Research Paper on Edge Ethnography

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I. Introduction

II. Edge Ethnography Involves Voluntary Risk Taking

III. Differences Between Edge Ethnography and Traditional Qualitative Research

IV. How to Conduct Edge Ethnography

V. Conclusion

I. Introduction

Edge ethnography is an approach to the conduct of qualitative research that pushes the limits and tests the skills and tolerances of researchers in exploring marginalized populations and deviant and dangerous settings and groups, and requires researchers to voluntarily take risks. Edge ethnography is practiced by a small proportion of criminologists, criminal justice scholars, and all social scientists. The goals of edge ethnography are to gain an in-depth and detailed understanding of groups, settings, and activities that are not necessarily available or accessible to either empirically based quantitative researchers or traditional qualitative researchers (including ethnographers). Because of the marginalized status of the typical foci of edge ethnography, and the necessity of gaining and demonstrating ful immersion in the world(s) being studied by the edge ethnographer, there is a de facto need for scholars who practice this approach to engage in behavior that is physically, legally, socially, or otherwise dangerous.

Edge ethnography is a method of social science that emphasizes understanding deviant groups and settings through the process of risk taking, researcher immersion in the culture or setting being studied. Edge ethnography is scholarship that is done on, in, and with populations and subcultures that are in some way physically, emotionally, psychologically, or socially dangerous and in which those persons involved in the social world being studied are at risk of (usually official or legal) sanctioning for their behavior.

Edge ethnography also is the qualitative data collection and analysis approach that is used by social scientists conducting edgework. As defined by Lyng (1990), edgework is the realm of activities that “involve a clearly observable threat to one’s physical or mental well-being or one’s sense of an ordered existence” (p. 857). Conducting edgework not only involves individuals (in this case, researchers) placing themselves in dangerous settings, actions, and interactions but also requires individuals to apply specialized skills for survival (or safe management of the dangers present). As such, edgework pushes individuals to test their limits, their skills at managing dangers, and their attempts to control dangerous situations so as to control what others may perceive to be uncontrollable situations.

For researchers, ethnographic projects regarding edgework mean that while experiencing and attempting to control some form/variety of danger, the individual needs to filter and navigate myriad relationships while charting the networks of relationships and interactional processes and products arising from culturally and situationally specific environments. The edge ethnographer seeks to use his or her methodological and insight skills to understand and explain worlds in which danger (of some form) is paramount and a defining element of the situation.

Edge ethnography methods are also one of the several approaches to research that make up the field of cultural criminology. As the study of stylized frameworks and experiential dynamics of marginal, deviant, and illicit subcultures and practices, cultural criminology is focused on understanding, among other issues, the “subtle, situated dynamics of deviant and criminal subcultures” (Ferrell, 1999, p. 396). In this regard, as cultural criminologists attempt to define, delineate, and deconstruct the ways, ingredients, and products of such worlds, they find that it is necessary to study such from the inside. In this way, building on the anthropological traditions of ethnography, edge ethnography necessitates entry, immersion, movement, and experiencing of the dangerous, illicit, or marginal worlds that are studied. Ferrell (1999) explained the study of such worlds:

It necessitates . . . a journey into the spectacle and carnival of crime, a walk down an infinite hall of mirrors where images created and consumed by criminals, criminal subcultures, control agents, media institutions, and audiences bounce endlessly one off the other. . . . as part of this exploration, [cultural criminologists] in turn investigate criminal and deviant subcultures as sites of criminalization, criminal activity, and legal control. (p. 397)

Tying together the issues of cultural criminology and methods for studying them is the sociological concept of verstehen.As originally defined byWeber (1964), verstehen is the idea of knowing something from the inside.To achieve verstehen is to be able to have an appreciation of the subjective reality of some phenomenon. Rather than attempting to understand an experience, structure, process, or culture based on objective, external observations (or measurements), the focus in such an approach is to use experience, with an emphasis on understanding, not explaining. When applied to the conduct of research, sociological verstehen refers to researchers focusing on the subjective components of what is being studied (crime; criminals; and criminal, deviant, or marginalized subcultures). Put a bit differently, verstehen (as a goal of edge ethnographers) is the systematic process of achieving understanding by a researcher who, while initially and objectively is an outside observer of a setting or phenomenon, interacts with a subculture’s population and combines his or her scholarly training with the point of view of those on the inside of that subculture. Therefore, verstehen is typically used to refer to either a kind of empathic or participatory understanding of social phenomena rather than an ostensibly objective interpretation of such persons in terms and from the perspective of an outsider. In this regard, this means that the situational meanings of the ingredients of the people, places, and actions being studied and the emotions that are elicited for those being studied and conducting the study are assessed within situated environments.

