Accepted Paper:

Too dangerous for fieldwork? institutional ethics and risk-management in anthropological fieldwork  


Jeffrey Sluka (Massey University)

Paper short abstract:

Addresses the threat presented by institutional ethics committees which exercise a gate-keeping function making it increasingly difficult for researchers to enter an expanding range of ‘too dangerous’ field sites, and proposes risk assessment and management protocols to deal with this.

Paper long abstract:

This paper contributes to contemporary reflection on and conversations about anthropological fieldwork in a dangerous world. It focuses specifically on ethical review processes and 'dangerous' fieldwork. In recent years, one salient consequence of the neoliberalisation of universities has been the introduction of ethics committees or Institutional Review Boards whose permission or approval academics now require in order to conduct fieldwork. Anthropologists and ethnographers have had particular difficulty with these committees because they are often based on medical or laboratory models of research ethics which are not well-suited for application to ethnographic or fieldwork-based research approaches. Another difficulty these IRBs increasingly present is that because they are involved with managerial responsibilities regarding maintaining occupational safety and health regimes they are required and empowered to restrict or prevent research which they deem may entail any risk or danger to researchers. As such, they now represent a growing epistemological threat by exercising a gate-keeping function which is making it increasingly difficult for researchers to enter an expanding range of what are perceived as 'too dangerous' field sites. While this is clothed in the language or idiom of ethics and security, a political analysis suggests that they present a form of censorship and control, a serious challenge to academic freedom, and even movement towards the recolonization of anthropology. This paper will describe and address this threat, and also offer a constructive proposal for potentially ameliorating it by development of risk assessment and management protocols for researcher survival in perilous field sites.

Panel WIM-HLT05b
Moving moralities: anthropological fieldwork and risk in a violent world