Based upon the authors' personal experiences while studying crack distributors in New York City, this paper discusses a variety of strategies for conducting ethnographic research safely in dangerous settings.
The paper emerges from the authors' many years of experience in conducting both quantitative and qualitative research among abusers and sellers of marijuana, heroin, cocaine, and crack. All of the authors have done much of their work among low-income and minority populations. They systematically trained staff members on issues of personal safety during an ongoing study entitled, "Natural History of Crack Distribution." The authors advise that by projecting an appropriate demeanor, ethnographers can seek others for protector and locator roles, which routinely creates a safety zone in the field and establishes compatible field roles with potential subjects. This paper also suggests strategies for avoiding or handling sexual approaches, common-law crimes, fights, drive-by shootings, and contacts with the police. When integrated with other standard qualitative methods, ethnographic strategies help to ensure that no physical harm comes to the field workers and other staff members. Moreover, the presence of researchers may actually reduce, rather than increase, potential and actual violence among crack distributors/abusers or others present in the field setting. 62 references
Date Published: January 1, 1992
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