Doing research on ‘sensitive topics’: Studying the Sweden–South Africa Arms Deal
AbstractThe conventional arms trade is a sensitive topic that is often shrouded in secrecy. As with most aspects of so-called ‘high politics’, processes connected to conventional arms trade habitually take place behind closed doors between a relatively small and tightly knit group of individuals. Gaining access to such people is an enormous challenge for any researcher. Moreover, building rapport with key decision-makers takes a long time, and it requires considerable effort and resolve. This article recapitulates the approach and method of a study done on conventional Swedish arms trade with South Africa. It provides insights into several substantive issues related to such research, in particular, aspects connected to elite interviewing and research ethics. The bulk of the article covers matters related to research design, access to elites, the limitations associated with elite interviewing, and the interview process that was adopted during fieldwork. The discussion on research ethics is closely, but not exclusively, connected to elite interviewing, and here the article reflects on various ethical considerations as well as the harsh reality of researching sensitive topics, such as conventional arms trade.
Copyright (c) 2020 Wayne Stephen Coetzee
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
Authors, copyright holders, may use the publishers version for teaching purposes, in books, theses, dissertations, conferences and conference papers.
A copy of the authors’ publishers version may also be hosted on the following websites:
- Non-commercial personal homepage or blog.
- Institutional webpage.
- Authors Institutional Repository.
The following notice should accompany such a posting on the website: “This is an electronic version of an article published in Scientia Militaria, Volume XXX, number XXX, pages XXX–XXX”, DOI. Authors should also supply a hyperlink to the original paper or indicate where the original paper (http://scientiamilitaria.journals.ac.za) may be found.
Authors publishers version, affiliated with the Stellenbosch University will be automatically deposited in the University’s’ Institutional Repository SUNScholar.
Articles as a whole, may not be re-published with another journal.
The following license applies: