On the Run: Fugitive Life in an American City (Fieldwork Encounters and Discoveries) Hardcover – May 1, 2014
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“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."
About the Author
- Publisher : University of Chicago Press (May 1, 2014)
- Language : English
- Hardcover : 288 pages
- ISBN-10 : 022613671X
- ISBN-13 : 978-0226136714
- Item Weight : 1.28 pounds
- Dimensions : 6 x 1 x 9 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #842,617 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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I am no expert, but I think this will be a classic ethnography in American anthropology and sociology.
There are some things that Goffman does not talk about, but these were beyond the charge of her research. Specifically, while the presence of police brutality is documented, I was left curious about how the young police officers were inculcated into this blue culture. What holds their "blue family" together? What do police officers do with their fear (other than try to "take control")? At what point of induction into being a police officer does fear and stereotypy become the motif of life?
Add (9-30-18) I did find a good book on this question: Moskos, Peter (2008) Cop: My year policing Baltimore's Eastern District. Princeton Press. Available on Amazon. Moskos graduated from college and joined the Baltimore police force as a rookie. He is scathing about his six-month training, which taught him nothing outside of legal strictures and how to write reports. One of his observations is how police cars detract from getting to know a neighborhood, but all police hate foot patrolling (it is hard, no computers, no flashing lights, seen as a punishment) and thus police really do not know the people of the area. The final chapter is "Prohibition: Al Capone's revenge," a comment on how prohibition actually makes the border between police and the people far more difficult than would legalized drugs and medical care.
Top reviews from other countries
The PhD thesis, on which it is based, was recognised by the American Sociological Association as a landmark contribution to the field. The book has become a best seller - astonishing and riveting according to the New York Times.
For many commentators the boys and men of 6th street are “bad” people who make “bad” choices and create a “bad” community. They choose to deal drugs, settle differences with a gun or a knife, skip bail, run from the cops, drive without licenses in cars they don’t own, use false names, cheat on their girlfriends, and always dealing drugs. They are the problem – they draw the criminal system onto themselves. Heavy police activity is appropriate and justified. Zero tolerance.
Goffman argues it may be in part the other way round. Since the 1970s the War on Drugs has dramatically increased the number of people in prison, especially black men. Whole communities - poor black neighbourhoods - live under the constant shadow of the penal system. This causes individual and social responses which appear to make things worse, but actually make sense from the point of view of a young black man without a high school qualification – he is likely to be sent down “anyway”. He strives to delay that event and reduce jail time as much as possible. If running from a siren buys you another three months outside then you run. If giving a false name gets you off a dealing rap then you give a false name. If your speeding ticket stops you getting a license, you get a fake ID. If going to hospital risks you being picked up in the ER, you get treated in your kitchen by a nurse aide who lives on your block.
In fact a whole culture has risen in response to Zero Tolerance- or rather subculture. Alice Goffman produces detailed analyses of daily living, patterns of friendship and partnership, of love and honour, trust and loyalty. All people, she writes, “create a meaningful social world and moral life from whatever cards they have been dealt” – that includes the young men she lived among on 6th Street.
How do you study such communities – off the mainstream, on the margins? How did Alice do this? Not from the outside but from the inside – the method known as participant observation. A method pioneered by American sociologists, also pioneers of the study of urban life. On the Run is especially close to the classic work by Wilfred White, Street Corner Society. So like White Goffman lived among her subjects for many years, sharing their lives and troubles. She witnessed attended 19 funerals and witnessed at least two killings, her clothes being spattered with the blood of one man.
In a long final chapter she describes her method in detail. Her account is revealing. There is always a “danger” that immersion in a subculture leads to loss of focus so any kind of scientific observation is slung. It is clear that Alice formed very strong attachments to Chuck and Mike especially. They gave her the street name A-Boogie. She confesses – among other things – that the murder of Chuck was a profound and personal tragedy. She admits that she drove Mike around town looking for the presumed gunman, a man from another neighbourhood, with the clear intention of killing him and wanting to do this.
That has to be a problem. But.
Her conclusions pull no punches. She observes the persistence of a racial caste system in the United States. She does not see the problem specifically as a racist police force and indeed feels their hands are as tied by their cuffs as much as those of the men they arrest. The problems lie higher and wider in national social and political structures. The big picture.
I think it an amazing piece of research and really important. I can see that much of the way of life revealed may alienate or exasperate those who do not open their doors onto 6th Street - but we have to look beyond and behind. This is the kind of sociology that was called for by C Wright Mills, partisan and emotional, yes, but also rigorous and meticulous and honest. You don't have to be 100% on her conclusions to agree with that.
I like the detailed methodology that Goffman discusses at the end of the book and is proving very useful to my students.
I know people criticise her for "ignoring" the crimes these men make, but she does not. What Goffman argues is that intensive policing of poorer communities is not working and is not solving a wider social issue. Instead, more rehabilitative programmes should be introduced to stop this endless cycle of crime and a lifetime of police, warrants and court.