Kathleen M. Blee 'Access and Methods in Research on Hidden Communities: Reflections on Studying U.S. Organized Racism'
Fieldwork on hidden communities raises complex questions about the relationship of scholars to those they study. This paper uses two studies of women in racist groups in the United States to explore how scholars can question what is hidden in hidden communities, how valid knowledge can be created in studies of hidden communities, and the ethical issues that arise in research on hidden communities.
Jennifer Fleetwood, 'Emotional work: ethnographic fieldwork in prisons in Ecuador'
Prolonged periods collecting data alone and away from home are established aspects of doctoral research. Where we seek to engage with people and place, both physically and intellectually, emotional engagement frequently follows. Recently, there has been a heightened awareness of the role of emotions in research. In this paper I offer an 'anatomy' of emotions in my doctoral field research on women in the international drugs trade in prisons in Ecuador. Drawing on fieldnotes, I examine how emotional engagement with prisons and inmates affected me personally and emotionally. In particular, I will examine how conducting research in a 'hidden' community with a stigmatised population affected me. I will also consider how, as a PhD student, I brought emotional needs to the field that affected how I understood my emotions in (and in reaction to) the field that I worked. I conclude that whilst emotional engagement may be a useful (and perhaps unavoidable) aspect of ethnographic research, gaining emotional distance remains an important tool in ethnographic research.
Christopher Kidd, 'Engaging Anthropology in South West Uganda'
There is often discussion amongst experienced researchers and those starting out in research about whether their position in ethnographic investigation should be modelled on the detached scientist or the engaged human being (see for example Bennett 1996, Bryman 2004). This paper suggests that the perceived dichotomies of detached/engaged, objective/subjective and reason/emotion are not mutually exclusive terms and should not be imposed on the researcher or the social sciences. Using examples drawn from my 16 month PhD fieldwork I will argue that the question of objectivity is largely irrelevant as researchers are inherently bound within social relations that demand their involvement as engaged human beings whether they choose to be or not. I suggest that it would be much more useful for researchers in the social sciences to acknowledge our social engagement and find productive ways to understand the effects our relationships have on our research and the wider world that we are part of.
My research and present employment attempts to support the heavily discriminated and marginalised Batwa of South West Uganda. Through trying to understand the agendas and discourses of 'Western' conservation and development initiatives on the lives of these communities, I have become intimately engaged in those same communities' struggle for survival. I have found it difficult to objectively and rationally observe my work at a distance and deny my engagement in the lives of the people I work with. I have found it equally difficult to maintain the analytical distance I have needed to produce robust analysis. In response to the context I work in I have become an active agent in the Batwa's struggle for self-determination. This article attempts to discuss my own effort to negotiate these issues and the effects they have had on myself and those that I have worked amongst during my periods of research and work.
Dr. Jeffrey Stevenson Murer, 'Overcoming Mixed Feelings about Mixed Methodologies: Complex Strategies for Research among Hidden Populations'
Choosing a methodological approach for any research problematique can be difficult; choosing such an approach for complex social research agendas, especially those exploring issues or behaviours among hidden populations can pose even greater challenges. This article explores some strategies to overcome those challenges through the employment of mixed research methodologies. To do so, the article discusses two studies among hidden populations in Central Europe, and explores the different techniques employed to preserve or enhance the intersubjective quality of engagements with respondents. In particular the article examines the outcomes of two mixed strategies: the use of empathetic interview engagements modeled on the psychodynamic concept of the working alliance, and the use of personal construct devices, including the spatial mapping of respondents' daily travel, of their perception of physical environments, their social networks, and their personal relationships to authority. The enhanced interview technique is designed to minimize the cues from the interviewer to the respondent and further open the discursive space between the two for greater latitude in the encounter. This is accomplished by a greater awareness of the content and form of the prompts given by the interviewer. Similarly the interactive tasks when the respondents graphically depict their everyday encounters in their social world focuses the encounter on the respondents' personal constructs. This technique is especially useful in combination with more structured interviews, as the personal construct exercises open freeform engagements, prime structured responses, and provide respondents with the opportunity to reflect on their experiences and introduce concepts that may not be captured through the structured interviews.
Laura Piacentini, 'Russian prisons: Bringing a riddle out of hiding'
Prisons are both hidden and visible institutions. They are mostly unseen and almost always unfelt. Few in the public sphere enter but of those held captive, many return. The prison is also the persistent material and metaphorical symbol of state power and, therefore, highly visible. As a hidden community, prison has been described as a peculiar location for social research. It is a well-bounded space where enormous bureaucracies and conflicts can render officials suspicious of the researcher and prisoners weary and afraid. Nowhere does the prison reflect extreme forms of exclusion and punitive exceptionality than in Russia where, for almost an entire century, the prison functioned way beyond crime control in the usual sense, growing on a massive scale to camp-like proportions. In this paper, I aim to re-animate the discussion on doing research in prisons by exploring the distinctive 'tensions' between hiddenness and visibility in Russian jails. I argue that employing alternative methodological frameworks are useful in understating better the trajectory of penal systems in sites undergoing change and transition.