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.


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core definition

Gatekeeper is a term used in social analysis to refer to persons who are able to arbitrate access to a social role, field setting or structure.

explanatory context

The following are examples of gatekeepers. Doctors arbitrate an ill person's access to a sick role. Publishers arbitrate a writers access to the profession of author. Art critics and dealers act as arbiters of acceptable or desirable (collectable) paintings. Research funding bodies effect access to research funds and thus arbitrate the nature of research activity.


In general gatekeepers are not censors, as such, but are involved in negotiation and impression management. This negotiation revolves around the conflict between those seeking access and the organisational concerns of those whom the gatekeepers represent.


In participant observation research, for example, researchers ar often vouched for by a gatekeeper, who is usually has a leaderhip or otherwise significant role in a group.

analytical review

Saunders (2006) wrote: :

Gatkeeper: The person who controls research access. For example, the top manager or senior executive in an organization, or the person within a group or community who makes the final decision as to whether to allow the researcher access to undertake the research. Gaining access to undertake social research is often problematic. Friends, contacts and colleagues and others may be willing to vouch for a researcher and the value of the research and act as research sponsors. However, unless permission has been granted by a gatekeeper from within the group, community or organization in which it is planned to undertake the research, it is unlikely that access will be allowed in practice.

associated issues


related areas

See also

Researching the Real World Section 3.4


Saunders, M.N.K., 2006, 'Gatekeeper', in Sage Dictionary of Social Research Methods, available at, accessed 20 January 2013, page remains 22 December 2016 but no longer open access.

copyright Lee Harvey 2012–2020


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