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Revealing and concealing secrets in research: the potential for the absent
Brian Rappert Qualitative Research 2010 10: 571 DOI: 10.1177/1468794110375229 The online version of this article can be found at: http://qrj.sagepub.com/content/10/5/571
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2009) that detailed the author’s engagement in diplomatic and security communities. absences resulting from what can not be told because it is not known and from what can not be repeated because it should not be stated. Much of the argument amounts to a meta-analysis of the book Experimental Secrets (Rappert. diplomacy.A RT I C L E Revealing and concealing secrets in research: the potential for the absent Q R 571 Qualitative Research Copyright © 2010 The Author(s) http://qrj. This article examines the problems associated with undertaking research in conditions of secrecy in order to ask how the missing could figure as a creative resource in our accounts of the social world. KEYWORDS: anonymity. recurring questions have been posed about the status of research accounts. confidentiality agreements. and other such provisions in place. secrecy. research ethics.com vol. An aim of this article is to ask how the highlighting of secrets and absences could be part of efforts to do justice to our understanding of social life.1177/1468794110375229 Downloaded from qrj. Secrecy in social life raises at least two sets of concerns in this regard: whether we as researchers can gain an adequate appreciation of the situations under study and to what extent we can (and should) discuss them in light of the disclosure rules. UK ABSTRACT Qualitative research accounts are characterized by absences. This is done by shifting away from only treating limits on what can be stated as barriers to representation. DOI: 10. where much of the discussion to date has been bounded by a delimiting ‘ethics of exposure’. Particular attention is given to secrets and absences in relation to the sub-field of autoethnography. autoethnography. It advances an overall strategy of exemplifying the negotiation of revelation and concealment experienced by researchers within the relation between the reader and author in order to convey lived experiences. 2011 .com at University of Sussex Library on May 30. 10(5) 571–587 B R I A N R A P P E RT University of Exeter. Instead. security Introduction Within qualitative traditions.sagepub. I want to ask how they could be incorporated within our writing in order to convey experience.sagepub.
Rappert and Balmer. On the one hand. 1998).. to foster emotional identification (Pelias. 2002. Lee. 2011 . state. On the other hand. With reference to such expansive conceptualizations. 1981). Masco..g. 2003). 1993. 2007). This article seeks to extend an appreciation of the tensions and opportunities associated with the movements of conveying and questioning what is conveyed through research. understood as the deliberate concealment of information. secrets have been defined according to the content of the information concealed. ‘immersion’ takes on some of its most thoroughgoing forms. in Downloaded from qrj.. While raising questions of major significance. Scope for concern about the choices and consequences of researchers’ secrets generally increases as individuals become more immersed in the relations they study. Doing so has resulted in complex treatments of the status of what is being conveyed. 2006: 419–20. As will be contended. The family. The ethical dimensions of what is left in and left out of research accounts vis-à-vis those studies have been subject to much commentary (e. Sparkes. Maintaining the confidentiality or anonymity of those being researched is just one of the ways our accounts entail acts of deliberate concealment. or to encourage connection of solidarity (Smith and Sparkes. Concerns about the pervasiveness and performativity of secrets are not just matters of study for qualitative researchers. 1996.g. where its relevance for interaction derives from what is done through acts of telling. this framing does not exhaust concerns about our narratives. 2006) in order to give voice to marginalized experiences. The manner in which secrets are kept can shape identities and organizational relations (e. many studies strive to express ‘what it was like’ to undergo suffering and loss (AllenCollinson. and commercial enterprises are just some of the sites where the dynamics of concealment are highly pertinent. Conveying and secrecy Secrecy. Researchers working under this heading attempt to reformulate long-standing questions about how to represent aspects of society and culture by starting from their own situated activities (Denzin. Foster et al. this article addresses the telling of secrets with special reference to current debates in autoethnography. 2007). bureaucracies. but also relevant to the production of social analysis. the consequences of its disclosure.com at University of Sussex Library on May 30. 2000). is pervasive across social and public life. for example. personal relations. Gusterson. and the methods by which information is told (Bellman. 2008). Taussig (2003) and De Jong (2007) are among those who have underscored the importance of orientating to secrecy as a social practice. Agar and Balmer. In the sub-field of autoethnography. 2008. it can have implications far beyond who gets to know what.sagepub. discussions about what is withheld from researchers’ accounts in this sub-field have overwhelmingly been couched in terms of an ‘ethics of exposure’. Although secrecy is often equated with the restriction of information (and in this sense opposed to transparency – see.572 Qualitative Research 10(5) In recounting my experience. Murphy and Dingwall.
