Conducting Sensitive Research as an Alien Ethnographer in the United States
As a French PhD student, my work focuses on democratic deficits in the United States and explores the evolution of the American Left since 2001. Adopting methodological tools provided by ethnography, I am investigating how activist groups are using civil disobedience and non-violent direct action under the current legal, judicial, and police constraints specific to the post-9/11 era. My research is contingent on structural shifts occurring on the macro-political level, such as a changes in the federal government. But as the incident related above demonstrates, my own status as a foreign ethnographer is also a factor, since I can neither escape nor disentangle myself from my identity. The aim of this reflexive article is to discuss how, within a broader context of state repression and surveillance, my “double condition of alienage” (alien as a non-citizen and alien as an insider/outsider researcher amongst activist groups), is affecting not only how I am conducting my fieldwork, but is also shaping my object of study.