The “Deep Throat” investigation that led to the Watergate scandal has long fascinated me. This audacious attempt to expose corruption at the heart of the American body politic is something I admire and envy in equal measure. What a pity that, as an academic, I never get to undertake such purposeful and important work as Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein did when they cultivated their informant and exposed the revelations that eventually brought down President Richard Nixon.
But recently I have been thinking about whether academic social science could, after all, conduct its own equivalent of the Watergate investigation: probing the plentiful corruption, abuse, deceit and sleaze behind power. In one sense, that is simply another way of asking whether the style of investigative reporting used by Woodward and Bernstein could be crossed with investigative social research techniques – such as ethnography, non-participant observation and in-depth interviewing – to become a recognised new academic research method.
But putting it in those terms is too mundane because the point and purpose of investigative social science would be far removed from the academic industry of knowledge production – of simply adding to the mass production of scholarly outputs. The investigative social scientist would be driven more by the moral outrage of an investigative hack than by the scholastic curiosities of a professional don.
The rest of the article is in The Times Higher Ed Supplement.