In relation to what is deliberately left out of autoethnographic accounts.com at University of Sussex Library on May 30. see Baez  for a wider analysis).g. Yet this diversity also signals the open-endedness of any particular description and. 2004). 2006. fictitious alterations. the contingencies of any one. 2008: 842) spoke to this aim in suggesting the offering of stories of the self can become ‘a transgressive act – a revealing of what has been kept hidden. That overview laid out ethical concerns along three dimensions: *The procedural ethics that relates to long standing issues such as confidentiality and informed consent. (2006: 49) echoed this characterization in stating: Being prepared to write and publish autobiographical work calls for the writer to possess sufficient courage to reveal what is usually kept private and bring it into the public arena (Kawalilak and Dudley. while seeking to resist the closures and dichotomies that traditionally underlie social sciences. typically addressed through bureaucratic oversight measures. In a similar vein of drawing attention to the moral ambivalences associated with revealing. Much of the literature in this field treats writing as bringing into view what would otherwise be out of sight. for instance. *The situational ethical dilemmas and the discomforts that can arise during fieldwork.. While autoethnography overall is characterized by a complex and nuanced treatment of the status of representations.. the situation is different in relation to the status of what researchers withhold from their accounts. Poulos (2008: 53. Deletions. which may be distressing or difficult for the researcher (Johnstone. 2006) told about secrets in his family with a view to exploring: Downloaded from qrj. 2002). Pratt. a speaking of what has been silenced – an act of reverse discourse that struggles with the preconceptions borne in the air of dominant politics’. 2006. Self-narratives may also pose a threat to the audience where reading of the narrative results in uncomfortable feelings. 1994). thereby. Boylorn. and intentionally partial accounts are strategies advocated by her to craft narratives that are designed to address ethical concerns (see Jones et al. The varied and innovative textual and performance styles in autoethnography is one of its strengths.sagepub. This form of writing may be seen as hazardous in that it requires a significant use of self-disclosure and honesty. As has been argued. autoethnographies can only but struggle to do so (Davies et al.. outside of matters of ethics. 1996). Ellis (2007). 2011 . *The relational ethics of assuming responsibility for our actions and consequences of our stories on those being researched.Rappert: Revealing and concealing secrets in research 573 questioning conventions many autoethnographies are also often mindful of the contingencies and limits of any account of social life (e. 1999). Park-Fuller (2000: 26. 2006 as well).. as well as possible response strategies. identification or insights on the part of the reader (Bochner and Ellis. provided an overview of the types of ethical issues that arise in writing ethnographies and autoethnographies. quoted from Rolling. and see Goodall. some investigators have sought to acknowledge the stories told are not and should not be all out revelations (Jones et al. Foster et al.
about the perils and the promises of secret keeping and secret breaking and about the healing power of storying our secrets into the light. The overall strategy advocated is to exemplify the negotiation of what is disclosed and what is hidden in the social world within our narratives. or treating the missing as the outcome of preventive ethical measures. Likening the writing of autoethnographies to a process of ‘outing’. and specifically autobiographical-type writing.1 In line with the orientation in autoethnography of seeking to convey experiences FPO Downloaded from qrj. the goal is to ask how what is absent could purposefully function as a creative aspect of qualitative writing. she advocated researchers confront ethical questions about what is and ought to be left missing. Rather than orientating to the hidden as needing to be outed. It does so along a particular track though.sagepub. Medford (2006) sought to bring attention to the mindful slippages in autoethnographic accounts – in other words what is deliberately not included because of the way this might act to ‘hold a critical mirror to our lives’ (2006: 859).574 Qualitative Research 10(5) the dark contours of a life of secrecy. Beyond revelation and protection The remainder of this article takes up this call by Medford to attend to the absent in those research accounts that give central place to the experiences of researchers. 2011 . In asking what is concealed from research accounts.com at University of Sussex Library on May 30. It is an article about the ethics of revelation and about the deep connection that can come when someone musters the courage to tell the story.
