“On the Run” of Alice Goffman and Its Public Reception

Alice Goffman’s work proves to be genuinely outstanding not just because of the scrupulous ethnological research, which she has done, but also because of the rising controversy. The work’s reception was mixed mainly because of the ethical considerations of the unclear boundary between objectiveness and bias in an ethnological study. Alice managed to immerse herself so deeply into the culture that she was alien due to her race, economic, and social background. The following feature, which is untypical for the ethnology, appears to be a prominent quality of the work On the Run: Fugitive Life in an American City. It may be critiqued for being not entirely ethical but is understandable from the point of view of the social roles. The role of a friend that Alice’s father explored in his work The Presentation of the Self in Everyday Life makes the story engaging and explains Alice’s possible predisposition. The same factor clarify a certain degree of dramatism and exaggeration. Despite all Alice’s efforts to stay objective and invisible in the story, her possible memory flaws and personal relationships with the subjects could have affected the ethnography’s specific details.

The points about sexism and not following modern guidelines appear doubtful to me. It seems that in the question of describing the black neighborhood, Alice’s background, as of a white, educated person, played a more defining point raising concern of the public than being a woman. The gender factor could have affected the study, but it does not seem to make Alice subjective, as she also described women in her ethnography (Haapajärvi, 2016). The work also appears to contradict the modern days’ ethical tendencies when committees make risky academic works less and less possible. However, in my and several IRBs’ opinions, such ethnographies only enrich the academic field.


Haapajärvi, L. (2016). A critical review of On the Run of Alice Goffman and its public reception. Sociologie, 7(3), 301-312. Web.

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