Navigating Fieldwork as an Outsider: Observations from Interviewing Police Officers in China

Suzanne E. Scoggins, University of California, Berkeley

Straw bales

Understanding how foreign governments operate is a cornerstone of political science fieldwork, but gaining access to representatives of the security state is difficult, particularly for foreign researchers. Scholars seeking to break into this world must identify points of entry, navigate cultural differences, and establish trust with their interviewees. Such tasks are challenging for any researcher, but they are particularly daunting for newly minted PhD candidates, many of whom set out for the fi eld without prior experience conducting large, independent research projects. My own fieldwork on the police bureaucracy in China was filled with challenges, many of which related to my status as an outsider to China’s policing world. Perceptions of my identity as a Caucasian woman with no professional experience in policing infl uenced my research by imposing limitations on where I could go, whom I could interview, and what kind of responses I received. Yet outsider status also opened up opportunities. Although some potential interviewees were reluctant to speak with me, other respondents were curious about foreigners and happy to tell their story to someone who was willing to listen. Cultural diff erences are thus a double-edged sword, wielding opportunities as well as obstacles. Researchers can capitalize on the former by learning as much as possible about their area of interest and by remaining flexible when implementing fieldwork plans. [Read more.]

Navigating Fieldwork as an Outsider: Observations from Interviewing Police Officers in ChinaPS: Political Science & Politics / Volume 47 / Issue 02 / April 2014, pp 394-397