“Snitches get stitches” : Researching both sides of illegal markets

Potter, Lisa and Potter, Gary (2021) “Snitches get stitches” : Researching both sides of illegal markets. Journal of Organizational Ethnography, 10 (1). pp. 7-20. ISSN 2046-6749

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The question of “taking sides” has received a lot of attention within qualitative criminology. Much of this has focused on the moral-philosophical or value-laden aspects of taking sides, following Becker’s 1967 essay ‘whose side are we on’. However, the question of taking sides also has methodological implications, especially for qualitative researchers who wish to study multiple sides of a criminological problem, such as the perspectives of offenders and law enforcement around a particular illegal activity. This paper considers some of the practical, ethical and analytical challenges of studying illegal markets from opposing sides – the market participants’ perspective on one side, and law enforcement on the other. It outlines the advantages of researching both sides: the improved validity and reliability that comes with exploring and trying to reconcile different perspectives and the potential this has for developing theory and policy. It then explores the challenges researchers may face when trying to engage with opposing sides in qualitative fieldwork. It pays particular attention to some practical and ethical questions researchers may face in this situation: who to research first, whether to be open about researching both sides, and whether researchers should ever share information they have received from one side with their participants from the other side. We do not offer absolute answers to these questions. Rather, we aim to outline some of the factors researchers may need to consider when juggling qualitative research involving participants on both sides of the law.

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Journal Article
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Journal of Organizational Ethnography
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01 Sep 2020 15:10
Last Modified:
10 May 2024 01:52