s age was shot on a Wednesday and later expired in the summer of 2007, according to very detailed Philly crime statistics.

  2. sbk says:

    The fact that prominently displayed on Goffman’s departmental web page is the email of her press agent is sadly typical of what now passes as academia (i.e., media-driven research). This is a truly disturbing and sadly not uncommon trend. It does not inspire confidence in the “Scientific” merit of the works on display. Me thinks the fish rots from the head. as science becomes increasingly a mean to a financially profitable end.

  3. sbk says:

    The fact that prominently displayed on Goffman’s departmental web page is the email of her press agent is sadly typical of what now passes as academia (i.e., media-driven research). This is a truly disturbing and sadly not uncommon trend. It does not inspire confidence in the “Scientific” merit of the works on display. Me thinks the fish rots from the head, as science becomes increasingly a means to a financially profitable end.

  4. Ivy Perez says:

    Although it seems that Goffman may have lied in much of her book, I take issue with this generalization of any group: “They like crime and the drug game is their version of the self-actualizing career. Take that away and they find a new way to terrorize their communities. There are good arguments against the drug war, but romanticizing these people is naive.”

    • enrique says:

      Thank you for your comment. You are absolute right. I think the point of the commentator was to note that some fraction of any population (including a population of lawyers or doctors–regardless of race, I would add) will engage in some form of illegal or “evasion” behavior, but your point is well taken and we will be more careful in how we articulate our point about law evasion

  5. Pingback: Lubet vs. Goffman | prior probability

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