The Subpoena of Ethnographic Data

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


This essay outlines the author's experience of having his ethnographic data subpoenaed. It outlines the challenges of subpoena's to research, and suggests four solutions: (1) Apply for and utilize the National Institutes of Health certificate of confidentiality by asking health-related questions over the course of one's research; (2) Establish a task force that articulates clear ethical guidelines for ethnographic research, with attention to the conditions wherein ethnographers can break confidentiality (and might also comply with subpoenas). These ethical guidelines should then be made clear to research subjects as a part of informed consent processes; (3) Demand that institutions (institutional review boards) that require confidentiality as a condition of research be required to defend that confidentiality through the office of the general counsel; (4) Socialize the cost of subpoenas, wherein scholars can be part of an insurance pool that will defend them in the event of a subpoena and thereby defend the general enterprise of ethnographic research.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)253-263
Number of pages11
JournalSociological Forum
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2019
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Sociology and Political Science


  • IRB
  • confidentiality
  • ethics
  • ethnography
  • methodology
  • public sociology


Dive into the research topics of 'The Subpoena of Ethnographic Data'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this