, Volume 37, Issue 1, pp 43-68

From Methodological Stumbles to Substantive Insights: Gaining Ethnographic Access in Queer Communities

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This article demonstrates precisely how issues of access—in this case differential access to informants and the scenes that they populate in three sites—can reveal substantive findings. In the case it features, a comparative study of small cities with growing populations of lesbian couples, actors’ disparate and place-specific sexual identities produced disparate and place-specific responses to research. Integrationist sexual identities impeded access, whereas identity-politics orientations facilitated it. The paper identifies three mechanisms via which sexual identities influenced access: directly, by shaping informants’ orientations to the research topic, and, indirectly, by influencing local networks and institutions that emerge from and reinforce local identities. By explicating one ethnographer’s path from methodological trouble to substantive insight, the article traces the utility of an expansive and flexible reflexivity that begins with but extends beyond the researcher’s identity and role. This reflexivity, the article proposes, encourages identification of substantive findings and the development of social theory, and can advance a comparative sociology of ethnographic access.