Friend or foe? Self-expansion, stigmatized groups, and the researcher-participant relationship

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18 Scopus citations


A recurring methodological dilemma for ethnographers studying organizations, interest groups, and social movements is how to gain access and gather data from their members, especially if these organizations are pursuing unpopular goals or are otherwise stigmatized by the public in some way. In the United States, fathers' rights groups believe that they are stigmatized in that they are currently attempting to modify child support and custody laws to be more favorable to men; their critics point out that these gains will come at the expense of the well-being of women and children. This article analyzes the opportunities and challenges faced in conducting observational research on 8 fathers' rights groups, as well as in interviewing 158 of their leaders and members in a larger sample of 26 groups located across the country, both of which occurred from 2003-2004. I argue for the introduction of self-expansion theory-drawn from the field of social psychology-into the ethnographic methodologist's toolbox as a way of mapping out the diverse array of participant reactions to a researcher's request for entre in studying contentious, marginalized groups.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)603-630
Number of pages28
JournalJournal of Contemporary Ethnography
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 2007

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Anthropology
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Urban Studies


  • Fathers' rights
  • Self-expansion
  • Stigma


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