chapter  2
“Field observer: Simples.” Finding a place from which to do close-up research on the “far right”
WithHilary Pilkington
Pages 18

Concerned that a lack of shared values with their research subjects might inhibit the trust and mutual understanding required for close-up study, researchers of the far right often conduct research at arm's length, using secondary material or studying online presence and communication. Based on a three-year ethnographic study of grassroots activism in the English Defence League, it is argued in this chapter that ethnographic research on the far right can and should be undertaken. The experience of conducting this study suggests it is possible to develop the quality of relations necessary without deceiving respondents (that you share their views) and that a mutual understanding of the researcher's role as that of field observer can develop. What constrains social research on the far right, it is concluded, is not any insurmountable methodological or ethical obstacle to it, but institutionalized distaste for close-up research with the far right, compounded by a shift towards making explicit political intention in social research practice. This, it is suggested, threatens to place subjects with whose political views we do not agree “out of bounds” and thus constrains our knowledge, understanding and capacity for changing the social world.