seminars. These restrictions mean that those outside of a select few that wish to take the measure of how officials assess security threats Downloaded from qrj.com at University of Sussex Library on May 30. the proposal here is to find ways of understanding the place of secrets in the social world through attending to what is left out of our accounts. Moreover. Especially in the areas of security and international relations. When one party claims possession of knowledge that can not be shared with others. and symposiums where this option and wider concerns about biothreats were formally and informally deliberated.Rappert: Revealing and concealing secrets in research 575 while questioning just what is being conveyed. Offered at an international meeting of officials and policy analysts as a refutation to a presentation by an academic. by starting with the situated experience of a researcher who is taken to be an active participant in events.’ These two quotes suggest some of the ways in which the deliberately withheld figures in the study of security and diplomatic communities. attending to the place of absences can provide a basis for inquiring into what our ‘revelations’ constitute and how they are constituted. autoethnography provides highly fruitful openings for concealing and disclosing while simultaneously attending to the implications of doing so. The extract on the right of a redacted sentence of a Freedom of Information response indicates the deliberate efforts undertaken to withhold government information from outsiders. the predominant focus for this article will be with my participation in numerous open and closed policy meetings. 2011 . but on intelligence matters. These contentions are developed through recounting strategies adopted for writing about my engagement over five years in international diplomatic deliberations in the area of arms control. the quote provides an example of the way it is proposed that the possession of certain types of said vital information demarks some from others.sagepub. The comment on the left speaks to the manner in which claims are made about the asymmetrical possession of knowledge. Within that area. then this declaration figures as a ready-made block to possible counter arguments. 1996). there are those that know and those that speculate. 2006: 62) in order to convey what we understand to be the case. what is sought is to use the ‘interplays of silence and absence that reside in between what is articulated and what might also be true’ (Goodall. As will be maintained. most especially my involvement in the development of international codes of conduct to prevent the life sciences from contributing to the development of new weaponry (see Rappert. 2009). In this way. open government has its limits and can be seen to have its limits (see Gusterson. Doing secrets ‘I don’t want to sound insulting.
Yet despite this indeterminacy and the pervasiveness of this and other vague disclosure rules. much latitude can exist in what to leave out of descriptions owing to vague disclosure rules. With the goal of epitomizing the dynamics between those in the communities under study in the relation between author and reader. More generally though. Would it be a violation of the rule to say the quote above on the left was given by an American? Presumably not. just what amounts to revealing identity is not clear from the rule itself. and workshops to repeat information heard. in the remainder of this section I want to ask how it is possible to productively topicalize the limits of what is included in social research accounts. or part thereof. Testing the boundaries of how far the revelation of others’ identity can be taken could ride roughshod with confidences placed in us as professionals. but not to censure anything in the first draft to get the story as nuanced and truthful as possible’.576 Qualitative Research 10(5) will struggle to do so. this would have the advantage of making visible (at least some of) the erasures that take place in our reconstructions. participants are free to use the information received.com at University of Sussex Library on May 30. but neither the identity nor the affiliation of the speaker(s). Ellis (2007: 24) advised thinking ‘about ethical considerations before writing. Yet. With such conditions of negotiated disclosure. One of the most famous is called the ‘Chatham House Rule’.2 Secrecy though is not just a feature of these communities but it must be practiced in reporting about them because of disclosure rules. seminars. WRITING SECRETS AND WRITING SELF One mundane way that can be done is by actively highlighting what is left out of our stories through employing the blackening out of details often employed by government agencies. it can be argued that disclosure rules and professional codes of conduct can not exhaustively speak to all eventualities. I have almost no experience of uncertainties being raised about the meaning or scope of the Chatham House Rule. In this regard. you are likely to hear 10 different renditions of it. rather than then censuring through subsequent deletions difficult to detect by readers. is held under the Chatham House Rule. Yet. another possibility is to write as we would like and then blacken out what is judged as impermissible.sagepub. international diplomacy is often portrayed as an endeavor of somewhat doubtful candor wherein many things are left unsaid or encrypted. More widely than these examples. Yet. but what else could be stated might well be disputed.4 As another major source of concern.3 The rule enables those attending meetings. as suggested above. may be revealed. The 2002 updated version of it reads as follows: When a meeting. With the starting concern of providing narratives Downloaded from qrj. nor that of any other participant. it is my experience that in attending 10 events where this rule is stated. At the level of a face reading. 2011 . choices made about writing strategy take on some significance.
