Interrogating Ethnography – and Coming Up with the Wrong Answers?

By | 8th February 2018

Sociological research reports rarely attract high levels of public controversy. Alice Goffman’s 2014 book, On the Run: Fugitive Life in an American City is an exception… The book has been widely acclaimed for its account of the survival strategies of young black men facing aggressive policing and other forms of institutional racism. It has, however, also has been challenged over its method, methodology and ethics…One of the most persistent and hostile critics has been Steven Lubet, a legal academic and former criminal defence lawyer in Chicago. Lubet has now extended his attack into a general critique of US urban ethnography which, in his view, shares many of the same flaws as Goffman’s work…In many ways, Lubet’s work is a form of legal imperialism that takes his own forms of knowledge and reasoning as a gold standard, with very little reflection on their contexts and construction. Three examples will have to suffice: his understanding of truth; his lack of scepticism about his own evidence; and his view on ethics – which I will deal with in a later post…

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