Life story: The death of informants or when a fieldworker outlives the community studied*

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In 2017, the Bulgarian anthropologist Marek Jakpubek published in the International Journal of Social Research Methodology an article entitled The death of informants or when a fieldworker outlives the community study, where it analyzes the implications of the death of the informants, during a long-term investigation in social anthropology.

Long-term research is considered to be one that lasts about a decade. Do you think that is a long time? Well, Jakpubek (2017) conducted a study in the village of Voyvodovo, Bulgaria, for almost 20 years, in which he applied various qualitative research techniques: life story, interviews and ethnography.

It could be said that the idea of ​​the death of the informants belongs to the investigation, but in the particular case of the investigation of this anthropologist, the death of the members of the village also meant the disappearance of the village itself.

The author emphasizes what he considers a methodological vacuum, which does not prepare professionally for events of this magnitude, and which ends up affecting the researcher strongly.

Regardless of the technique that is decided to be used in an investigation, be it life history, ethnography, or interviews (as in this case), they are techniques that usually establish a bridge between the informant and the researcher. Deep do not you think?

One might believe that the death of an informant accompanies the loss of an irreplaceable source of information; However, the author tells us in the article that the death of his informants was precisely what taught him a lot about them, since the people of Voyvodovo were believers and the thematization of life and death was one of the teachings that accompanies since childhood (I almost cry in this part of the article). What turned out to analyze his attitude towards life and death.

The author raises the question of whether the discussion of this situation should be included in the educational curricula for fieldwork training and the appropriate and ethical use of qualitative techniques: in terms of its importance for research, the emotional demands and the necessary preparation, the end of the investigator-informant relationship due to the death of the informants.

You can even discuss other aspects such as anonymity and confidentiality:

  • What happens when we say that our informant died?
  • Are not we betraying confidentiality?
  • Do you consider that these are aspects that should be considered in the investigation?
  • What other things do you consider important in the application of techniques such as live stories?

There is still a lot to discuss about how the methodology can be improved and that is why it is important to pay attention to issues such as these and disseminate them.


Jakoubek, M. (2019). The death of informants or when a fieldworker outlives the community studied. International Journal of Social Research Methodology, 22(2), 207-218.