Spies like us? Respondent perceptions of research sponsors in 20 African Countries

  • LJ Fry
Keywords: Afrobarometer, fieldwork, spy, research sponsor


A continuing debate has been the roles and responsibilities of anthropologists acting as fieldworkers concerning espionage and covert research. As Ratha (2013) indicated, the ethical foundations of scientific anthropology are the basis upon which fieldworkers develop a genuine and committed empathy for the people they study. Fieldworkers are therefore obliged to help, not harm those they study. Those who would use anthropologists as spies are seen to act contrary to the cannons of scientific and or academic research. As more and more anthropologists find employment in government and the corporate world, the lines between academia and legitimate applied research become blurred. The purpose of this paper is to suggest that the most important question has been totally neglected in this polemic. This paper argues that the real question is “do respondents think fieldworkers are possible spies?’ To preview the findings, based on the responses of 27,713 persons in 20 African countries, the answer to that question is that few respondents thought fieldworkers were sent by intelligence or secret service agencies. Only 82 respondents thought that an intelligence agency had sent the fieldworker. The paper profiles those respondents who did think an intelligence agency sent the fieldworker/interviewer to their homes, and explores the factors that appear to distinguish them from other respondents. The significant factors were; the respondent’s educational level; whether the respondent checked with others during the interview; the respondent’s ease during the interview, whether the interviewer felt threatened, and whether others influenced the respondent.

Key words: Afrobarometer, fieldwork, spy, research sponsor


Journal Identifiers

eISSN: 1737-8176
print ISSN: 1737-7374