In short, edge ethnography as a practice requires researchers to gain access to the inside of worlds that are typically thought best viewed from afar and controlled or eliminated rather than experienced. Edge ethnography strives to overcome the barriers perceived to keep respectable and reputable persons away and instead emphasizes the need and importance of getting inside—to achieve understanding by means of verstehen. The edge ethnographer seeks to know the deviant, to know the deviant individual’s world, and to know how it feels not only to be a part of the deviant/illicit world and behavior but also to be known as a deviant by the outside world.

In regard to products, edge ethnography most often contributes case studies or analyses of limited generalizability. Because one of the foci of the edge ethnographer is the cultural world in which particular forms and mixes of people, places, experiences, and thereby yielded cultures are found, the traditional social science criteria of studies outputting findings, facts, and interpretations that can be similarly applied to other samples, populations, or settings is not necessarily appropriate. Instead, edge ethnographers, and cultural criminologists more generally, offer analyses and interpretations of very unique subcultural worlds. However, when accumulated and viewed as individual contributors to bouquets of studies, it becomes possible to identify conceptual and theoretical patterns across the case studies and sample-restricted analyses.

The focus of edge ethnography—understanding dangerous and socially marginalized groups, settings, and experiences from the perspective of an insider—builds on traditional ethnographic methods while also focusing on defining elements of the culture of such groups, settings, and experiences. As such, edge ethnography necessarily draws on the extremes of qualitative methods so as to access and gain understandings of precise meanings of symbols, language, behaviors, values, and experiences. Edge ethnographers look to understand these cultural ingredients within the cultural milieu that center on some form of danger whereby the various ingredients are produced, reproduced, experienced, and consumed. However, whereas traditional qualitative approaches may prioritize the ingredients and understandings of them, the edge ethnographer either dismisses this prioritization or complements it with an inverted prioritization, simultaneously prioritizing the cultural milieu as well as the situated ingredients. This is all done while experiencing and seeking to safely navigate and manage the dangers posed to the researcher as a participant in the world being studied.

II. Edge Ethnography Involves Voluntary Risk Taking

As a willing and active participant in the world being studied, the edge ethnographer voluntarily engages in risk-taking behaviors. This is typically conceptualized in terms of activities known as edgework (Lyng, 1990), a form of voluntary risk taking that involves individuals participating in high-risk forms of behavior and gaining the benefits of experiencing a (near) loss of control of situations and a blending of chaos and order. Edgework includes activities such as skydiving, some forms of underwater diving, a range of types of vehicular “tricks,” experimentation with drugs, some forms of crime, and other extreme forms of behavior.

Scholars who study these forms of behavior, the people who engage in them, and the ways that these activities are experienced can do so in one of two general ways. First, they could take a traditional, positivist approach and construct a survey about the activity, people, and the experience and then try to find and administer surveys. These data could tell one about some predetermined aspects of the behavior and people but would probably be rather dry, superficial, and not very informative about the experience. The second way that scholars could seek to better understand such activities, people, and experiences is to actually find the activities/people and join in with them. In this way, the researcher would not only be engaging in ethnographic research, but, if he were to actually engage in the (dangerous/risky) behaviors, he also would be doing edge ethnography. The advantages of this approach over a more traditional, positivist approach to research are that, first, the researcher is able to get information about the activities and people that he did not anticipate before the study, and, second, the actual experience can be studied from the perspective of an insider. In addition, by fully immersing himself or herself in the setting and population being studied, and essentially becoming a new member of the group and social world that is the focus of the study, the edge ethnographer is able to access information at a depth and in detail that is highly unlikely to be available to scholars practicing more traditional forms of (qualitative) research.

The depth and detail that are available to the edge ethnographer is clearly seen in Tewksbury’s (2002) study of men’s sexual presentations and interactions in gay bathhouses. While not a criminal justice issue, but clearly a topic and issue in the study of social deviance, human sexuality, and public health, Tewksbury provided a discussion of depth and detail that would not be available to either empirical or traditional qualitative scholars. As a case in point, the discussion of how men initiate, negotiate, and move from no interaction to sexual coupling through “conversation” shows the detail to which an immersed edge ethnographer is privy:

The primary modes of communication among bathhouse patrons are nonverbal forms of communication. This includes gazes and looks, touch and gestures, and body language. Each of these communication modes is used to indicate interests, sexual preferences, and an individual’s commitment to both current activities (or lack thereof) and desire for making sexual contact with particular others.

