Ten lies of ethnography: Moral Dilemmas of Field Research

Gary Alan Fine*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

330 Scopus citations


As Everett Hughes noted, there is an “underside” to all work. Each job includes ways of doing things that would be inappropriate for those outside the guild to know. Illusions are essential for maintaining occupational reputation, but in the process they create a set of moral dilemmas. So it is with ethnographic work. This article describes the underside of ethnographic work: compromises that one frequently makes with idealized ethical standards. It argues that images of ethnographers—personal and public—are based on partial truths or self-deceptions. The focus is on three clusters of dilemmas: the classical virtues (the kindly ethnographer, the friendly ethnographer, and the honest ethnographer), technical skills (the precise ethnographer, the observant ethnographer, and the unobtrusive ethnographer), and the ethnographic self (the candid ethnographer, the chaste ethnographer, the fair ethnographer, and the literary ethnographer). Changes in ethnographic styles and traditions alter the balance of these deceptions but do not eliminate the need for methodological illusions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)267-294
Number of pages28
JournalJournal of Contemporary Ethnography
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jan 1 1993

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Anthropology
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Urban Studies


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