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On the Run: Fugitive Life in an American City (Fieldwork Encounters and Discoveries) Hardcover – May 1, 2014

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On the Run: Fugitive Life in an American City (Fieldwork Encounters and Discoveries) + Punished: Policing the Lives of Black and Latino Boys (New Perspectives in Crime, Deviance, and Law)
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Product Details

  • Series: Fieldwork Encounters and Discoveries
  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: University Of Chicago Press (May 1, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 022613671X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226136714
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.2 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (71 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #4,483 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


"An exceptional book. . . . Devastating."
(Malcolm Gladwell New Yorker)

“A remarkable feat of reporting.”
(Alex Kotlowitz New York Times Book Review)

"This is a remarkable chronicle, informed by Goffman's scholarship, detailed from personal experience as 'participant observer,' and related with honesty and compassion."
(Publishers Weekly)

"Alice Goffman's On the Run is the best treatment I know of the wretched underside of neo-liberal capitalist America. Despite the social misery and fragmented relations, she gives us a subtle analysis and poignant portrait of our fellow citizens who struggle to preserve their sanity and dignity."
(Cornel West)

“This is a truly wonderful book that identifies the casualties of the war on drugs that extend beyond the prison walls. The punitive ghettoisation of the poor leaves few families untouched. The detail is incredible. The research is impeccable. Read it and weep."


(Times Higher Education)

"Extraordinary. . .  . The best work of ethnography I have read in a very, very long time."
(LSE Review of Books)

"On the Run is riveting--a clear-headed and sobering account of the 'way it is' for too many of the nation's young black men who live in the killing fields called American cities. It reveals how the everyday lives of these men--their loved ones--are closely monitored  and mined for evidence that is then used against them, exacerbating their alienation and fueling the prison-industrial complex. This brilliant book should be required reading for everyone, including President Obama, Congress, and public officials throughout the nation."
(Elijah Anderson, author of Code of the Street)

"On the Run tells, in gripping, hard-won detail, what it’s like to be trapped on the wrong side of the law with no way out--the situation of so many young Black Americans today. A brilliant fieldworker and a smart analyst of what she saw and heard, Goffman has made a lasting contribution to our understanding of the administration of the law, urban life and race relations, in a book you will never forget reading."
(Howard Becker, author of Writing for Social Scientists)

"By turns On the Run is heartbreaking and clear-eyed, sad and entangled. With rich ethnographic detail, Alice Goffman reveals the emotional arc of deceptively complex young lives that are criminalized daily in one Black neighborhood in Philadelphia. A triumphant achievement!"
(Carol Stack, author of All Our Kin)

"Powerful. . . . It's clear that Goffman didn’t just research this book; she lived it. . . . Goffman has a gift for bringing to life the troubles and anxieties of ordinary people. . . . Invaluable. . . . A dramatic record of how race is still a key predictor of whether or not some young Americans will have a chance at a 'pursuit of happiness.'"
(Los Angeles Review of Books)

About the Author

Alice Goffman is assistant professor of sociology at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. She lives in Madison.

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Customer Reviews

This book reads like a novel.
Dale Topham
It gives a very personal, particular view of how mass incarceration affects individual lives and begins to change entire families and communities.
Ashley H.
It is without polemics but is a must read for those concerned with issues of race, poverty, or the justice system.
UU reader

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

21 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Thomas Ball on May 6, 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Goffman's book is a triumphant tour de force on multiple levels. She eloquently describes her gradual and life-transforming process from a naive, Caucasian undergrad into total immersion in the subculture, families and lives of a roughly five block neighborhood of inner city Philadelphia in the 10 years ending in 2012. Her commitment to the people that form the core of this book goes way beyond anything I've ever read or even heard about. Among this book's many strengths is the uncompromising candor and honesty she brings to bear in documenting her questionable status as an educated, white girl in a male dominated, urban black street culture. But the book isn't about her, a point she makes quite forcefully in a riveting methodological section, and the strongest testimony for this fact is the extent to which she was able to successfully assimilate, blend in and not become the focus of or change the ongoing behaviors, dynamics and tragedy of the lives of the people in her research. At least, based on her scrupulous reporting, it seems that way.

Her key themes are highly political, controversial and shocking to most of us living in the bubble that is mainstream America. She describes the day-to-day lives of an alternate society consisting to a significant degree of young fugitives, "on the run" from a social and legal structure that officially espouses neoliberal principles of equal opportunities for all while instituting a stunningly punitive judicial system that is guilty of blindly disenfranchising, imprisoning and oppressing significant numbers of black youth. In her view, this is nothing less than an updated version of racism, segregation and apartheid -- a horrifying American Gulag Archipelago. Based on the evidence, this is an accurate and compelling statement.
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31 of 38 people found the following review helpful By D on May 28, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I am incredibly impressed by the personal sacrifice the author made for her research. Her drive and compulsion takes her deep into a culture few of us can relate to. She writes with refreshingly simple and clear language (especially considering her association with Cornel West).

I found the meat of the book, however, to be incredibly frustrating. All of the criminal actions of her subjects felt like they were described in the passive voice. The police acted to inflict pain and punishment. The "boys" were victims.

I kept wondering about her conclusions of cause and effect and whether she could have gained some insight if she hadn't blown off her statistics class. There are lots of descriptive statistics about percentages of minorities in the criminal justice system (all well trodden ground), but no attempt to quantitatively untangle the cycle of violence, police response, more violence, more response, etc. To me, this is the core of the issue. Maybe that is work for others, but it requires some note if her conclusions are to have clout.

Stockholm syndrome was always on my mind as I read the book. For the first half I felt like she had fallen in too deep with her subjects which led her to conclude that the boys were the victims, despite their continuous criminal actions. By the end, I became more convinced that it was her academic environment that clouded her conclusions.

Her descriptions of her personal experiences and those of the "clean" were beyond compelling and were more honest (by my reading) than the main part of the book that focused on the sociological conclusions. Her work chronicling of the "clean" and "decent" was inspiring. The writing on her personal experiences kept me up late at night.
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18 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Martin Zook on May 2, 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
On the Run is an on-the-ground authentic look at an emblematic neighborhood in Philly where more than half the men at some point have a warrant out for their arrest, causing them to be on the run. On the run from the police. On the run from parole officers. On the run from the courts. On the run from girlfriends. On the run from those who would use their vulnerability to victimize them.

This is the world behind the statistical sketch Alice Goffman paints in her preface. Briefly, the US locks up five to nine times more people than western Europe. More than in Russia, or China, excluding Stalin's reign. And it's the Black communities suffering the brunt.

Blacks, who make up 13% of the population, account for 37% of the prison population. 10% of black men are behind bars compared with 1% for whites. 60% of Blacks who do not finish high school will go to prison.

All of this is well known, and has been known for more than three decades. What Goffman does is bring the reader face to face with people caught in this cycle. She follows a group of young men in whose neighborhood she lived and shared their lives for six years while a student.

She introduces us to Chuck. His predicament with the law begins after a scuffle on the playground in high school. It sets in motion the cycle described in the statistics above. He does time for it. Upon release, he's denied re-admittance to high school because he's turned 19. A chippy arrest follows for failing to appear in court. Chuck is on the run.

There is an art to running. Chapter one begins with Chuck teaching his 12-year-old brother how to run: not to a relative's house - the cops armed with enhanced technology know places the refugee frequents. It's to a church lady's house ultimately.
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