Like confessions. 2011 . this form of telling represents one way of responding to the uncertainty about what is allowed by disclosure agreements. It is a matter of speculation for the reader whether the author is the joke teller.com at University of Sussex Library on May 30. At least some (albeit engineered) hesitation could minimize the most problematic hazards associated with the suggestion we as researchers are ‘storying our secrets into the light’ (Poulos. there will be times when it can be difficult for the [researcher] and his/her collaborators to have the necessary awareness of the different roles and their Downloaded from qrj. the responder. Without this identification. the official version of the Chatham House Rule allows individuals to identify their own talk seems disputable. Under a strict reading of the official version.’ ‘But that would put you out of a job. autoethnography directs us towards the one person a researcherauthor can experiment with regarding what counts as identification: himself or herself. one centered on sharing what is off limits to others (see Rodriguez and Ryave.Rappert: Revealing and concealing secrets in research 577 of the self. an approach I have adopted is to offer varyingly suggestive identifications of myself. wouldn’t it ?’ The blackening out in this case hides the name of the individual made the butt of the joke. In response to such uncertainty. in general. the answer would appear to be ‘no’ because this would entail identifying a participant to a meeting. but also the implications of telling secrets. The indication of access to what is typically off limits provides a basis for setting apart the secret teller (see Gunn. Whether. Especially when we position ourselves as co-participants in events rather than as mere observers of them. Both within social interactions as well as in the relation between researchers and their readers. or the object of ridicule. 1992). a listener. Appearing on its own without any suggestion of who is party to the exchange. Speaking about highly participatory forms of research. recounted from international meeting regarding the nexus between advanced science and new weaponry: ‘How did you get rid of the threat of bioterrorism?’ ‘I don’t know?’ ‘Stop talking about it. Greenwood (2002: 118) commented that. Consider these points and others in relation to the exchange below. for instance. though. it would never be possible to repeat what one directly heard. 2005). Yet. the revealing of otherwise hidden information has implications for how the teller is understood. Writing accounts of events with varyingly suggestive identifications of the author in the situations under study – through the use of redacted text and withholding of certain details – provides one way of foregrounding the contingencies of disclosure rules. revelations invite the reader into a moral relation with the teller.sagepub. Adopting such a playful orientation can not only be used to flag the contingencies of what is included in research accounts. such a cautious orientation is arguably not necessary. 2008: 53). then a playful orientation to author identity in our write-ups can help acknowledge the varying interpretations given of us in our fieldwork interactions.
