The ‘problem’ of undesigned relationality: Ethnographic fieldwork, dual roles and research ethics

Kirsten Bell

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Perhaps the most unique feature of ethnographic fieldwork is the distinctive form of relationality it entails, where the ethnographer's identity as a researcher is not fixed in the way typical of most other forms of research. In this paper, I explore how this 'undesigned relationality' is understood, both in procedural ethics frameworks and by the different disciplines that have come to claim a stake in the 'method' itself. Demonstrating that the ethical issues it entails are primarily conceptualized via the lens of the 'dual role', I use this as a means of exploring the ideal relationship between researcher and subject that procedural ethics frameworks are premised upon. I go on to explore the epistemological differences in ways that ethnographers themselves understand and respond to the multiple forms of relationality that characterize fieldwork and the challenge this poses to the possibility of a pan-disciplinary consensus on ethnographic research ethics.

© 2018, SAGE. This is an author produced version of a paper published in ETHNOGRAPHY uploaded in accordance with the publisher’s self- archiving policy. The final published version (version of record) is available online at the link below. Some minor differences between this version and the final published version may remain. We suggest you refer to the final published version should you wish to cite from it.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)8-26
Issue number1
Early online date18 Oct 2018
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2019


  • Ethnography
  • dual roles
  • research ethics
  • relationality
  • disciplinarity

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