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Neither Too Scientific nor a Spy: Negotiating the Ethnographic Interview in Russia

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image of Comparative Sociology
For content published from 1960-2001, see International Journal of Comparative Sociology.

The value of qualitative research is contingent upon clear and open communication between researcher and informants. During a comparative study of Russian Orthodox believers in New Jersey and St. Petersburg, ethnic Russians and ethnic Americans responded very differently to the research apparatus themselves. While Americans accepted participant observation, for Russians the history of Soviet surveillance has resulted in expectations that “competent” social research consists of surveys, and that such surveys are invasive. Meanwhile, American-style unstructured interviews, designed to let an informant lead, resembles behavior Russians associate with spies. Informants in post-industrial societies have expectations about how social research should be conducted, and these cultural differences must be incorporated in research design.

Affiliations: 1: Social Sciences, Oklahoma State University-Oklahoma City 900 N Portland, Oklahoma City, OK 73107 USA, Email:


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