Tags: sociologist | black | males | police | ethics | methods

Sociologist Who Studied Black Men and Police Mired In Ethics Cloud

By    |   Friday, 05 Jun 2015 11:05 PM

A young sociologist who won high praise for her study of low-income black men and their interactions with the police has come under fire for her conclusions, methods and ethics.

Alice Goffman's "On the Run: Fugitive Life in an American City" – based on six years of fieldwork – earned a slew of glowing reviews when it was published last year, The New York Times reports.

But a Northwestern University law professor, Steven Lubet, charges Goffman allegedly admitted to having committed a felony.

The charge, contained in an online book review, involves a story Goffman tells of how she rode along when a young man went looking for the killer of a close friend. A tense confrontation with another man who wasn't the killer ended peacefully, but Goffman writes she was shaken by "my desire for vengeance," The Times reports.

Lubet contends what she did "constituted conspiracy to commit murder under Pennsylvania law."

Goffman defended herself on her faculty web page at the University of Wisconsin.

"I had good reason to believe that this night would not end in violence or injury," she said.

"I went because I knew these drives were about expressing anger and about grieving, not about doing actual violence."

But Lubet insists there were still "serious discrepancies" in her accounts.

One Goffman defender blasted Lubet's tactics.

"It’s a misuse of professorial authority to go after someone as a prosecutor on a fragment of evidence and push them to provide more evidence to defend themselves," Jack Katz, an ethnographer at the University of California, Los Angeles, and co-editor of the University of Chicago Press series in which "On the Run" appeared, told The Times.

Still, other sociologists now say Goffman’s account was disturbing, including University of Maryland Philip Cohen, who wrote in a blog that he thinks "human beings just shouldn’t act like that."

"Regardless of which version of the story you believe, it was not good behavior," he writes.

Other problems have cropped up as well, The Times reports, including Goffman's charge that police visiting hospitals regularly run the names of patients and visitors through criminal databases, arresting those with outstanding warrants. The claim couldn't be backed up by one Yale law professor, The Times reports.

Another sociologist questions whether "On the Run" gives a representative account of low-income black men, The Times reports. Writing in the American Journal of Sociology, Victor Rios of the University of California, Santa Barbara, states that her focus on "outrageous criminal exploits" offers a distorted picture, The Times reports.

"She starts out saying she’s writing a book about how black communities are policed," Rios told The Times. "But then what we mostly get are stories of kids who are doing really horrible things."

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A young sociologist who won high praise for her study of low-income black men and their interactions with the police has come under fire for her conclusions, methods and ethics.
sociologist, black, males, police, ethics, methods
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2015-05-05
Friday, 05 Jun 2015 11:05 PM
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