EASA2016: Anthropological legacies and human futures

Undisclosed research and the future of ethnographic practice [Anthropology of Confinement Network]
Location U6-35
Date and Start Time 22 July, 2016 at 09:00
Sessions 2


  • Ines Hasselberg (University of Oxford) email
  • Carolina Boe (AAU, Denmark) email
  • Melanie Griffiths (University of Bristol) email

Mail All Convenors

Short Abstract

Whether and under what conditions can undisclosed research be ethically grounded? Taking stock of past and current uses of undisclosed research this panel seeks to reflect on its implications for the future of anthropology.

Long Abstract

Taking stock of past and current uses of undisclosed research, this panel seeks to reflect on its implications for the future of anthropology. Undisclosed research is highly problematical as acknowledged by ethical guidelines within and beyond anthropology. After all we are bound by the principles of informed consent and 'do no harm'. Yet, in certain circumstances (confinement, crime, illegality, etc.) access to institutions, practices and subjects may be limited or denied altogether to researchers. As such anthropologists often combine different roles in the field: they are not just researchers - they are also legal representatives, social workers, volunteers, teachers… Adopting multiple roles, with or without disclosure, raises in turn multiple ethical dilemmas.

This panel does not seek to assert a position forward or against undisclosed research but rather to bring to light how deception is currently used in anthropology and encourage its adequate discussion. Is it ever desirable, or even permissible, to sidestep full disclosure of the researcher's aims and positionality if that is the only way to obtain information (provided there is no harm to subject other than the deception)? Or does such a decision demand the consideration of the importance of that data? Are some actors more deserving of disclosure than others (e.g., a coercive institution versus the people who are confined within)? Under what conditions can undisclosed research be ethically grounded? We invite empirical, historical and conceptual contributions that address these issues from a variety of standpoints.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


Autoethnography in the field of undisclosed research: an ethical debate

Authors: Elisa Alegre Agís (Universitat Rovira i Virgili; Medical Anthropology Research Center (URV) )  email
Sandra Fernández Garrido (University of Granada)  email
Josep Comelles (Universitat Rovira i Virgili)  email

Short Abstract

We analyse ethical implications of the autoethnographies developed as undisclosed research in Spanish context from 1980. The paper is a contribution to rethink relations among personal experience, time, undisclosed research and autoethnography.

Long Abstract

As a research method, the autoethnography is built as a dialectic process between culture and the researcher's experience. The autoethnographical sources cover from critical thoughts about lived process during the research (anthropology at home), until the classic ones in which the researcher belongs to the researched group (native autoethnographies).

This paper presents a historical review about autoethnographical contributions developed in anthropological Spanish context based on undisclosed research. Two pioneer examples took place in Tarragona School from the eighties: Oscar Guasch and Marta Alluè. Both authors systematize their personal experience which give rise to an autoethnographical text, wrote after the lived experience. While Oscar Guasch based his anthropological study on discourses and practises of power around homosexual subculture, Marta Alluè is located as a survivor and patient after a grave accident. We propose a reflection about contributions and ethical implications of the autoethnographies based on undisclosed researches. The analysed autoethnographies show how authors take their experience and become it into an undisclosed research when they decide using it as an object of study and building an autoethnographical text. Consequently, we discuss about the ethical involvement of using personal experiences which took place before the idea of making a research in the analysed sources.

Online self representation of a sex tourist: an unethical ethnography

Author: Alberto Gerosa (Chinese University of Hong Kong)  email

Short Abstract

The ethnography analyzes a Westerners' sex tourism community, and the representations of their own travels. As contact has not been established and consent has not been granted, the project poses ethical and legal issues.

Long Abstract

I analyze an international online community of male heterosexual sex tourists. Aim of this community is promoting the 'Tourist' lifestyle among wealthy westerners, and exchanging information on travel destinations in developing countries, mainly through audiovisual content and blog entries. In the process of conducting this Ethnography I have contacted but never reached the tourists, thus completing it without ever acquiring their consent or permission, or that of the sex workers who appear in the videos.

This research might therefore be considered illegal (not only from a mere copyright point of view), and unethical.

The online platform has been public from 2006 till spring 2013, videos were uploaded on youtube and embedded in the website, reaching more than 8 million views in january 2011 and becoming the second most watched German Youtube channel in early 2012.

Focusing exclusively on people's self representations is an attempt to bring ethnography to a degree where conventional approaches could not go, regarding people's images online as actors with agency.