The most subtle, yet perhaps most constant, means by which men present messages and seek to establish “conversations” with other men in bathhouses is through directing, holding, and shifting of gazes. Where a man directs his gaze is an important means of communicating interest (or lack of interest) in another man, or sexual activity in general. When an individual is interested in another man he will look at him. On the initial level it does not matter how one looks at another, or where on another’s body one looks; to direct a gaze at another individual communicates an interest in communicating, and possibly sexually connecting.

While it may be sufficient for communicating a general interest in another (and possibly a sexual exchange) to simply gaze at or toward another man, the direction and placement of one’s gaze communicates more specific messages. Gazes directed toward and held on another man’s eyes or crotch are especially informative communications. When a man directs a held gaze at another man it conveys a message of either general or specific sexual interest. A gaze into another’s eyes expresses a desire to make a connection, without specific sexual activities intended. However, when a man holds a gaze on another’s eyes, and strokes, gropes, or otherwise draws the gazed-upon object’s attention to a location on the gazer’s body this is an indication of the type of sexual activity that one is seeking. Men also communicate specific sexual desires by where they direct their own gaze. A look directed and held at a specific location on another man’s body indicates a desire to have sexual contact with that area of the gazed-upon individual’s body.

Commonly accompanying communicative gazes are gestures and body language. Sexual interests communicated via gestures typically involve movements of a hand or the head. Meaningful gestures include hand waving for a man to come closer (or enter a private room into which he is gazing), rubbing or caressing of one’s own body, and nods of the head indicating a direction for another to move.

Gestures are most commonly employed when an individual seeks to communicate with a specific man, but attempts to do so when in the presence of multiple others, or when he wishes to conceal his message from others. Gestures are silent and can be employed without the knowledge or notice of others nearby. (Tewksbury, 2002, pp. 102–104)

Details and depth of explanation are a key contribution that edge ethnography can make. It is only because of the researcher’s total immersion, and acceptance by others as being a legitimate part of the setting, that the edge ethnographer is able to get to the depth and detail that are available.

A second hallmark of edge ethnography is that the research might involve activities that are not necessarily dangerous in and of themselves but that put the researcher (voluntarily) into risky situations (immediate and perhaps long-term, professional) and contexts. This may mean going to a cultural setting and therein interacting or being exposed to situated actors who may pose (potential) threats to the researcher in physical, psychological, emotional, and/or social ways, or it may mean studying topics that are unpopular or socially stigmatizing. Tewksbury (2004) showed how the study of men’s participation in public sexual activities with other men has been limited by scholars avoiding the topic because of courtesy stigmas that are often attached to the people who show any degree of interest in the topic. This form of professional danger can have potentially serious impacts on the careers of scholars.

For some edge ethnographers, the dangers of their work has included having one’s research materials seized and being arrested (Sonenschein, 2000), being jailed for failing to disclose confidential information learned through edge ethnography (Scarce, 1995), physical danger of injury/death (Fleisher, 1989; Jacobs, 1999, 2000; Williams, Dunlap, Johnson, & Hamid, 1992;Wright & Decker, 1997), threat of sexual victimization (Inciardi, Lockwood, & Pottiger, 1993), pressure to use illicit drugs (Tunnell, 1998), high levels of emotional distress (Johnson, 1997), and professional stigmatization/ostracism (Israel, 2002).

III. Differences Between Edge Ethnography and Traditional Qualitative Research

Additional differences between edge ethnography and traditional qualitative research include that the practitioner is often seen as a person of questionable moral value, or at the very least “different” from the mainstream of social scientists. The edge ethnographer is one who acknowledges, usually accepts, and often embraces the stigma (as a form of social danger) that comes from being known as one who is comfortable with and at ease being in, around, and a part of the deviant and illicit worlds that provide him or her real data and perspectives. Scholars working with vulnerable, disreputable, and/or socially ostracized populations are often considered by other scholars as sharing in the stigma (and perhaps deviant activities) of those whom they study.

