Researcher’s guilt: confessions from the darker side of ethnographic consumer research

Elizabeth Mamali

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Citations (SciVal)
65 Downloads (Pure)


A reflexive approach to qualitative research seeks to uncover structures of inequality in the research encounter. On the surface, it would seem that ethnographic methods provide the conditions to alleviate this methodological instrumentalism. By employing a confessional account, this paper demonstrates how the paradox of asymmetrical rapport prevents ethnographic work from reaching its collaborative potential. Drawing from insights in an ethnographic enquiry in an arts charity, the author narrates the guilty experiences that arise when researchers reproduce a culture of commodifying informants. This is exemplified through impression management tactics that generate an illusion of mutuality, alternating with more authentic instances of co-participation. The implications of this self-perceived moral violation are discussed for the researched, the researcher and ethnographies of consumption more broadly. The paper contributes to the methodological literature by explaining the potential of confessional accounts as a tool to operationalise reflexive, reciprocal practice, counteracting the demands of a knowledge economy.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)241-255
Number of pages15
JournalConsumption Markets and Culture
Issue number3
Early online date30 May 2018
Publication statusPublished - 30 May 2019


  • asymmetrical rapport
  • confessional reflexivity
  • ethics
  • Ethnography
  • fieldwork instrumentalism
  • research reciprocity
  • researcher’s guilt

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Anthropology
  • Economics and Econometrics
  • Marketing


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