Criminological Ethnography: Risks, Dilemmas and Their Negotiation

Published 13/10/2004
Type Article
Author(s) Joe Yates
Corresponding Authors Joe Yates, De Montfort University


Criminological research has historically focused on the crimes of marginalised sections of the population and in particular marginalised young people. However, very rarely are marginalised young people provided with an opportunity to ‘tell their story’ and have their voices meaningfully heard in the research process. In this paper it is argued that ethnographic methodological approaches afford researchers the opportunity to generate in depth appreciative data, which can improve criminological understanding of how young people experience life on the margins of society and can also provide respondents a with ‘voice’ (Becker, 1967). However, Yates argues that whilst ethnography brings a number of strengths it also presents researchers with a range of risks and ethical dilemmas, which require careful consideration. He argues that these issues relate to the level of immersion and reduction of social distance, which are central to the approach. Yates draws on his experience of conducting an ethnographic study of youth and crime in a working class
community over a 20 month period to illustrate some of the ethical dilemmas which can arise when employing this methodological approach. The paper incorporates a discussion of how ethical issues relating to researching marginalised communities, generating data on criminal activity and child protection issues were negotiated in a flexible yet defensible manner.