Secrecy and ‘Studying-up’

  • Mike SheaffEmail author


Secrecy and deception are under-explored in sociology. Secrecy may be considered negatively in contrast to the more positive status of privacy, yet boundaries between them can be blurred. These issues provide a backdrop for a discussion on problems in studying the state, with attention to Laura Nader’s call for ‘studying-up’ of powerful groups in society. Empirical study of elites is also underdeveloped, presenting many challenges, including access, and the complexities of multilayered organisations. A short review of opportunities and challenges in using documentary methods in social research is followed by a final section describing use of FOIA in research in the UK. Acknowledging ethical issues it raises, Sheaff argues it offers valuable opportunities for ‘studying-up’.


Secrecy The state Elites Documentary research methods FOIA research 


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Law, Criminology & GovernmentUniversity of PlymouthPlymouthUK

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