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‘Private life’ and ‘work life’: difficulties and dilemmas when making and maintaining friendships with ethnographic participants

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This paper addresses the difficulties and dilemmas that may occur when friendships are formed with participants during an ethnographic research project. The ongoing, reciprocal relationships developed with participants are considered essential in the data collection of ethnography, as an avenue through which research can be carried out. However, while friendships in the field may open new doors to research, they can also create new (ethical) challenges. This paper revisits these issues, alongside research ethics guidelines, using three different scenarios: the negotiation of methods of contact, the maintenance of contact with participants and the sharing of research diaries with participants. From these discussions, two issues arise that may have implications for future ethnographic research: the obstacle of social networking websites and the negotiation of appropriate research ethics when participants become our friends.

Keywords: ethical dilemmas; ethnography; friendship; relational confidentiality; research ethics; social networking websites

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Department of Geography, University of Liverpool, Roxby Building, Liverpool L69 7ZT, Email:

Publication date: 2009-09-01

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