Bioethics Blogs

Goffman’s Tightrope

Two new articles add useful context to the debate about Alice Goffman’s On the Run. Together, they show just how narrow a path Goffman was walking between privacy and verifiability, and between scholarship and good writing. I will address the IRB issues in a separate post.

[Jesse Singal, “The Internet Accused Alice Goffman of Faking Details In Her Study of a Black Neighborhood. I Went to Philadelphia to Check,” Science of Us, June 18, 2015.; Leon Neyfakh, “The Ethics of Ethnography,” Slate, June 18, 2015.]

Jesse Singal of Science of Us tracked down some of Goffman’s Philadelphia informants, as well as Goffman herself. He finds that while Goffman’s “lack of precision in language” muddied some portions of her book, she “conducted some amazing ethnographic research, and her book is almost entirely true, not to mention quite important.”

Singal quotes Goffman’s adviser, Mitchell Duneier, on the realtime fact-checking that accompanied Goffman’s research.

During Goffman’s time at Princeton, he said, “There was a constant sending her back for more details, more facts, more interviews on a whole variety of different questions and issues” — sometimes, she would put folks from the neighborhood on speakerphone. A warrant officer from Philadelphia — a “brilliant one with vast knowledge” — also read a big chunk of Goffman’s research, and Duneier got dinner with him twice to talk about her work. This officer corrected some things, but mostly endorsed Goffman’s account, and Duneier is positive he read about the hospital arrests.

Meanwhile, Leon Neyfakh of Slate interviewed Goffman and several experts on ethnography, including Rena Lederman and Alice Dreger.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.