Social Research Glossary


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Citation reference: Harvey, L., 2012-20, Social Research Glossary, Quality Research International,

This is a dynamic glossary and the author would welcome any e-mail suggestions for additions or amendments. Page updated 19 December, 2019 , © Lee Harvey 2012–2020.


A fast-paced novel of conjecture and surprises



core definition

Access refers to entry to a research field and reasonable freedom of action within it.

explanatory context

Access means social as well as physical admission to the field.


Gaining access is often a problem when doing ethnography particularly when using observational techniques. Gaining access should be seen as a process that continues throughout all stages of fieldwork and as a valuable source of data in its own right.

analytical review

Hutchison (1997) in reviewing Ethnography: Principles in Practice (Hammersely and Atkinson, 1995), stated :

In ethnographic research, access is not simply something one accomplishes at the beginning stages of data collection. Access is an ongoing problem throughout the research project, one that requires sensitivity to the ethnographer's roles, the gatekeepers, different kinds of data, and the not unproblematic use of deception.

Access as a continuing process is tied to field relations. ...The roles and personal characteristics of ethnographers can have profound implications for the kinds of data that can be collected. Hammersley and Atkinson argue that this is not necessarily a bad thing and that " systematically modifying field roles, it may be possible to collect different kinds of data..." (p. 123). Reactivity, they argue, is not something to be avoided altogether but with close monitoring, can prove to be enlightening data. Accounts are themselves social phenomena that are shaped by social contexts.

associated issues


related areas

See also


Researching the Real World Section 3


Hammersely, M. and Atkinson, P., 1995, Ethnography: Principles in Practice (2nd edition), London, Routledge.

Hutchison, B., 1997, 'Review of Ethnography: Principles in Practice (2nd edition)' in Reviewing Sociology 10(2), available at, accessed 21 November 2019.

copyright Lee Harvey 2012–2020


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