9th Conference European Sociological Association

RN20 Qualitative Methods

2009-09-04 09:00:00 2009-09-04 10:30:00 Friday, 4 September 09:00 - 10:30 Ethnography Building II, B2.01

Ethnographic deceptions

Based on personal ethnographic experiences in particularly sensitive settings, I argue that while ethnography is usually referred to as a non-intrusive, naturalistic method, in fact it involves a reasonable amount of cautious and thoughtful manipulation on the part of the ethnographer. Indeed, both in my experience of street ethnography in drug-ridden housing estates and of institutional ethnography in a detention centre for juvenile delinquents, I have come to realize that there are quite a few deceptions in the ethnographic business (Fine, 1993).
First, impression management (Hammersley and Atkinson, 1983) can easily slip into chameleonic opportunism. Where exactly is the line between self-conscious impression management and the manipulation of relationships with the subjects in the field?
Second, though reciprocity between the ethnographer and the subjects in the field is unquestionably an ethnographic value, the truth is that, in the vast majority of cases, the ethnographer has much more to gain from the research than the subjects in the field (Bourgois, 1996: 47).
Third, it is virtually impossible, at least in some contexts, to carry out an ethnography without getting one's hands dirty. Ethnography is not an aseptic process, and ethical options are not uncontroversial. Thus, the ethnographer is anything but immaculate. For example, when he/she establishes a frontier between tolerable and intolerable evil, or when stating the whole truth succumbs in face of the need to manage relationships in the field.

- Bourgois, P. (1996). In Search of Respect - selling crack in El Barrio. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
- Hammersley, M., and Atkinson, P. (1983). Ethnography - principles in practice. London: Tavistock Publications.
- Fine, G. A. (1993). "Ten lies of ethnography". In Contemporary Journal of Ethnography, 22(3), 267-294.