Following Gramscian interpretation of intellectuals constantly re/negotiating their power with their own and especially other classes, the power relation between ethnographer and subjects of this study becomes crucial.

Behind closed doors: some notes on sensitive research, disclosure, and the line between living and researching

Author: Taylor Riley (BIGSAS, University of Bayreuth)  email

Short Abstract

Drawing on personal fieldwork experiences, I discuss the line of disclosure between ‘work’ and ‘life’, which is represented by the paradox of ethnography as both synonymous with and separate from the everyday life of the researcher, and continuously constructed.

Long Abstract

Disclosure has been a key tenet of ethnographic practice guided by ethical principles, a critical aspect of anthropology in the academy. However ‘covert’ research can be approved by ethics committees, and find its way into the ethical framework of projects on sensitive or ‘dangerous’ issues and information. Yet it is these topics, those deemed sensitive, that can on the other hand be seen as those where disclosure is all the more important. The line between the ethnographic and the everyday is both iterated and blurred in practice; drawn and redrawn along personal ethical lines. For myself, studying gender and sexuality within a population sometimes deemed vulnerable, these issues have made my work both problematic and rich, often coming up as a result of the epistemological issues of having and being a (female) body in the field. I consider these issues alongside those in other works, including those acknowledged by Gloria Wekker (2006) in her intimate ethnography of one woman’s life. Within such dilemmas about disclosure within the ‘public’ and ‘private’, it is interesting to consider where our ethical considerations protect those individuals we research with, where they speak for and silence them, and thus where they might seek to prevent epistemic violence but may actually commit it. This speaks to similar issues within broader non-fiction and other narrative, and begs the question as to whether anthropology ‘going public’ might alleviate or exacerbate our concerns about disclosure, sensitive information, and where and when research itself is meant to begin and end.

“Why do you cover your hair?”: complexity of gender and ethical dilemmas in doing ethnography among young male refugees

Author: Árdís Ingvarsdóttir (University of Iceland)  email

Short Abstract

This paper focuses on access and trust building with participants, gender performances and danger of a female researcher doing ethnography on masculinities in current Athens, Greece.

Long Abstract

The current refugee migration has caused much attention from scholars from various fields. Methodological dialogues on the ethical dilemmas, the complication of access and the intersectional power position of the researcher is, therefore of importance in doing research on this diverse group in vulnerable situation.

In this paper I will discuss the complexity of gender performances and the embedded role of the researcher in context to varied locations and transnational patriarchies. As an Icelandic female, I faced this issue while doing ethnographic fieldwork in the centre of Athens in 2012 and 2014-2015, where I observed how young men with refugee background moulded their masculinities across their multiple itineraries. My main field was among anarchists, but I was often in close proximity with smugglers, heavy drug users, weaponized police and anti-immigration groups. Sexual harassment was common and I felt myself seen as the exotic other. Partly for security reasons, I dressed in male clothing instead of female. Sex and gender are thought to be only one of the many fences that ethnographers have to face. Moreover, unpacking/repacking gender is a known practice as the researcher dresses to fit better in a new environment. However, the fluidity of gender subjectivity in recent transgender/sexuality research has brought about criticism on the “true gendered self” of the researcher. Researching gender made me consider the effect of my fluid performances and the ethical considerations of it in the field. My outlook showed surveillance of ascribed gender norms and adoption of those who vary from it.

Divergent disclosures: working with prisoners in Nicaragua

Author: Julienne Weegels (Amsterdam Institute for Social Science Research)  email

Short Abstract

What meanings does disclosure acquire in a strongly politicized arena?

Long Abstract

Over the course of my graduate research (2009-2016) with (former) prisoners within and without the Nicaraguan prison system, the issue of research disclosure has acquired different shapes and meanings. Working with prisoners in a double role - both as an ethnographer and as an arts workshop assistant - I made sure all research participants were well informed of my research into their experiences and performances of violence, masculinities, and prisoner 'change of attitude' (a change in behavior promoted through a progressive privilege system). I generally chose not to disclose my research to the respective prison administrations. This partial disclosure, however, was not fixed but rather evolved along with changes in the political landscape surrounding prison. Human rights organizations were effectively denied access to prisons as of 2008, and stricter regulations regarding the authorization of foreign visitors (and journalists) were imposed in 2013. As of then all organizations working in the prisons also needed official political endorsements from the Sandinista government - in power since 2007. The evolvement of the implosion of party, government and institutional politics underlay these restrictive measures. In that same period prison overcrowding and violence, for example, deepened and my commitment to the prisoners and the research project strengthened. In this paper I consider what meanings disclosure acquires in such a strongly politicized arena, to be able to engage in a constructive discussion around different forms of disclosure in ethnographic prison research, divergent priorities, and why such research may still be ethical (even if risky) in such an environment.

