*Photo credit: from the NYTimes article hyperlinked below

Beautiful and fascinating article on the academia and media response to a young sociologist/fieldworker’s new book,  “On the Run”by Alice Hoffman, that brings up interesting questions – about immersion versus objective observation, the color of your skin versus the color of the skin of the people in the community you are writing/working/living with, and how the mores of what is “acceptable” or “politically correct” to document and share vastly differ based on field (sociology academia versus journalism).

Some specific questions it brought up for me were:
Is it good for the world – for good policy, for ethical reasoning – that the field of sociology, and social sciences in general, is now becoming so fragmented because of the huge economics-imposed push to look at everything quantitatively?

Is the merit of an observation fully based on objectivity or immersion, or some ideal mixture of the two? If the latter, what’s the ideal mixture? What’s the balance?

What sort of documentation is sensational, and what sort of documentation is vitally descriptive and necessary to represent the full integrity of a situation?

Who are we “allowed” to represent? Who do we actually represent? Who gets to study whom?

What role can we play – and will the community of the peers within our disciplines allow us to play – based on the difference or sameness of the color of our skin and our origins/upbringing and that of the communities that we study and live in now? Should knowing this, and does knowing this, affect the decisions that people make about the communities they choose to work with, to live within? What sort of publication bias do these stigmas introduce in each field?

What made norms about representing “positionality” change over the years? Can anyone truly represent their full “positionality” dispassionately enough?

In a world where being “interdisciplinary” is the new jargon, but where true interdisciplinary work faces attacks from all sides, how can one remain truly between disciplines in one’s work? How many people are driven away from it, and is that a huge loss?

How much bias does where/from whom we have to seek corroboration of facts (i.e. a client, a government official, a police officer) introduce into the findings that we present?

How valuable is it to present all perspectives? Which ones should be valued more, and in what context?

…and some excerpts for additional thought…

“What is the continuing role of the qualitative in an era devoted to data? When the politics of representation have become so fraught, who gets to write about whom?”
“The person with a courtesy stigma can in fact make both the stigmatized and the normal uncomfortable: By always being ready to carry a burden that is not ‘‘really’’ theirs, they can confront everyone else with too much morality; by treating the stigma as a neutral matter to be looked at in a direct, offhand way, they open themselves and the stigmatized to misunderstanding by normals who may read offensiveness into this behavior.” – quoting Ervin Goffman, “Stigma”
“When I reminded her that it was my job to try to find independent confirmation of some of her claims, she understood my own disciplinary needs and was forthcoming, if slightly begrudging, in helping me out. But at one point, when I pressed her on one of these issues, she wrote back that I seemed to be saying, ‘‘The way to validate the claims in the book is by getting officials who are white men in power to corroborate them.’’ She went on: ‘‘The point of the book is for people who are written off and delegitimated to describe their own lives and to speak for themselves about the reality they face, and this is a reality that goes absolutely against the narratives of officials or middle-­class people. So finding ‘legitimate’ people to validate the claims — it feels wrong to me on just about every level.” “
“She seemed entirely herself: an observer upon whom nothing is lost, an irremediable sociologist and the prodigal baby sister of Sixth Street home at last.”
Time to go read the book!

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