Risky fieldwork: The problems of ethics in the field

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Journal Article
Energy Research and Social Science, 2018, 45 pp. 348 - 354
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© 2018 Elsevier Ltd This article foregrounds some of the ethical dilemmas and physical and emotional risks involved in the experience of doing ethnographic fieldwork in a contested and violent political environment where one's academic enterprise might impinge upon the security of one's respondents. How does one undertake genuine collaboration with local researchers, community members and grassroots organizations in volatile conflict-ridden spaces where respondents are wary of participating in “research” since data from past research activities has led to undesirable impacts on their lives, yet they also want a more accurate representation of their needs, demands and desires? In this situation fieldwork research has to be carefully analysed and organised so that it has the least potential for harm. This may involve voluntarily withdrawing from tense situations, making quick and unscheduled visits, avoiding attention and so on. These solutions create new problems. Drawing from fieldwork conducted over three years, this article discusses how research questions and findings are often limited by personal possibilities and positionalities, and reflects on the ethical dilemmas and emotional challenges of fieldwork and the limitations of research.
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