I am aware of some of the criticism Ms. Goffman has recieved (http://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/06/books/alice-goffmans-heralded-book-on-crime-disputed.html?_r=0). I think the part I know about is valid. Her account of driving one of her subjects around as he looks for his target in order to exact revenge is absolutely chilling. It deserves more than to be buried at the end of her epic methodological note and to have only a short bit of reflection on it. Throughout the book, Goffman, a white college then graduate student who has embedded herself in a troubled African-American neighborhood in Philadelphia, is generally more forthright.
Her reporting is good, organized. She attempts to untangle the challenges the people of this 6th Street area (a pseudonym) have to face as they navigate the criminal justice system. She demonstrates the complexity of the web that the police weave (with help from the citizens) over the everyday lives of not just the men who become caught in the system, but the people who surround them. By attempting to deconstruct the various methods of police and self-oppression, Goffman makes an argument – one I accept – for its deliberateness.
Goffman seems to have two writing voices. The clinical, academic one that opens and closes each chapter. And the narrative one that forms the substance of each chapter. She’s slightly more adept at the narrative voice, but the familiar sandwich pattern of each section grew tiresome and repetitive at times.
Yes, it’s a troubling book put together in a troubling way. But it’s worth reading in order to think about and discuss both of those elements.