Fear and loathing in the field

Emotional dissonance and identity work in ethnographic research

Simon Down*, Karin Garrety, Richard Badham

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article

22 Citations (Scopus)


This paper seeks to open up for discussion the emotional world of researchers in a manner that encourages and supports reflective practice. Drawing on the work of Clifford Geertz (1968) we focus on the irony inherent to research - elaborated via the concept of covertness- whereby ethnographic researchers construct mutual fictions in their relationships with respondents, which obscure the authenticity and sincerity of the emotional exchange between researcher and researched. Specifically we discuss examples of interpersonal dynamics which generate uncomfortable emotions and identity work on the part of researchers. Ultimately, we advance understanding of how emotions and identity work influence the collection and interpretation of data. The methodological implications for conducting ethnographic research are discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)87-107
Number of pages21
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2006

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