Lessons from Resistance in the Field
(Princeton University Press, 2024)
Resistance is the bane of all field researchers, who are often viewed as interlopers when they enter a community and start asking questions. People obstruct investigations and hide evidence. They shelve complaints, silence dissent, and even forget their own past and deny having done so. How can we learn about a community when its members resist so very strongly? The answer is that the resistance itself is sometimes the key.
Michel Anteby explains how community members often disclose more than intended when they close ranks and create obstacles. He draws insights from diverse stories of resistance by uncooperative participants—from Nazi rocket scientists and Harvard professors to Disney union busters and people who secure cadavers for medical school dissection—to reveal how field resistance manifests itself and how researchers can learn from it. He argues that many forms of resistance are retrospectively telling, and that these forms are the routine products, not byproducts, of the field. That means that resistance mechanisms are not only indicative of something else happening. Instead, they often are the very data points that can shed light on how participants make sense of their worlds.
An essential guide for ethnographers, sociologists, and all field researchers seeking access, The Interloper shares practical and theoretical insights into the value of having the door slammed in your face.
“Anteby’s book wonderfully demonstrates that fieldworkers should embrace any challenges and resistance they may face while conducting their research. Rather than being sources of frustration, these challenges can illuminate key field dynamics, and give researchers unique insight into the field they are studying.”
-- Katherine C. Kellogg, MIT Sloan School of Management
"Anteby argues that the difficulties ethnographers encounter when accessing their field sites are not problems to overcome but constitute clues to what the people and their setting are all about. In this lucidly written, one-of-a-kind book, he encourages researchers to reflect on those experiences and explore their analytical potential.”
-- Stefan Timmermans, author of Postmortem: How Medical Examiners Explain Suspicious Deaths
“A compelling, important, and fascinating methods book. Anteby provides a comprehensive and elegant discussion of the different forms of resistance that researchers can experience and describes precisely what might be learned from them. I know of no other book that takes on this topic in such depth.”
-- Rene Almeling, author of GUYnecology: The Missing Science of Men’s Reproductive Health