an issue is where to go from there. As such. Walford (2002) recommended choosing research sites because of their uniqueness rather than their supposed generalizability. the findings of research are constituted as ‘movable. telling stories in such ways parallels the interactional dynamics at play in secrecy laden communities. ethnic groups. replicable. when it is not clear what can be reported from a meeting because of the vague and indeterminate disclosure arrangements in place. The messiness of our place as investigators means that we often do not have anything like a rounded grasp of how we are seen by others. then it is necessary to explore ways of acknowledging and working with our uncertain and negotiated status. but also representational ones. in relation to concerns about the link between anonymization and the formation of questionable generalizations. Another technique is to systematically detail what preceded and followed an event. researchers often hear upshot glosses and must piece together what happened at certain events that could not be attended. After recognizing the potential for what is left out to bolster what is taken as in them. genders. If autoethnography is to go beyond the goal of communicating situated actions. A different way forward in line with the drive of this article is to topicalize the missing. they can then be added to the general knowledge in the social sciences. W R I T I N G S E C R E T S A N D W R I T I N G T H E WO R L D Disclosure limits have more than ethical dimensions. as Walford (2002) argued that questionable generalizations that prove resistant to challenge can be advanced under the banner of protecting actors’ identities. For instance. 2011 . With this basic difficulty come questions about how we present ourselves and others in our writing. and citable’. Nespor (2000: 550) likewise spoke to this point in contending that: Giving people or places pseudonyms and strategically deleting identifying information turns them into usable examples or illustrations of generalizing theoretical categories … in which form they stand in for social classes.com at University of Sussex Library on May 30. For instance. or other theoretical constructs.sagepub. but to noticeably delete it from our accounts. one technique is to offer upshot glosses of the understood implications and import of the event. learner and teacher. In this way. participator and spectator. Herein. 2001). This is due to the inherent complexity [of such roles. move between closeness and distance.578 Qualitative Research 10(5) implications at a given time in a project. institutions. As a somewhat narrow purpose. Both techniques draw attention to the missing elements of our stories. but instead to also critique ourselves as situated actors (as recommended in Spry. it is possible to advance our evaluations of the significance of events. Downloaded from qrj. For instance.] where the researcher should. If we as researchers ‘can not’ give detailed descriptions. and shall.
much conjecture has been evident about what entities such as ‘George Bush’. government Freedom of Information provisions at least offer the possibility of challenging the claims of actors as well as allowing researchers to report on events that would otherwise be off limits. 1990). with the strategic use of the missing comes the possibility of encouraging consideration by readers about what constitutes appropriate action in social research and social life (see Barone. And certainly during the events that the author has participated in. In doing so. Introducing materials gathered from requests after the initial portrayal of the events in question provides one way to reconsider how events are initially interpreted by readers. or ‘the security community’ really think as well as the underlying motivations for statements and actions. The overt blanking of material from social analysis can help promote active and aware attention to the reconstruction of events. It is not just possible to bring to the fore the manner researchers and readers must work to piece together meaning from inevitably partial accounts. techniques highlighting what is absent from our accounts can speak to the manner in which readers of text are generally making connections. What is said only appears to take on significance as a reference to what is not said.com at University of Sussex Library on May 30. including new kinds of desire. With the often glaring redactions from official accounts and their usually obscure text. Informal side discussions – whether at the level of speculative rumour or seemingly more informed assessment – serve what is routinely acknowledged Downloaded from qrj. rumour and gossip have abounded as individuals try to take the measure of what has happened and speculate on what is to come in settings characterized by shifting front and back regions. Writing as a reduction of experience to words requires active participation by the reader. and speculating in relation to what is missing.Rappert: Revealing and concealing secrets in research 579 As a wider purpose. and – above all – gossip. the bounds on the information received as part of such requests can set the basis for a further consideration of what is being revealed and concealed through Freedom of Information ‘disclosures’. For instance. fantasy. in reading a text the reader is ‘drawn into the events and made to supply what is meant from what is not said. As Masco (2001: 451) argued in a study of US national defence labs. the deliberate concealment of information should not simply be understood as a barrier to interactions. but to question how this gets done. In the informal banter. but also unpredictable social effects. 2011 . it is the implications and not the statements that give shape and weight to the meaning’. 2007). but consequential within them (Rappert and Balmer. ‘Iran’. paranoia. As Iser (2002: 293) argued. secrecy is: wildly productive: it creates not only hierarchies of power and repression. in relation to the matters of security in this article. social researchers partaking in worlds infused with secrecy need to consider its implications for social interaction.sagepub. drawing inferences. As has been argued elsewhere. W R I T I N G S E C R E T S A N D W R I T I N G I N T E R AC T I O N S As another dimension of handling absences.
