The politics of access in fieldwork: immersion, backstage dramas, and deception

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Gaining access in fieldwork is crucial to the success of research, and may often be problematic because it involves working in complex social situations. This article examines the intricacies of access, conceptualizing it as a fluid, temporal, and political process that requires sensitivity to social issues and to potential ethical choices faced by both researchers and organization members. Our contribution lies in offering ways in which researchers can reflexively negotiate the challenges of access by (a) underscoring the complex and relational nature of access by conceptualizing three relational perspectivesinstrumental, transactional, and relationalproposing the latter as a strategy for developing a diplomatic sensitivity to the politics of access; (b) explicating the political, ethical, and emergent nature of access by framing it as an ongoing process of immersion, backstage dramas, and deception; and (c) offering a number of relational micropractices to help researchers negotiate the complexities of access. We illustrate the challenges of gaining and maintaining access through examples from the literature and from Rafael's attempts to gain access to carry out fieldwork in a police force.

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