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Steven Sampson

Steven Sampson

Professor emeritus

Steven Sampson

Fia attent (Watch out!): Surveillance and Intimacy in Ethnographic Research


  • Steven Sampson

Summary, in English

Several articles in the Recalling Fieldwork collection discuss the role of state surveillance and how it affected our ethnographic fieldwork. This was certainly the case in my own research in Romania in the decade from 1974-1985, where my secret police (Securitate) file ended up being over 600 pages long, and where I was blacklisted in 1985 due to hostile activities. Other ethnographers had similar experiences. Here I would like to use these discussions and connect the role of surveillance with the ethnographic project of achieving some kind of intimacy with the people we study. By ’intimacy’ I mean the method whereby we ethnographers use our very self, our person, as the primary instrument for understanding how people live their lives. In the socialist states, with their surveillance apparatus, most ethnographers were able to overcome these barriers and achieve some kind of intimacy with the people they studied. Here I will talk about three kinds of surveillance and how it affected different kinds of intimacy: 1) the familiar state surveillance carried out by secret police against us and our informants; 2) the peer-to-peer surveillance experienced by all ethnographers who immerse themselves in small communities where everyone seems to know everything about you and you about them; and 3) the self-surveillance that we conducted as we tried to figure out what was going on, whom to trust, what trust meant, and our subsequent guilt as we learned about the effect of our presence on innocent citizens and the information the provided about us. The three kinds of surveillance entailed different kinds of intimacy, both overlapping and contradictory. As fieldworkers, all anthropologists are looking for intimacy. Butt there is a dark side to even the closest relationships. To find the solution to this dilemma, we need to start asking some painful questions. We need to ‘fii attent’ (watch out/pass auf).


  • Socialantropologi










  • Social Sciences Interdisciplinary
  • Social Anthropology


  • Social anthropology
  • fieldwork
  • Romania
  • Surveillance
  • Secret Police/Securitatea
  • intimacy
  • Socialism

Conference name

Workshop on Doing Fieldwork in Socialist Eastern Europe: Methodology, Ethics and Engagement, 3-4 May 2022, University of Fribourg, Suisse

Conference date

2022-05-03 - 2022-05-05

Conference place

Fribourg, Switzerland