I don’t close my eyes to what happens in this country. Like my parents that didn’t want to ask questions before the war. Yet this might not be deemed to go far enough. In my experience. If those statements related to themes brought up by a particular speaker at a meeting. A way to remove the prospects of such secondary identification would be to jumble together statements taken from different events. I remember it quite clearly. I cannot recall a single publication by an arms control or security studies analyst where statements have been attributed to such conversational settings. I want to ask questions.’ Downloaded from qrj. then others present to the meeting as a whole (but not the side conversation) might be able identify the speaker. Yet. I do have recollections though of statements from disclosure agreement bounded events being repeated as part of oral conversations at subsequent events. 2011 . With the aim in autoethnography of conveying lived experience then. Nice people. No state said anything about fear of science being shut down in the closed sessions. rule indeterminacy about exactly what can be recounted is associated with conservatism in writing. but they avoided asking questions when their neighbors disappeared. providing time for face-to-face dialogue is often a central justification for organizing many events. how might it be possible to give a sense of participating in ‘secret talk’ while also respecting the (albeit vague) disclosure arrangements in place? One way is to present snippets of conversational exchanges taken from a meeting but without any supplementary information about the speakers (for examples of this see the ‘On the Circuit’ chapters in Rappert ).’ ‘I am just saying that what people say in closed sessions is not what they say in the open one.com at University of Sussex Library on May 30.’ ‘Who?’ ‘Well I can not say. I don’t want to be like that. Did you notice it was not in the final report?’ ‘How on Earth did you get the idea that we did the IL-4 experiment on monkeypox?’ ‘Some who would be in a position to know told me. A short rendition of these mixed snippets is as follows: ‘We all know why we are in the situation we are in. as he was reaching for a croissant. Indeed.sagepub.580 Qualitative Research 10(5) as an important facet of the sorts of meetings I attended.’ ‘I am not like most scientists.’ ‘So the foxes are in charge of the coup now?’ ‘Haven’t they always been.
patterns and origins might well be attributed in a manner that reinforces existing beliefs.’ The result of such contortions and precautions is a stilted jumble that hides as it discloses. It is possible to move beyond simply noting the manner in which the desire to keep hidden affects what can be reported. Especially when researchers acknowledge themselves as active participants in the situations depicted.Rappert: Revealing and concealing secrets in research 581 ‘We joked about it as one code to rule them all. As a result. rather than notionally being mere observers of them. Any number of associations might be made between a single statement and others or between statements and individuals.’ ‘All of this talk about bioterrorism. 1982). what is needed is an account that asks how the missing figures in the sequential unfolding of our understanding of events. For instance. Action though is always undertaken in conditions of ‘bounded rationality’ (as in Simon. 1974). wherein we are limited in what we know and our capacity to deal with this information.com at University of Sussex Library on May 30.sagepub. Downloaded from qrj. Motivations. it’s all about fear. an assortment of text that is at once expectant with and bereft of meaning. As part of this. One way of doing this is to consider how researchers as actors orientate to and write about uncertainties and unknowns. For me. And yet. This would hazard providing a flat account that abstracts utterances and actions from the contexts that make them meaningful and the contexts that they make meaningful (Wieder. the limits on understanding are many. any such attributions would have a dubious validity. Certainly working in an emerging security policy area through a disciplinary set of preoccupations. Attempting to gauge the commitments to and intentions behind others’ actions were matters of some difficulty. Knowing how to go on in such settings as a researcher can be rather challenging. 2011 . They are often liable to foster poorly justified conclusions too. Fleeting conversations between diverse individuals discussing complex issues through employing varied professional vocabularies infused by acts of concealment often require inferential leaps. especially given the circumspectness of many interactions. the extremes of truncation and abstraction speak to the hesitations that can be associated with attempts to understand situated talk. Such a representational form though would have advantages of suggesting to a reader what it can be like operating in security and diplomatic settings. then we must make decisions about how to act and represent our action. where the international deliberation about codes of conduct was headed and what it amounted to were the topics I was trying to figure out in the past and ones I am still wrestling with today. what is needed is not only to note various ‘blind spots’ associated with our understanding from one point in time. Instead. it would be rather problematic to give a story that did not accord central place to the importance of the missing from researchers’ accounts.
