The field worker's fields: Ethics, ethnography and medical sociology

Renée R. Anspach*, Nissim Mizrachi

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

24 Scopus citations


Sociologists who do field work in medical settings face an intractable tension between their disciplinary field, which takes a critical perspective toward medicine, and their ethnographic field, which often includes physicians. This paper explores the ethical problems that result from the collision of the two fields. While in the field, ethnographers are forced to choose between sociology and their obligations to host members, as they decide whether to disclose their actual research agendas, whether to ask tough questions or to reveal their concerns, and whether to give advice. The tension persists when field workers leave the field to write, forcing them to choose between competing interpretations and to decide what to reveal or conceal in the interests of confidentiality. Through these moral choices about what to ask, record or present to the reader, ethnographers shape the academic field even as it shapes them.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)713-731
Number of pages19
JournalSociology of Health and Illness
Issue number6
StatePublished - Sep 2006


  • Ethics
  • Ethnography
  • Fields
  • Qualitative methods


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