A lovely gate with no Gatekeeper in sight? (open source image from Wikipedia?)
The reading this week is from Hammersley and Atkinson (1995) and relates to how ethnographic or anthropological research should be done. A critical concept is the idea of a ‘gatekeeper’…someone who makes the research happen because they facilitate access…….however there is much more to the chapter than a ‘how to’ perspective. Even if you do get a gatekeeper who helps the research, there is a question of the validity and integrity of the research….can you be sure an accurate and truthful ‘story’ has been achieved?
I think the best way to appoach the piece is with a series of smaller questions:
Why do they suggest it is unwise to start your research simply by assuming that certain topics/people are accessible or not?
What are the problem of doing ethnography in public spaces-where access is not a problem-surely it should be easier, no?
If you cannot really do detailed ethnographic work in public spaces, does that mean hanging around and merely observing is a waste of time?
What do they mean by a “serendipitous development of a research design” in the example of Liebow’s study of an urban street. Was Liebow correct to allow his research design to change?
How important are personal networks in gaining access and does the personal contact always mean better research? For example, in the Nova Scotia example (p.65) why did a personal telephone call NOT work? What does this tell us about using personal networks to gain access?
Are gatekeepers neutral as regards the research they are facilitating? What views and motivations may they have towards the ethnographer …in particular what is the distinction between ‘expert’ and ‘critic’, and what implications do these common gatekeeper views have for researchers?
Can and should ethnographic research be undertaken covertly? What limits might be sensibly placed on such deception, and why should it not be used?
To what extent is the question of access as much a question of timing…should access be asked for straight away?