especially in dealing with uncertain or complex phenomenon that escape straightforward comprehension. raise doubts about the candor of talk. The gaps crafted are meant to speak to the gaps in my understanding of what is going on and my place in it. but not be sure if they were justified patterns or exactly what they were patterns of. such as a pattern of motivations or identity. What is being suggested here then is to have readers to struggle to figure out the ‘big picture’ because this was and is my experience. but to attend to how the circulation of secrets helps constitute understanding. a sense of pattern is both constituted by and constituting of the individual instances. In other words. In no small part. if an account contains various expressions. this is due to the information restrictions in play within security and diplomatic communities. For instance. and underscore the role of trust in social interactions. the suggestions in this sub-section are at odds with the ones sought for traditional techniques in conventional social research. Discussion By considering the complexity of disclosure associated with undertaking research in settings where secrets are rife. As such. this article has looked to writing strategies that entail concealment as a means for revelation – albeit a certain exemplary kind of revelation. Contradictory statements being made that appeared related in some indefinite way to a group or setting would likewise raise questions of interpretation. as explicated through ethnomethodology. 1994).582 Qualitative Research 10(5) In doing this. So. Yet.sagepub. the triangulation of findings derived from different methods of data collection is sometimes used to derive as valid as possible findings. readers might be perceiving patterns. it is possible to disturb the sense of meaning making between patterns and instances over time. and in looking to new forms of writing as new forms of knowing (Richardson. These restrictions make relevant distinctions between front and back region impression management. And yet. realizing that potential Downloaded from qrj. autoethnography provides a helpful starting basis for experimental orientations to disclosure. What is sought here though is not to crack the status of the hidden. 2011 . The limitations of identification of individuals in our writing might be quite productive. So. As argued.com at University of Sussex Library on May 30. 1994). this mutual constitution still remains unsettled and poorly formed in important respects. this pattern is itself formed from the instances (Garfinkel. meaning is often accorded to actions or statements by seeing them as expressions of a pattern. in attending to the conventions and contingencies associated with narratives. Yet for me. in seeking to convey researchers’ lived experiences as active participants in the world. This (selective) problematizing of meaning making then can speak to the doubts that can be associated with social analysts’ – and others’ – attempts to understand what is going on in settings infused with secrecy. but not information about who said them.
2008. With the goals of expressing the lived and emotional experiences of researchers.Rappert: Revealing and concealing secrets in research 583 also requires moving beyond the ‘ethics of exposure’ framing that has bounded much of the imagination in this subfield (and elsewhere in qualitative research) regarding the place of what is left out of social analysis. However. It is often distinguished from other types of ethnography in the centrality of researchers in accounts as well as the goal of evoking a sense of lived experience (e. This argument speaks to wider questions about how autoethnography is conceived as a form of qualitative research. believability. Smith and Sparkes. connections. I have wished to avoid treating the telling of secrets in qualitative studies as straightforward or innocent. the standards of validity. And yet. 2011 . 2001). 2006). verisimilitude. resonance. the evoking sought has been along a particular track. In terms of how this sub-field is conceived though. as in Ellis and Bochner. an important question is whether ‘narratives of the self ’ are grounded on depictions of self in order to achieve some goal or orientates to self depictions as an (another) occasion for questioning how the interaction between the researcher and the social world is understood. more literary and emotionally inspired ones (such as coherence. but they fulfil rhetorical functions in securing expert authenticity and credibility that demand scrutiny as well. As with much of autoethnography (Allen-Collinson and Hockey. this has been a topic of much debate. The identity relations created through the reading of secrets can serve many beneficial goals (such as fostering empathy). and doubts experienced by me as an individual in making sense of a series of events in which I figured.5 The revealing of secrets in autoethnography functions as a move for expert-witness authority for the author. 2008. I have wished to ask how they could be appropriated in a practice of telling (as in Bratich.com at University of Sussex Library on May 30. since these tellings are not simple exposures. 2006). and generalizability held up in much of conventional social research have been discarded by many autoethnographers. In acknowledging how the fashioned revelation and concealment is a feature of our accounts (rather than just being a dynamic of the settings under study). It is the contention Downloaded from qrj.sagepub. Spry. As well.g. 2000: 16–17). Within autoethnography. this article sought a dialogue with autoethnography. the argument in this article aims to contribute to them.. evocation of lived experience has been assumed here to be an important basis for judging accounts. In considering writing strategies intended to provide a sense of the hesitations. it is not sufficient to suggest that a goal of this experimental ethnographic writing form should be to ‘reveal institutional secrets’ (Richardson. As a result. the matter of whether and which criteria should be used remains a topic of lively discussion that animates contests about what constitutes autoethnography (as in Anderson. 2005). While not seeking to resolve these debates. As elaborated in various overviews (Allen-Collinson. 2007). and interest) are favored. instead of deeming secrets to be unfortunate absences or obligatory precautions. Such a suggestion invites attention to the criteria for evaluating research. reliability.
