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Elite ethnography in an insecure place

The methodological implications of “studying up” in Pakistan

Rosita Armytage

Based on ethnographic research conducted with the wealthiest and most powerful business owners and politicians in urban Pakistan from 2013 to 2015, this article examines the particular set of epistemological and interpersonal issues that arise when studying elite actors. In politically unstable contexts like Pakistan, the relationship between the researcher and the elite reveals shifting power dynamics of class, gender, and national background, which are further complicated by the prevalence of rumor and the exceptional ability of elite informants to obscure that which they would prefer remain hidden. Specifically, this article argues that the researcher’s positionality, and the inversion of traditional power dynamics between the researcher and the researched, can ameliorate, as well as exacerbate, the challenges of undertaking participant observation with society’s most powerful.