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Portrait David Brehm Sausdal. Photo: Johan Persson.

David Sausdal

Associate professor | Associate senior lecturer

Portrait David Brehm Sausdal. Photo: Johan Persson.

A collaborator? : Ethnographic issues of police and peer suspicion


  • David Sausdal


  • Jenny Fleming
  • Sarah Charman

Summary, in English

Suspicion is endemic to police ethnography. As research has demonstrated, the police repeatedly probe into the ethnographer’s intent and purposes. Is the ethnographer observing police work to ‘simply’ carry out research? Or is the ethnographer actually there to help develop the profession or, worse, to deviously disclose police secrets? Yet, doing police ethnography not only involves the ethnographer being questioned by the police; it also frequently involves being asked similarly interrogating questions by academic peers. Amplified by present-day critiques of police misconduct, colleagues ask about the police ethnographer’s commitment. Has the ethnographer, for example, ‘gone native’ and thereby lost the ability to shine a needed critical light? Bearing such question(ing)s in mind, this chapter introduces the methodological concept of ‘the collaborator’. Using the ambiguous/antagonymic meaning of the word, the chapter considers how police ethnography often involves navigating contested waters with both police and peers questioning the ethnographer’s allegiances, thereby wrestling with continuous queries about whether the ethnographer is in fact collaborating with or against the police. In doing this, the chapter adds to existing methodological debates about the ethics and loyalties of (police) ethnography, pointing to how the question of suspicion and side-taking extend from the offices of the police to the hallways of academia. Drawing on the author’s own experiences of studying transnational policing practices across Europe, the chapter concludes by offering five recommendations as to how the police ethnographer may continue to produce quality ethnography while, for better or worse, being cast as a collaborator.


  • Department of Sociology

Publishing year







Routledge International Handbook of Police Ethnography

Document type

Book chapter




  • Social Anthropology




  • ISBN: 9781003083795
  • ISBN: 9780367539399