The Ethics of Ethnography, and Alice Goffman’s Ethnography about Crime in Philadelphia

Gofman_bookLeon Neyfakh at Slate has written a review of the controversy surrounding Alice Goffman’s new ethnography On The Run: Fugitive Life in an American City which is about the African’ American community of inner city Philadelphia, and their relationship with the  police.  The essay is called “The Ethics of Ethnograpy,” and discusses the role of Institutional Research Boards, the responsibility of social scientists for replicability, the nature of scientific generalization, and the nature of ethnography.  His article is good, and a quick read for anyone interested in ethnography.

Neyfackh’s review asks question about “What is Ethnography?” and how is it related to science, journalism, and literature. Neyfakh’s review can be accessed here.

Alex Golub at Savage Minds has also contributed a thoughtful analysis of how journalists like Neyfakh evaluate ethnography, which can be accessed here.As he points out, the techniques of journalism and ethnography may use similar techniques particularly when it comes to interviewing, but the overall project is fundamentally different.  Journalists are about the facts and “fact checking,” while ethnographers look for underlying principles, and that big word of social science, “generalizability.”

On the Run is now definitely on my summer reading list. So is a book cited in the article about the role of Institutional Review Boards in the vetting of social science research, Ethical Imperialism, Institutional Research Boards and the Social Sciences, 1965-2009, by Zachary Schrag.