Talking to snakeheads: methodological considerations for research on Chinese human smuggling
This chapter discusses field strategies used to gain access to the secretive world of Chinese human smuggling groups, and reflects on what seemed to have worked well over the years by the author. One key element that seemed to have worked well is expanding one’s informal social networks to include those of others for data-gathering purposes. The concept of guanxi (personal contacts) has been extensively applied in my field activities as an important venue to develop and reinforce research-relevant social contacts because they offer the quickest entry into a target population. After all, human smuggling is a business built upon a myriad of personal connections. By tapping into a common cultural practice, I have been able to gain the trust and confidence of many subjects. This myriad of social networks in turn also validate data gathered from different sources.