urban police puzzle and ethnographic method
A few days ago, we discussed an empirical issue around Goffman’s On the Run ethnography. That work focuses on how police intervention cripples poor Black men. The issue is that other ethnography reports an under policing of poor Black neighborhoods. Earlier, I suggested a voter driven explanation – voters like to see young Black men arrested on drug charges and reward police for it.
Here, I’d like to raise a methodological issue. Goffman’s ethnography is not typical in the sense of studying a field site like a firm or a neighborhood. Rather, the ethnography is a study of a cohort of people. You follow them around. That is different than field site ethnography where you choose a location and focus on the action happening in a space. People come in and out. So it is not surprising that if you stand on a modal street corner in Philly, you won’t see many cops walk by. In contrast, if you follow people who are the target of police, then you will, not surprisingly, see a lot of police.