One important consequence of this stigmatization of scholars who engage in edge ethnography is that these topical foci may be avoided by scholars, or pursued only by those who do not see the stigmatization as a major restriction on their careers. Tewksbury (2004) showed this in his examination of research that built on the classic work Tearoom Trade (Humphreys, 1975). The study of men who have sex with men in anonymous, public encounters has been slow to be expanded and elaborated on, and, of the limited works that have pursued similar methodologies and foci, Tewksbury (2004) made an astute observation:

For researchers interested in impersonal sex, simply pursuing the issue gives rise to questions of ethics for some observers. If the researcher is immersed in a world of impersonal sex, why would the researcher not be expected to “get some” while there? Such are questions that many observers ask of those who do research in sexual environments. (pp. 49–50)

Although specific to sex research, this same questioning is common for scholars involved in any marginal topic research.

A second important difference of edge ethnographic work is that the work itself is recognized by practitioners as both a political pursuit and a personal endeavor. Because edge ethnographers emphasize cultural immersion and experience, their work is by definition a personal endeavor, one that may deeply influence their own sense of self and perspective on the world. Relatedly, edge ethnography is political in that the mere pursuit of understanding of some worlds is defined by observers (and perhaps by practitioners) as a political pursuit. To grant the legitimacy of simply being worthy of study to deviant, illicit, and marginalized people and practices is to make a political statement. To approach such people and practices from a position that does not presuppose control, quarantine, or sanction is to be political. And, to present oneself to the world (or, at least to the academic world) as one who values such worlds enough to see merit in their investigation is to present oneself to the (academic) world in a political way.

Third, edge ethnography diverges from many (although not all, especially not feminist) qualitative methodologies in that the experience of the researcher himself or herself is of value and contributes to the theoretical and substantive understanding of the worlds studied. Edge ethnography is emotional in that one’s emotions not only are influenced by the practice of the research but also are seen as reciprocally influential on those worlds. In addition, emotions and the researcher’s emotional responses to the people and practices studied are informative for understandings. This is not to suggest that traditionally qualitative, especially ethnographic, methodologies are not emotional or do not draw on emotions, for anyone who has engaged in such work knows that they surely do. But, to a different degree, and in greater depth, for the edge ethnographer—much as is also the case for the feminist methodologist—emotions are important ingredients in the world of study.

This point was well illustrated by Kraska (1998) in his study of police paramilitary units, a population whose values Kraska rejected and believed he opposed when he began his work. However, as he reported, the experience was often enjoyable, and he came to question his original positions and perspectives on the paramilitary groups as he become more and more enmeshed:

My ethnographic experience is more complex than the characterization “enjoying militarism” might suggest. In actuality, I drifted back and forth between enjoyment and alarm. I felt enjoyment when I forgot myself and became fully immersed in the intensity of the moment, unintentionally bracketing my ideological filters. . . . Discomfort and sometimes distress came at those times of broader consciousness where even split-second moments of reflection allowed for impositions of meaning. . . . Several aspects of the research experience, then were pleasurable or satisfying. . . . Many of these men were repulsive ideologically, but (outside my research objectives) I enjoyed their approval as filtered through their hypermasculine standards. (p. 89)

A fourth way in which edge ethnography, in fact most ethnographic work in general, differs from traditional social science (e.g., quantitative methodologies) is that it tends to be an approach that is taken independently, by solo scholars and authors. A cursory look at the types of methodologies employed by collaborations of authors and authors working independently demonstrates this point well. First, a review of all 290 articles and review articles published in the Journal of Contemporary Ethnography between 1998 and 2007 shows that fully 77% of articles are authored by one person, 18% of articles have two authors, and only 5% have three or more authors. In the Journal of Quantitative Criminology for the same 10 years, only 27% of articles are solo authored, 35% have two authors, and 38% have three or more authors. The mean number of authors per article in the Journal of Quantitative Criminology is 2.3, whereas in the Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, the mean number of authors per article is only 1.3. Similarly, Tewksbury, DeMichele, and Miller (2005) reviewed all articles published in the top five criminal justice journals between 1998 and 2002 and showed that articles about research in which qualitative methods were used have a mean of 1.96 authors, compared with a mean of 2.6 for quantitatively oriented articles. Although edge ethnographic works are not identified in either of these studies, the fact is that edge ethnography is relatively rare in the social sciences; however, the data about qualitative work in general make the point well that such work is typically done by individual authors (or at least by smaller collaborations of authors).

