Accepted Paper:

Encounters with secrecy when studying security  
Erella Grassiani (University of Amsterdam)Tessa Diphoorn (Utrecht University)

Paper short abstract:

In this paper we aim to explore the role of secrecy when studying powerful actors working in 'security'. Through an exploration of our fieldwork experiences we aim to provide further insight into methodological issues surrounding security, secrecy, and researching covert and sensitive topics.

Paper long abstract:

Many of our informants don't tell us the whole truth and often they are pretty straightforward about it. Their work is 'secret', 'sensitive', and too important to be made available to the curious anthropologist. During our ethnographic fieldwork on (private) security in Israel and Kenya, we were regularly confronted with such informants who performed secretive behaviour with regards to sharing data and their knowledge of security issues. While the last decade has seen an increase of anthropological studies on security, including topics as private security, military, gangs and security sector reform, which paid attention to an array of issues that could emerge when conducting ethnographic fieldwork on security, secrecy has not been fully explored within these works.

In this proposed paper, we aim to explore the role of secrecy in studying powerful actors within the 'world of security'. This entails looking at secrecy itself, at how secrecy influences the way data is represented to us by informants, how it affects the relationship between the researchers and researched, and how these various processes impact the way we interpret and analyse our data. Additionally, we ask how the role of secrecy influences the growing demand on anthropologists to make their data publicly available. How can we incorporate this demand of ethical standards and those we face in the field of security? Through an exploration of our fieldwork experiences in two different contexts, we aim to provide further insight into methodological issues surrounding security, secrecy, and researching covert and sensitive topics.

Panel P095
Spaces of security [Anthropology of Security] [PACSA]