Drawing on field notes, interview transcripts and personal reflections, this paper describes an ethnographic research project as a practical accomplishment. The project has employed two young female fieldworkers in negotiating and documenting the social worlds of socially disadvantaged and marginalised older men in inner city Sydney, Australia. We provide a rich description of the various processes involved in this kind of research such as gaining entry, recruiting participants, obtaining consent and conducting interviews. Our analytical and interpretive focus is on the social relationships of fieldwork and the problematic role of rapport as the ideal (or only) basis for such relationships. We show how these relationships and the information they generate have been variably and situationally accomplished in our project. Our findings suggest that communicative relationships in field research can take a variety of forms that produce useful data but that these are not necessarily illustrative of rapport between researcher and researched. We conclude by arguing the need for the methodological literature of ethnography to develop a new analytical vocabulary for describing research practice and a conceptual framework that moves beyond neo-positivist and normative prescriptions for doing 'good' fieldwork.


The research on which this commentary is based was funded by the National Health & Medical Research Council of Australia. We are also grateful to colleague reviewers for their comments on earlier drafts of this paper.

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