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Interpretive Political ScienceSelected Essays, Volume II$
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R. A. W. Rhodes

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9780198786115

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: August 2017

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780198786115.001.0001

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On Being There?

On Being There?

(p.57) 4 On Being There?
Interpretive Political Science

R. A. W. Rhodes

Oxford University Press

What do we learn from observing public elites up close that we would not learn using more conventional methods? This chapter answers the ‘so what’ question, enumerating the benefits of observation and reflecting on lessons learnt about observing, surveying the strengths and weaknesses of the approach and describing the fun of observing elites. The author recounts the surprise findings and explores the mistakes made and problems encountered. Secondary sources are not relied on to identify the problems but mistakes are recounted to give the lessons both immediacy and relevance to the study of government elites. The chapter reflects on the pitfalls of observing politicians and bureaucrats at work, focusing on eight issues: speaking truth to power; secrecy; building and keeping trust; maintaining standards of reliability and validity; listening; going native; generalizing; and telling the tale. It closes with the author’s rules of thumb for observation.

Keywords:   interpretation, observation, secrecy, trust, objectivity, generalization, elite ethnography

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