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Ethics, risk, and the role of universities

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference paper

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationLondon Conference in Critical Thought Proceedings
PublisherLondon Conference in Critical Thought
Published29 Jun 2018

King's Authors


No matter how prepared we are, ethnographic fieldwork can be both challenging and frightening, especially when things don’t go to plan. Dynamic new contexts often require researchers to navigate unfamiliar ethical, political and personal dilemmas, where their ability to act safely and ethically is greatly enhanced by appropriate training and support from their universities. Worryingly, very little has been written about the way in which researchers might approach the multiple challenges that arise during ethnographic fieldwork, and still less as to how universities might support their researchers in addressing these challenges in the field. This paper draws on the example of PhD fieldwork conducted during the devastating events of the 2012 Mali Coup, and argues that universities play a crucial and under-theorised role in determining the experiences of researchers and their interlocutors. It discusses the exercise of knowledge and power in cases where researchers have privileged knowledge about emergent political and social contexts, and examines the ethical implications of using data collected in crisis situations. Through this discussion it also seeks to acknowledge some of the feelings that accompany fieldwork in crisis contexts; fear, guilt and loneliness. The paper concludes by asking what universities, departments and supervisors can do to prepare researchers for both the ethical dilemmas and risk they might face in the field, and suggests that the power of universities to influence fieldwork experiences and outcomes deserves urgent attention. This discussion is intended to benefit both researchers and supervisors.

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