The Internet Accused Alice Goffman of Faking Details In Her Study of a Black Neighborhood. I Went to Philadelphia to Check.


Jesse Singal in NY Magazine:

Goffman, like any successful author, had her critics. Some said she focused too closely on the “bad apples” of the neighborhood; others that, as a white woman, she was telling a story that wasn’t hers to tell. Both critiques came up during a somewhat heated (according to participants I spoke with)author-meets-critics event held at last August’s meeting of the American Sociological Association that filled the room in which it was held. Overall, though, On the Run was seen by criminal-justice reformers and critics alike as an important step in confronting America’s mass-incarceration crisis — and a timely one given that the Ferguson riots would shake the country just a few months after the book’s initial release. No one had done quite what Goffman had done, and she earned plaudits for her courageous, revealing ethnographic research.

That all began to change last month, when a potentially career-threatening document materialized: On May 2 — or that’s when the document got to Goffman, at least — someone sent an anonymous 60-page critique of On the Run to hundreds of people in her field, including to members of the sociology departments at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she was finishing her third year as an assistant professor, and the undergraduate (University of Pennsylvania) and graduate (Princeton) institutions where Goffman was based when she conducted much of the research that would become the book.

The document, uneven in its writing and logic but weirdly compelling in the sheer number of problems it purports to identify in On the Run, presents itself as a call for an investigation into research misconduct: It accuses Goffman of everything from lying about living near 6th Street (the author flags one of Goffman’s former Philly addresses — in fact, it matches up exactly to one neighborhood where she says she lived in the book) to mixing up characters’ ages in ways that suggest she fabricated major events. These were difficult charges for Goffman to forcefully rebut.

More here.