Publication of edge ethnography works can be a challenge for scholars who do this work. Because of the stigmas attached to the research topic (and sometimes the researcher); the difference from mainstream, quantitative studies; and the occasional questions about ethics, validity, reliability, and generalizability, many traditional social science outlets may be less than warmly welcoming to edge ethnography manuscripts. As a result, these types of works tend to appear as books; in “specialty” journals; and, more often than not, in lower-tier journals. This is not to suggest that there are inherent weaknesses or less value in such works. However, there are barriers that can make the publication of such works more challenging than for traditional works, whether ethnographic or quantitative in nature.

Because of the role that experience and emotions (as well as stigma) play in edge ethnographic work, it is challenging (although not impossible) to envision ways for research teams to engage in such work collaboratively. With immersion in dangerous, illicit, and marginal worlds that draw on how the ethnographic work is experienced, this is a style of scholarship best suited for the independent scholar. For these reasons (and certainly others), ethnographic work—especially edge ethnography—is differentiated from other scholarly pursuits and products by the norm of solo authorship.

IV. How to Conduct Edge Ethnography

The actual conduct of edge ethnographic work builds on the processes of traditional qualitative, ethnographic processes but adds in the reflexive aspect of knowing an experience from the perspective of an insider. In this regard, the edge ethnographer needs to identify a group/place of study; enter and interact with the persons in the study site; establish a positive, productive relationship with “natives”; and be present and interact with the study site population while carefully observing and recording the activities, processes, presented attitudes and values, and ways of life in the setting.

Some aspects of the conduct of edge ethnography are typically more easily accomplished than they are for traditional ethnography projects, and others may be more challenging. For many edge ethnographers the challenge of identifying and initially entering the study site precedes the initiation of the study. Many edge ethnographers study settings, people, and social worlds with which they already have some degree of familiarity and perhaps involvement.When the people and their activities are already known to the edge ethnographer, the challenges of entering and beginning interaction is likely to be easily completed. Establishing a positive; productive; and, one would hope, trusting relationship with the individuals being studied can be a significant challenge for any ethnographer. Regardless of whether one is conducting edge ethnography or traditional ethnography, there are likely to be suspicions, resistance, and wariness on the part of the people being studied when they learn that they are the subject of study. There are a number of ways to overcome such reactions and to establish rapport. Although there is no single recipe, there are a variety of approaches and roles that an edge ethnographer can pursue to facilitate this goal (see Tewksbury & Gagné, 1997).

The actual task of data collection—observing and assessing actions and interactions as they occur, and taking notes while doing so—is a challenge for all ethnographers and perhaps an especially significant challenge for the edge ethnographer.Whereas the traditional ethnographer is challenged by entering a world that is largely foreign, unknown, and “exotic,” the edge ethnographer usually operates in a world that is local; familiar; and, because the ethnographer knows it, mundane. As such, the tasks of observing and identifying important structural, process-related, and values-communicating aspects of the study site can be especially daunting. What edge ethnographer sees, she has seen before, she knows, and she is experiencing. To accomplish the scientific goals of an edge ethnography project, then, requires an ability to step out of one’s role as an immersed participant, maintain the appearance of being in the role, and essentially juggle the tasks of observing and recording while still “doing” the actions of the setting without allowing the doing to impede on the objective tasks of seeing and recording.

Edge ethnographers may conduct their research either overtly or covertly. When operating overtly, the other members of the settings where the research is being conducted know of the researcher’s role as a researcher and are aware that a study is being conducted. In other instances, especially in highly stigmatized groups or settings, and when the behaviors being studied could lead to legal or other formal sanctions against those engaged, edge ethnographers may find it more beneficial (although perhaps also more stressful) to do their research essentially undercover. Such covert practices, which are sometimes criticized as unethical for the failure to provide research subjects with full disclosure of their role in a study, are debated among academics. A number of types of settings and situations where covert approaches are not only best, but perhaps the only available means of accessing information have been identified (see Jones, 1995, & Miller, 1995).

One alternative approach to data collection in edge ethnographies, which allow researchers to (somewhat) manage the stigmas and other negative fallouts that may accompany such projects, is to participate in the setting of study as a potential participant. Tewksbury (2006), explained the role of the potential participant:

It combines aspects of complete observation, complete participation and covert observational research designs. Whereas the researcher adopting a potential participant role seeks to appear to those being researched as a “real” setting member, the “science” activities are conducted in covert manners. To anyone noticing the potential participant, the researcher is a real member of the setting being studied. To the scientific community, the potential participant is a complete observer, acting in a covert manner inside the research environment. (p. 6)

In short, in the potential participant role, the researcher enters and immerses himself in the marginalized, dangerous, or otherwise stigmatized community, presenting himself as if he is a full participant, while actually only pretending to be participating. The role is important for simultaneously maintaining ethical standards (and perhaps personal safety, health, and psychological or emotional health) while also accessing the activities and interactions of the settings’ participants fully.

