On the Outside Looking In: Ethnography and Authoritarianism

David Stroup, J. Paul Goode

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Despite the common assumption that ethnography is most successful where researchers achieve recognition as an insider within the communities they study, conducting research in non-democracies inverts incentives to conduct ethnographic research as an insider and poses unexpected ethical risks to both researchers and respondents. Rather than increasing trust and facilitating access, cultivating insider roles in non-democracies may have the unintended effects of encouraging conformity with regime discourses, limiting further fieldwork access, and exacerbating respondents’ tendency towards epistemic deference. Drawing on the authors’ research experiences and the growing literature on fieldwork in non-democracies, this article argues that outsider roles may be preferable to insider roles for identifying the unspoken rules, assumptions, and taken-for-granted aspects of everyday politics in non-democracies. Moreover, outsider roles clarify the relationship between researcher and respondent in ways that provide clear ethical advantages in terms of consent, value, and risk.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages16
JournalPerspectives on Politics
Publication statusPublished - 7 Mar 2023


  • Ethnography
  • fieldwork
  • authoritarianism
  • qualitative methods
  • ethics


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