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Exiting fieldwork “with grace”: reflections on the unintended consequences of participant observation and researcher-participant relationships

Paolo Franco (Department of Management and Marketing, University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Australia)
Ye (Nicole) Yang (Department of Strategy and Marketing, University of Sussex, Brighton, UK)

Qualitative Market Research

ISSN: 1352-2752

Article publication date: 1 March 2021

Issue publication date: 3 August 2021




The purpose of this paper is to illustrate the methodological importance of how researchers exit fieldwork to draw attention to implications for participant and researcher well-being.


Reflecting in detail on one researcher’s final six-months exiting fieldwork at a retirement village, this paper critically examines the unintended consequences of participant observation and researcher-participant relationships.


The paper illustrates that difficulties to exit fieldwork can be unintended consequences of participant observation activities and developing researcher-participant relationships. The findings also discuss how fieldwork exit can impose upon participant and researcher well-being.

Research limitations/implications

The findings are built upon fieldwork at a retirement village where the researcher served as a volunteer. Thus, the discussion focusses on participant observation activities that are likely to lead to close researcher-participant relationships. However, this paper aims to serve as a useful resource for researchers when considering how to exit their unique fieldwork contexts “with grace”.

Practical implications

The paper provides practical suggestions to help marketing researchers such as ethnographers, manage fieldwork exits with participant and researcher well-being concerns in mind.

Social implications

The practical suggestions provided by this paper aim to enable marketing researchers to exit fieldwork contexts “with grace” through reflection and proactive management of the social impacts of their research activities.


Even though researchers acknowledge fieldwork is social and personal by nature, little research attention has been paid to the management of researcher-participant relationships and the exit stage of fieldwork. This paper discusses and addresses this blind-spot in marketing research.



The authors would like to thank Robin Canniford and Eileen Fischer for their helpful feedback during the development of this manuscript and the anonymous reviewers and editor for their supportive comments throughout the review process. The authors also thank the retirement village and the residents at the heart of this research for their stories, time and companionship during the fieldwork. This research is based on the first author’s PhD project which was supported by an Australian Government Research Training Programme (RTP) Scholarship.


Franco, P. and Yang, Y.(N). (2021), "Exiting fieldwork “with grace”: reflections on the unintended consequences of participant observation and researcher-participant relationships", Qualitative Market Research, Vol. 24 No. 3, pp. 358-374.



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