Reflections on care and attachment in the ‘departure lounge’ of ethnography

Alex McInch , Harry Bowles

Research output: Chapter or section in a book/report/conference proceedingChapter or section


While some ethnographers plan their exit strategies extensively, ‘leaving’ is nuanced by several contextual factors, not least the type of relationships fieldworkers build with their research participants, and the nature of their participatory involvement during fieldwork. To illustrate the situated qualities of ethnographic disengagement, this chapter will present two ‘confessional’ vignettes –one from education, the other from (elite) sport on how two male researchers managed the process of departing their respective fieldwork sites. The first case-study charts Alex’s leaving narrative as a working-class academic researching working-class schooling. It discusses how the researcher’s social baggage came to influence the mediation and maintenance of field relations, and how, overtime, friendly relations (especially with pupils) were formed and enhanced. The narrative reports that even though the researcher planned to stay in contact with participants post-fieldwork, it did not happen for several practical and methodological reasons. The second traces the evolution of Harry’s interpersonal connection with his principal gatekeeper “Coach” and examines how the changing circumstances of their relationship shaped the manner of Harry’s disengagement. More specifically, the narrative explores the exchange of power, vulnerability and responsibility that Harry shared with Coach over time that confirmed Harry’s sense of duty to remain in contact long after the cessation of his fieldwork. Through a comparative analysis of these leaving experiences, the chapter concludes by reflecting on the ethical commitment ethnographers make to involve themselves, long term, in people’s lives, and the ethical judgements that arise therefore from ethnographers’ choice of exit strategy.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationLeaving the field
Subtitle of host publicationMethodological Insights from Ethnographic Exists
EditorsRobin Smith, Sara Delamont
Place of PublicationManchester, U. K.
PublisherManchester University Press
Number of pages12
ISBN (Electronic)9781526157669
ISBN (Print)9781526157652
Publication statusPublished - 27 Jun 2023


  • Leaving
  • Social class
  • Power
  • Ethics


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