The Broken Ethnography: Lessons from an Almost Hero

  • Randol ContrerasEmail author


In the past, ethnographers often presented themselves in the classic hero frame, where they appeared authoritative and calm. Recent ethnographers, though, reveal hardship and vulnerability yet prevail as “new age heroes” who overcame danger and doubt. Missing are the important methodological insights of ethnographers who experience multiple setbacks and obstacles, ones that lead to a broken ethnography, or one that never materializes or starts. Here, the ethnographer suffers, becoming dispirited and wanting to surrender or give up. This paper breaks that methodological silence, showing how difficult gang research in Los Angeles County placed me in a broken ethnography, one where I became disillusioned and questioned my abilities and resolve. In the end, the experience revealed important methodological lessons, ones that provide guidance for future ethnographers.


Gangs Los Angeles Emotion Reflexivity Trust Rapport Ethnography Crime 



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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of SociologyUniversity of CaliforniaRiversideUSA

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