Let’s Not Go There: Coping with (Pre-) Selection Bias in Collaborative Field Research

Christian Göbel


Field research in China often requires the researcher to cooperate with two kinds of actors: research collaborators, such as those at universities or official think tanks, and local officials. These actors facilitate or enhance field access, but such access comes at the price of a potential “pre-selection bias” in data collection. Some scholars have argued that dependence on these “gatekeepers” introduces a significant bias into research outcomes. I argue, however, that the constraints faced by China scholars in their field studies are not absolute, but function by degree. The CCP is monolithic neither in its organization nor in the thoughts of its agents, and close collaboration with local partners can help remove normative bias rather than necessarily introducing it. Most importantly, an argument built exclusively on the power of structural constraints discounts China scholars’ most crucial abilities: to learn, to think critically and to research holistically.

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