CAIRN-INT.INFO : International Edition

The publication of Alice Goffman’s book On the Run: Fugitive Life in an American City in the spring of 2014 initially aroused an enthusiastic reception that overflowed the university public and propelled its author to the rank of public intellectual, with a rare success among the public for a sociology book. The ethnographic investigation of Alice Goffman shows that the system of “hyper?policing” – instead of producing safer neighborhoods as it claims – leads to new forms of crime and undermines public safety and the social ties that people maintain with their families. However, the book is now the subject of controversy. Critics and defenders of the book discussed the credibility of Alice Goffman as a sociologist and the scientific nature of the ethnographic method, as well as of the collective responsibility of the social science research community for the quality of published research. After a presentation of the empirical investigation and of Alice Goffman’s main arguments, this article discusses the issues of the controversy that directly engage the political significance of the social sciences: Who can produce knowledge on what subject, and with what credibility?


  • Controversy
  • social sciences
  • ethnographic method
  • scientific nature
  • Alice Goffman
Linda Haapajärvi
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