Ethnography in the time of Covid-19: Vectors and the vulnerable

Gary Alan Fine, Corey M. Abramson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

29 Scopus citations


We examine the choices, dilemmas, and opportunities confronting ethnography at a moment in which face-to-face interaction is deemed dangerous and prohibited by many university human subjects committees. As scholars who have examined vulnerable seniors through intense engagement, we recognize that our presence can spread disease, just as we might become infected by those very informants. Yet, ethnography serves a necessary role in charting the conditions of the vulnerable and identifying points of intervention. The Covid-19 virus and its effects on research might truncate the granular observations that have made ethnography such a profoundly incisive method in the short term, but it may also permit reflection and methodological innovation that can contribute to both theory and policy. In this vein, our unwanted hiatus provides an opportunity to work on longstanding concerns such as ethnographic transparency while simultaneously advancing innovative styles of research. Whether we will seize this opportunity remains uncertain.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)165-174
Number of pages10
JournalEtnografia e ricerca qualitativa
Issue number2
StatePublished - Aug 2020


  • Ethnography
  • Human subjects
  • Pandemic
  • Senior citizens
  • Vulnerable

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • Anthropology
  • Sociology and Political Science


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