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In the shadow of deception: Ethical dilemma, positionality, and reflexivity in ethnographic fieldwork

Mario Liong (Centennial College, Hong Kong, P.R. China)

Qualitative Research Journal

ISSN: 1443-9883

Article publication date: 2 February 2015




The purpose of this paper is to discuss the problems and potential of conducting ethnographic research among people with ideologies that are opposed by the researcher and the importance of reflexivity in confronting ethical issues at the field site.


This paper is a reflective account of the author’s ethnographic fieldwork, during which the author studied Chinese fatherhood in Hong Kong. The author chose a men’s center as a primary field site but later found that the men held views on gender and family to which the author was opposed. Neither remaining silent nor confronting the men was an option. The author was concerned that the informants would interpret the silence as agreement with their views and would then accuse the author of deception when they read the later publications.


Being reflexive of the positionality as a young research student in the research milieu allowed the author to come up with a passively active approach to tackle the situation. The author shared own experiences or stories that the author had heard and asked if a feminist interpretation of an issue would be a better alternative. This approach not only solved the ethical risk of deception but also provided possibilities to acquire data that provided deeper insight.


This paper argues that bureaucratic ethical guidelines are not enough to yield ethical ethnography because ethnographic research involves intense human interactions and complex ethical issues specific to the research milieu. Rather, an ethnographer’s being self-reflexive is the key to an ethical ethnographic research.



The author would like to thank Siumi Maria Tam for her support and advice throughout, and Jeanne Marecek for her comments on the draft of this paper. The author appreciates the encouraging and helpful comments from the two anonymous reviewers of Qualitative Research Journal. The author is also grateful to the informants of the men’s center who shared with the author their personal stories.


Liong, M. (2015), "In the shadow of deception: Ethical dilemma, positionality, and reflexivity in ethnographic fieldwork", Qualitative Research Journal, Vol. 15 No. 1, pp. 61-73.



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