Gatekeepers and Keymasters: Dynamic Relationships of Access in Geographical Fieldwork


This article contributes to ii recent and growing body of literature exploring the nature of fieldwork in human geography. Specifically, we critically examine the role of gatekeepers in providing access to “the field,” based on existing conceptualizations of gatekeepers in the literature and on our own experiences with gatekeepers. We argue that the concept of gatekeepers has been oversimplified, in that relationships between researchers and gatekeepers are often assumed to be unidirectional-with gatekeepers controlling or pro- viding access by researchers-and predominantly static in form and time. Although we accept the necessity and advantages of working through gatekeepers, our experiences suggest that relationships with them are highly complex and evolve over time, with sometimes unex- pected implications for research. In gathering and analyzing data, researchers become gatekeepers themselves, what we are calling “keymasters.” Reconceptualizing the gatekeeper-researcher relationship will contribute to ongoing efforts to more fully understand field-workers as undertaking a practice inherently political, personal, and linked to the production of knowledge. Keywords: access, ga tekeeper, geographical fieldwork, key master, reflexivity, research methods.



method, CEE