Undercover research is an emotive and controversial field often equated with deception and transgression. Using classic examples and contemporary case studies this book challenges covert research’s dispersed place within the social sciences and rehabilitates its reputation as a powerful research method. Drawing in part on his own undercover research into the night-time economy of bouncers, the author explores the roots and evolution of covert research; his deft treatment of the fear and fascination within furtive fieldwork is grounded in the practicality of the methods and tools needed to conduct quality research in the field. Packed with learning-by-example tips, this book shows that with critical imagination and proper ethical foundations, covert research could be a great addition to your methodological toolkit.

What is Covert Research?

1.1 Popular definitions of covert research

Turning to the initial task, it is important here to briefly survey some populist definitions of covert research from introductory textbooks because students will typically gain a basic understanding of the field from such sources, which then becomes a type of conventional wisdom on the field.

Holloway broadly defines covert research as ‘research processes in which researchers do not disclose their presence and identity as researcher and participants have no knowledge of their research identity’ (1997: 39). Macionis and Plummer claim: ‘In sociology, the dilemma appears where the researcher conceals his or her identity and “cons” his way into a new group’ (2005: 64). Giddens adds: ‘Indeed, some of the most valuable data that have been ...

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