What a highly controversial ethnography says about tensions, problematizations and inequality in contemporary ethnographic practice and regulation

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review

Abstract

Purpose: The purpose of this paper is to illuminate how inequality – in the way ethnography as a research tool itself is used – underwrites many of the methodological tensions in the recently published and widely-debated On the Run: Fugitive Life in an American City by Alice Goffman. Design/methodology/approach: The author conducts an in-depth, critical analysis of On the Run as an epistemological case to visualize methodological and moral challenges that burden ethnographic practice at large. Findings: The author opens dialogue on undercover ethnography, the overreach of institutional review boards, privilege in the use of ethnography as a research tool, “Othering” and the exoticization of the underclass, and the boundary shift from observer to participant roles with deep immersion. The author unpacks these areas of contention toward the construction of a potential alternative combining public sociology with what is called a sociology of compassion. Originality/value: While the book provides an intimate, rich account of the experience of law among the underclass, the author demonstrates that it constitutes an epistemological case ideal for examining how the issues of pre-fieldwork preparation, positionality and deep immersion are conceived – and problematized – in mainstream ethnographic practice.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)140-151
Number of pages12
JournalQualitative Research Journal
Volume20
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 20 Jan 2020

Keywords

  • Epistemology
  • Ethnography
  • Inequality
  • Othering
  • Positionality

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Social Sciences(all)

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