This paper seeks to open up for discussion the emotional world of researchers in a manner that encourages and supports reflective practice. Drawing on the work of Clifford Geertz (1968) we focus on the ‘irony’ inherent to research – elaborated via the concept of ‘covertness’ – whereby ethnographic researchers construct mutual fictions in their relationships with respondents, which obscure the authenticity and sincerity of the emotional exchange between researcher and researched. Specifically we discuss examples of interpersonal dynamics which generate uncomfortable emotions and identity work on the part of researchers. Ultimately, we advance understanding of how emotions and identity work influence the collection and interpretation of data. The methodological implications for conducting ethnographic research are discussed.