Goffman: Priming for College and Prison. Free Essay

Published: 2023-01-16
Goffman: Priming for College and Prison. Free Essay
Type of paper:  Movie review
Categories: College Child development Criminal justice Social issue
Pages: 4
Wordcount: 948 words
8 min read

How We're Priming some Kids for College and others for Prison is an Alice Goffman's TED Talk that explores the issue of the criminal justice system and the increased incarceration rates. The talk is an important discussion to comprehend the Law, Justice, or a unit of inequality in American society. Goffman points out that two institutions in the United Stated guide teenagers to adulthood, and they are college and prison. As a sociologist, Goffman spent six years in the most troubled neighborhood in Philadelphia, where she experienced the way Latino and African-American teenagers are lead down to a path to prison. The following paper will explore the issues highlighted in the talk to show how the social, economic, and justice systems are oppressing disadvantaged members of the society, which will be based on Weber theory.

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According to Goffman, the incarceration rate in the U.S. has increased by 700%, with 716 people per 100,000 in the population being locked behind bars. In the talk, Alice explores paths in a society that has an underclass that is less privileged. Not only does the underclass face profound social disempowerment, inequality, and deprivation, but also being discriminated and punished for behaviors that arise inevitably from such social context. Weber views status in relation to differences in which people are judged and their relations to others. Social class has to do with disparities that arise from the functioning of capitalism and market place (Swedberg, 2005). Thus, Weber suggests that status arises from the tendency of people judging each other. Therefore, varying behavior from the different neighborhood or racial group in Philadelphia will attract a less punitive response.

Goffman views that the current cultural models, including criminal justice in the U.S., are depending mainly on principles of external blame, shame, and punishment. Black and white thinking together with brutal moralization that lacks context and compassion does not work in making the society better. Thus, imprisoning more citizens will merely exacerbate social and cultural ills that have resulted in an increased rate of incarceration. Therefore, wealth and economic advantage is an important aspect of the class. As Weber suggests, the rising bureaucracy is accompanying capitalism results in the status difference between different classes of people (Wright, 2002). As seen in the talk, there is growth and increased classes differences in terms of educational skills and qualifications between privileged individuals and those that are disadvantaged.

Goffman presents the issue of unfairness in the social justice system in which teenagers from poor neighborhoods are taken to courts and are expected to pay fines failure to that result in issuing of their arrest warrant. Thus, Alice explores the way Justice System in the U.S. is structured to exploit the poor. According to Weber, stakeholders aim to satisfy their ideals or material interest make each economic action (Nau, 2005). Thus, these interests of ideal and material gain and not ideas to improve others are the notions that govern human behavior. Therefore, inner cities populations across the U.S. are under stigma and shame that is driven by poverty and material deprivation that is propagated by privileged people in society.

Goffman highlights the way young individuals in the neighborhood face discrimination and harassment by the entire justice system as Tim, aged 11 is taught by his brother Chuck how to run from the police. Young people in the neighborhood live in fear of the U.S. justice system. From the Weberian model of social stratification, it explores the matter of political power that is represented on how it is exercised. Weber view power as an opportunity for several individuals to realize their own will in a communal action, which is against the resistance of others to be involved in such action (Pyakuryal, 2001). Thus, the law is an effective system as people orient their action to its governance. The power exerted to the disadvantaged neighborhoods is aimed at exploiting and oppressing the young people who at the same time have limited economic opportunity and attend worst schools.

I was not surprised by the information given in the talk. The American capitalist society and justice system have been taken over by the private prison-industrial complex. This promotes the need to incarcerate more disadvantaged people in society to increase the number of prisoners, which raises grants provided by the federal government to private prisons. Alice highlights the need for a holistic and life-enhancing approach to solving the complexities and social issues present in society. There is a need to restructure the Justice system to focus on the concept of justice. Lack of a complete rebuilding of the justice system will result in incarceration rate to continue rising as they will continue to target individuals from poor neighborhoods that are economically disadvantaged. The prevailing economic condition in the neighborhoods makes it difficult to prevent young people from going to jail, which calls for the need to improve economic incentives in these parts of the U.S. In conclusion, from the talk by Goffman, it is evident that the system is priming some kids for college and others for prison. The young people from disadvantaged neighborhoods are the most impacted by the institution of prison. The Weber theories highlight that these problems arise from various social, economic, and political aspects that are prevalent in America society.


Nau, H. H. (2005). Institutional, evolutionary and cultural aspects in Max Weber's social economics. Papers in Political Economy, (2), 127-142. https://www.cairn.info/revue-cahiers-d-economie-politique-2005-2-page-127.htm

Pyakuryal, K. (2001). Weberian model of social stratification-a viewpoint. Occasional Papers in Sociology and Anthropology, 7, 14-25. https://www.nepjol.info/index.php/OPSA/article/view/1108

Swedberg, R. (2005). Towards an economic sociology of capitalism. L'Annee sociologique, 55(2), 419-449. https://www.cairn.info/revue-l-annee-sociologique-2005-2-page-419.htm

Wright, E. O. (2002). The shadow of exploitation in Weber's class analysis. American Sociological Review, 832-853. https://www.ssc.wisc.edu/~wright/Published%20writing/Weber-ASR.pdf

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