The potential participant role is not unique to the conduct of edge ethnography, but it is one available means of collecting data while also attempting to minimize and control the possible negative consequences (as discussed earlier) that may accompany such projects. Some edge ethnographers, however, believe and advocate that the only way to access valid and reliable data in edge ethnographic ways is to truly participate in study settings’ activities. This may mean stretching the researcher’s boundaries and limits and perhaps involve violating personal values and beliefs, or the law.

As an example of how such total immersion may be necessary and/or valuable for such approaches, Tunnell (1998) argued that, in order to establish rapport, gain trust, and access valid data, the edge ethnographer needs to “become” like those he is studying and with whom he is interacting:

There I was, in the living room of a twice-convicted felon, an ex-con, surrounded by electronic and decorative items collected from previous burglaries, smoking dope, and being made privy to this recent crime. There was something surreal about this, but also something deviant, for I was actively engaging in a crime of ceremony with him and hearing of his wrongdoings after prison. Perhaps turning off the tape recorder and turning on with him were necessities for establishing that level of trust, closeness, and rapport. After we returned to the recorded interviewing, he seemed more relaxed, up front, reflective, and at the same time, less cautious than earlier. I felt that I came away with some excellent data made possible by a connection established through methods other than those promulgated by hard science, objectivity, and researcher neutrality—a connection lubricated by weed and drink. (p. 207)

Others have argued, and shown through reported findings, that participation in marginal types of activities may be important for demonstrating one’s commitment to a project and to the maintenance (rather than attempt to control or eliminate) of a subculture, at least in the eyes of those who are native to the study site. DeMichele and Tewksbury (2004) studied the role and activities of the bouncer in strip clubs and showed that as an immersed researcher, it is necessary to engage in violence, make derogatory (perhaps sexist, racist, ageist, and misogynistic) talk, and to conform to expected stereotypes in order to be accepted and gain access to desired and necessary data.

The same intellectual challenges that are posed to edge ethnographers in conducting data collection will also be present when the data are organized, managed, and analyzed. Whereas the edge ethnographer is presented with the task of seeing what is new and different in a world in which he or she has experience and is involved, so too do such filtering lenses intrude on the analysis and interpretation of the data during the final stages of the ethnographic process. Seeing and explaining what occurs in a setting where one is personally involved, in ways that discount idiosyncratic or personalized interpretations, can be an intimidating test for any observer. The edge ethnographer, however, needs to explain what normative society sees as deviant, wrong, odd, or strange while balancing his or her own views of such as (probably) fairly standard and normative environments. Also, he or she needs to accomplish this while recognizing that mainstream academics and perhaps official agents of social control see the population and setting being explained as a place that hosts persons in need of control or sanctioning. When preparing articles, books, or other forms of reports of the study’s findings, the edge ethnographer needs to be aware of the potential fallouts for his or her own career and social standings. Even if such concerns are not seen as serious or something about which the individual cares, recognition of them is important, and this recognition has the potential to influence what is reported, how it is reported, where it is reported, and the details about it that are reported. In short, the direct and courtesy stigmas that accompany most edge ethnography (and edge ethnographers) are likely to influence some research products.

V. Conclusion

Edge ethnography is the qualitative social science approach that emphasizes depth of understandings of socially marginal and stigmatized populations and settings wherein the researcher undergoes dangerous and potentially threatening (personally, socially, professionally) exposures. Central to the conduct of edge ethnography is the researcher voluntarily exposing himself or herself to some form of danger through immersion in the culture or setting being studied.

In many respects, edge ethnography is an extreme form of ethnographic research. This explains (in part) why edge ethnography is often associated with newer and cuttingedge theoretical perspectives, such as cultural criminology. The focus and goals of edge ethnography and the theoretical aspirations of cultural criminology are highly similar, yielding a natural confluence of method and perspective.

Edge ethnography is not a commonly practiced social science method. In large part, the requirements of immersion in a cultural setting and the necessity of exposure to danger(s) divert many scholars from such approaches. However, as discussed in this research paper, edge ethnography can and does inform criminology—in fact, any social science—in ways that are both important and necessary for intellectual advancement and in contributions that go deeper and into more detail than either empirical or traditional qualitative approaches.

See also:


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