Accepted Papers:

Ethics in international partnerships for development research: avoiding exploitation or promoting solidarity?  


Maru Mormina (University of Oxford)

Paper Short Abstract:

Ethical guidance for North-South partnerships based on negative obligations to avoid exploitation of researchers and participants reinforces colonial views of LMIC as "vulnerable", negatively impacting research and funding agendas. I offer an alternative model based on positive duties of solidarity

Paper long abstract:

Despite increased emphasis on equitable partnerships, development research in low and middle income countries (LMIC) continues to be driven by high income countries (HIC). LMIC researchers may be afforded limited input into the research process, while bearing the brunt of frontline work with participants and communities to whom they are ultimately accountable but without the power to influence how the research affects or benefits them. This situation, often described as exploitative, undermines not just trust among partners but above all the social value of the research itself. Unequal partnerships also hamper LMIC's ability to develop local capacity to drive such high-value research, creating a vicious circle of under-capacitation. Ultimately, by not engaging fully with the wide range of local stakeholders (researchers, communities, practitioners, policy-makers) and their contexts, development research can subtly reinforce, if not impose, Western paradigms of development in a neo-colonialist fashion, even with the best of intentions.

Many ethical guidelines exist to foster equitable research partnerships, build local capacity and advance justice. Yet, these focus largely on avoiding exploitation, and in doing so reinforce a view of LMIC as "vulnerable" and the neo-colonialist approaches that they seek to combat. This can negatively influence the design of research agendas, policies and funding strategies. For this reason this paper argues for an ethical approach based on ideas of cosmopolitan solidarity borrowed from political philosophy that can help reverse neo-colonial tendencies in the funding and conduct of research in LMIC. Solidarity rather than exploitation can better ground mutual obligations and promote truly global partnerships in development research.

Panel D5
Ethics, justice, and the practice of development research