Life ‘On The Run’ In America's Big Cities

The underground economy where drug war and police lockdown meet urban America. We’ll look at life on the run.

The cover of Alice Goffman's "On The Run" (Courtesy University of Chicago Press).

The cover of Alice Goffman’s “On The Run” (Courtesy University of Chicago Press).

America’s underground economy sprawls far and wide now.  Maybe $2 trillion in off-the-books work and trade.  A big part of it grows from tough neighborhoods where the formal economy is so thin and the hand of the law is so heavy that it’s hard to stay on the straight and narrow.  Sociologist Alice Goffman has gone there.  To an urban economy and culture so shadowed by police and incarceration that it lives “on the run.”  To a system that finds millions living as fugitives in their own neighborhoods.  This hour On Point:  the underground life of America’s most heavily-policed communities.

– Tom Ashbrook


Alice Goffman, assistant  professor of sociology at the University of Wisconsin – Madison. Author of the new book, “On The Run: Fugitive Life In An American City.”

From Tom’s Reading List

Philadelphia Inquirer: Sociologist chronicles tenuous lives of fugitives — “Goffman, 32, spent six years with the men and their families in a poor, minority Philadelphia neighborhood she calls Sixth Street to protect its identity. She began the work in 2002 as a University of Pennsylvania undergraduate, becoming so immersed she nearly lost herself in the process. She adopted the men’s survival tactics: the art of fleeing through alleyways, the grit of enduring interrogations. Back at school, though, her heart pounded at the sight of clean-cut, white (in short, coplike) professors.”

Chronicle Of Higher Education: The American Police State — “Starting in the mid-1970s, the United States stiffened its laws on drugs and violent crime and ratcheted up the police presence on city streets. The number of people in American jails and prisons has risen fivefold over the past 40 years. There are now roughly seven million people under criminal-justice supervision.”

New York Times: Fieldwork of Total Immersion — “Though written in a sober, scholarly style, ‘On the Run’ contains enough street-level detail to fill a season of ‘The Wire,’ along with plenty of screen-ready moments involving the author herself, who describes, among other ordeals, being thrown to the floor and handcuffed during a police raid, enduring a harrowing precinct house interrogation and watching a man be shot to death after exiting her car.”

Read An Excerpt Of “On The Run” By Alice Goffman

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