In checking a couple of facts for the previous post, I came across this much more critical review of Goffman's book from a year ago, The Stoop isn't the Jungle by Dwayne Betts. Betts raises just about all the issues that Lubet raises plus some more.
Why didn't these questions get more traction at the time? Perhaps it was simply the torrent of positive praise which drowned out all else. Perhaps the fact that it appeared in Slate, where editorial standards are somewhat notorious, might have resulted in the criticism having been discounted.
That's a shame because Betts raised good issues that needed to be addressed. Apart from the factual accuracy, I thought this criticism was telling as well.
There is one more dark aspect to On the Run. Immersing herself in the lives of her friends and subjects, Goffman nearly loses herself. One night, after a rival crew murdered Chuck, she found herself driving Mike around searching for Chuck’s killer. She tells us that she wanted Chuck’s killer dead just as Mike and the rest of the crew did. Mike did not find his target that night. What if he had? Goffman never interrogates her own motives, or how close she came, potentially, to abetting a killing. Instead, this reads as her crowning war story, the moment when she finally understood what it meant to be one of the young men of 6th Street.That sounds right. The psychological impetus of many of these writers seems both suspect and concerning.
University of California at Santa Barbara sociologist Victor Rios has a name for this: the “jungle book trope.” In his book Punished: Policing the Lives of Black and Latino Youth, Rios characterizes this trope as a self-aggrandizing fairy tale, in which an innocent white person gets lost in the wild, is taken in by the wild people, survives, and returns to society with a story to tell. I wish Goffman’s book didn’t read that way to me. But it does.