Ethnographic Contributions to Method Development: “Strong Objectivity” in Security Studies

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Contrary to common assumptions, there is much to be learned about methods from constructivist/post-structuralist approaches to International Relations (IR) broadly speaking. This article develops this point by unpacking the contributions of one specific method—ethnography—as used in one subfield of IR—Critical Security Studies. Ethnographic research works with what has been termed a “strong” understanding of objectivity. When this understanding is taken seriously, it must lead to a refashioning of the processes of gathering, analyzing, and presenting data in ways that reverse many standard assumptions and instructions pertaining to “sound methods.” Both in the context of observation and in that of justification, working with “strong objectivity” requires a flexibility and willingness to shift research strategies that is at odds with the usual emphasis on stringency, consistency, and carefully planned research. It also requires accepting that the engagement of the researcher with the researched is no regrettable inevitability but a potential to be used and mobilized. If these arguments were more widely acknowledged, it would be easier to justify/recognize the methodological foundations of research in the ethnographic tradition. However, it would also require rethinking standard methods instructions and the judgments they inform.
Original languageEnglish
JournalInternational Studies Perspectives
Issue number4
Pages (from-to)462-475
Number of pages14
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2016


  • Methodology
  • Critical security
  • Ethnography
  • Objectivity
  • Reflexivity

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