Ashe, S., Fraser, A. and Piacentini, T. (2009) ‘Introduction: Critical Issues in Researching ‘Hidden Communities’’. In: eSharp - Special Issue: Critical Issues in Researching Hidden Communities. Glasgow: University of Glasgow; 1 - 9.
This collection of papers represents the culmination of a two-year postgraduate initiative at the University of Glasgow, revolving around research with ‘hidden communities’. The papers presented in this issue brings together both early-stage researchers and experienced academics from anthropology, criminology, sociology and political science, to discuss the personal and practical realities of carrying out research with social groups that are difficult to access.
The Special Issue explores research across contrasting research sites with a variety of groups including: racist groups and racist activists in the United States (Kathleen Blee); drug traffickers in Ecuadorian prisons (Jennifer Fleetwood); indigenous peoples from the Central African Rain Forest (Christopher Kidd); male and female prisoners and guards from a number of prison colonies in Russia (Laura Piacentini); nationalists expressing anti-Semitic sentiment in Hungary and young people participating in radical social and political mobilisation in Central and Nordic Europe (Jeffrey Murer).
As a whole, the papers offer honest and pragmatic guidance on the myriad of unique and sensitive issues involved with such research. This advice is most apposite for postgraduate researchers, who may feel isolated and alone in confronting these dilemmas; however, we hope that the papers make a contribution to more esoteric debates relating to research on sensitive subjects. The papers connect first-hand research experiences with longstanding social science debates on the interplay between engagement and detachment; objectivity and subjectivity; reflexivity and transparency; and the increasingly complex relationship between the global, the national and the local. Our hope is that the papers presented will contribute to ongoing debates whilst prompting new avenues for further discussion, both within the postgraduate community and beyond.