Rate-producing processes: mystery shopping of official statistics

Authors: Carmen Lamela (Universidade da Coruna)  email
Antía Pérez-Caramés (University of A Coruna)  email
José María Cardesín (Universidade da Coruña)  email

Short Abstract

We propose an ethnographic disguised approach in order to identify the degree and the ways by which facts are adapted to bureaucratic demands and interests.

Long Abstract

Back in 1963, Kitsuse and Cicourel wrote an article on the drawbacks of official statistics that, although largely forgotten nowadays, became one of the most influential articles on sociology of deviance for decades. In the article, the authors do not settle with a suspicious critique of the official data but propose a new line of research --the study of rate-producing processes by analyzing the institutional decision making in the day-to-day maintenance of statistical records. Many anthropologists have also worried about the social construction of reality through the administrative recording and coding of social facts. For instance, the anthropology of colonialism has shown how often societies adapt to the modes by which they are measured. However, some of the motives behind the rate-producing processes are hardly recognized, in part because they threat the reliability of data (Police officers don't tell about incentives for registering crimes, public schools don´t tell about budget assignments to work with difficult students, agencies do not mention the penalties for incidents or cases that do not fit the established criteria, and rarely do civic servants admit that there are different possible interpretations of the regulations followed). The ethnographic approach to the production of official statistics needs to be partially disguised, in order to catch, for instance, cases of institutional decoupling or cases of forced categorization.

Reflections of a Finnish Prison working environment, during cost-cutting era: fieldwork in a prison

Author: Marja-Liisa Räisänen (University of Turku)  email

Short Abstract

In my paper I reflect the position of an ethnographer in a work community, which is under a severe change in near future. I went to prison to do fieldwork openly telling all the people in what I was going to do, and why.

Long Abstract

In my paper, I present an empirical insight of doing ethnographic fieldwork in a closed institution. I reflect the position of an ethnologist in a very sensitive work community, in a community, which is to be closed down in a near future. I went to prison to do fieldwork openly telling all the people in what I was going to do, and why.

While doing fieldwork in a prison, I experienced many surprising situations leading to reflections, such as how the prison workers´ emotions and thoughts of the ongoing situation in the prison were revealed to me, the outsider of the working community. Nevertheless I did tell everyone, what I was doing and why. I thought it was the only way to collect information of the situation in the work place. The workers felt betrayed, and they didn't trust anyone. To my opinion undisclosed research is highly problematical in the field of prison studies.

This paper is based on my doctoral dissertation study a prison work community. In my thesis I reflect the position of an ethnographer in a undisclosed work environment, and in a delicate work community. In addition, my research question is to find an answer to the question how a Finnish government decision from 2003 to increase the productivity of the public sector reflects prison officers' daily life.

Anthropology of ‘counter’ experiences: researching the meaning of changed states of mind in alternative lifestyles

Author: Reda Satuniene (Siauliai University)  email

Short Abstract

Presentation thesis is focused on ways, and reasons of undisclosed research circumstances in Lithuanian alternative cultures. Theses are based focused on meanings of experimenting with psychoactive substances, practical research, and paper writing challenges.

Long Abstract

Theses are based on current author’s study (to be published in 2016), focused on understandings, and meanings of experimenting with psychoactive substances. In the presentation, interconnections of marginality, being “on edge”, subterranean values cultivated in alternative cultures are discussed. Research emphasizes emic perspective of researcher in order to reveal the meaning of beliefs and practices of using illegal substances in various contexts. Anthropological methods to collect empirical research data (years 2002-2004, 2015-2016; esearch participants age range from 19 to 43) were used: observations, participant observations, non formal discussions, group documents analysis, filling the research diary.

The main problematic issue of this presentation is focused on extrapolations of undiscloseness of empirical research for sensitive, and both very personal data of research participants, who belong to different social groups, has different backgrounds. There are many important aspects in anthropological research process included: personal relations, mutual trust, natural rise of personal and formal relationship, deep (and long) integration to the subculture researched, validity and correct interpretation of research data. From the other side, researching sensitive topics puts a researcher in an ambiguous position, which the thesis will discuss in more detail.

Key words: illegal practices, understanding of counter experiences, sensitive anthropological research, research ethics, alternative culture.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.