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Critical ethnography in national security institutions: methodological and ethical reflections

Wright, Hannah (2023) Critical ethnography in national security institutions: methodological and ethical reflections. PS - Political Science and Politics, 56 (1). 94 - 98. ISSN 1049-0965

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Identification Number: 10.1017/S1049096522000762


Although ethnographic methods have yielded important insights into the inner workings of many political institutions, their use in the study of institutions engaged in national security policy making and practice has been more limited. Common features of security institutions raise methodological and ethical concerns for participant observers: they are hard to access, handle classified information, and their proximity to the use of violence creates challenges for researchers who adopt critical perspectives toward the framing and practice of national security. This article reflects on how critical ethnographers might respond to these challenges, drawing on experiences from a 14-month ethnographically influenced study of UK government departments involved in national security policy making. I argue that even though questions of informed consent and avoiding harm are complicated by the core functions of security institutions and their cultures of busyness and secrecy, navigating these tensions can itself generate useful ethnographic insights into institutional cultures.

Item Type: Article
Official URL:
Additional Information: © 2022 The Author
Divisions: IGA: Centre for Women Peace and Security
Subjects: J Political Science > JF Political institutions (General)
G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GN Anthropology
Date Deposited: 10 Jun 2022 10:12
Last Modified: 26 May 2024 07:42

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