Conducting “Dirty Research” with extreme groups: understanding academia as a dirty work site

Erin Sanders-McDonagh (Department of Criminology and Sociology, Middlesex University, London, UK)

Qualitative Research in Organizations and Management

ISSN: 1746-5648

Publication date: 8 September 2014



The purpose of this paper is to explore dirty work sites within an academic context. Working with particular “unloved” groups (Fielding, 1993) can present a number of challenges to researchers, and if professional boundaries are not carefully maintained, researchers can be seen as “dirty workers” within an academic context.


The paper draws a qualitative research project that explores women's involvement with nationalist movements in the UK.


Researching “unloved” groups, and in particular racist organizations, presents a number of potential emotional and professional, and can render researchers “dirty workers” if clear professional boundaries are not maintained.


Examining academia and some academic research as a dirty work site adds to existing literature (Kreiner et al., 2006) that suggests any occupation can have a “dirty work” element that must be negotiated. This paper presents new challenges for managing spoiled “dirty” identities, and suggests that identity management is context-specific.



Sanders-McDonagh, E. (2014), "Conducting “Dirty Research” with extreme groups: understanding academia as a dirty work site", Qualitative Research in Organizations and Management, Vol. 9 No. 3, pp. 241-253.

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