that speak to our lived experiences in situations of managed disclosure. ambiguities. it can be part of trying to understand how accountability is accomplished as a practical activity by those people. and [to] find a textual place for ourselves.com at University of Sussex Library on May 30. Yet the sorts of visible and engineered absences proposed above pose concerns about manipulation similar to those associated with the partial revelations of any other story. More though. It follows that nothing about the techniques mentioned in this article means that they lead to inherently superior analysis by some metric than other forms of writing. the writing about those writing strategies is itself questionable in relation to concerns about manipulation. Attending to place what is absent is one way to try to convey ‘feelings. in its use of absences. blurred experiences. Downloaded from qrj. As a result. and that alert us as to how secrets help secure our claims to knowledge. the scope for concern for how absences figure in social analysis is considerable. this article exemplifies aspects of the writing strategies advocated for addressing absences. Much depends on what is done in practice. Just as moving autoethnographic stories of personal suffering and loss have sought to examine the limits of their own representations and language. the types of writing techniques suggested in this article could be associated with significant dangers about their selectivity. It has not been my intention to offer an escape from the many problems associated with conveying experience. What counts as adequate for that task is not fixed. and particularly how what is printed directs us towards the conditions for our claims to knowledge. In providing only certain (limited) details and elaborations. Indeed. this article could be questioned in relation to how its raises parallel types of concerns about how the missing figured into the arguments.sagepub. our doubts and our uncertainties’ (Richardson. temporal sequences. 2011 . but rather under constant change because of the development of fields of study and the shifting readership for research (Sparkes. In other words. Rather the intent has been to think about ways of writing that sensitize us as researchers to how secrets figure within social relations. the lack of attention to how exposures are carried out and their implications for accounts could lead to the establishment of new forms of unacknowledged conventions. so too can this take place in relation to what is missing from accounts. In contrast. 2000: 11). 2000).584 Qualitative Research 10(5) of this article that autoethnography (in its ‘analytical’ or more ‘evocative’ forms) could best seek to define itself by a commitment to the latter rather than the former. In purporting to attend to what is missing. Considering the parallels and interconnections between the place of secrecy and absences in our research narratives and those we observe in the communities we study is one way for researchers-as-authors to try to ‘hold themselves accountable to the standards of knowing and telling of the people they have studied’ (2000: 15). while necessarily only being able to do so in a limited fashion.
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uk] 587 Downloaded from qrj. (2002) ‘Why Don’t Researchers Name their Research Sites?’. 2011 . His previous books include Biotechnology.L.Rappert: Revealing and concealing secrets in research Walford. Controlling the Weapons of War (Routledge. Technology and Public Affairs in the Department of Sociology and Philosophy at the University of Exeter. Security and the Search for Limits (Palgrave. 2006).com at University of Sussex Library on May 30. Exeter EX4 4QJ.) Debates and Developments in Ethnographic Methodology. in G.sagepub. this particularly in conditions of uncertainty and disagreement. 2007).ac. Walford (ed. (1974) Language and Social Reality. [email: b. Address: Sociology & Philosophy. His long term interest has been the examination of how choices can and are made about the adoption and regulation of technologies. G. D. 2007). UK. University of Exeter. Technology and Security (edited. Paris: Mouton. Palgrave.rappert@ex. BRIAN RAPPERT is Associate Professor of Science. Wieder. London: Elsevier.
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