Accepted Paper:

Face to face behind bars: ethical fragilities in the researcher - prisoner relationship in a Greek prison for women  


Panayiota Toulina Demeli (University of the Aegean)

Paper short abstract:

The presentation discusses ethical concerns which emerged from interviews with women in prison. The fragile researcher – prisoner relationship is considered in the contexts of anonymity, inequalities, trust and friendship.

Paper long abstract:

This presentation is based on my experiences with interviewing incarcerated mothers in a Greek prison. During the 18 months of the research, I encountered a series of fragile ethical issues concerning my identity as an anthropologist and researcher, the protection of their anonymity, inequalities in the researcher - prisoner relationship, the emergence of friendship. Allowing the women to believe that I was a prison psychologist or legal consultant, their initial explanation for my visits, might have conveniently conveyed the idea that their discussions with me were protected by a therapist-patient or lawyer-client code of confidentiality and would not be revealed to other prisoners. The ethical impropriety of this arrangement is obvious; however, in persisting to identify myself as "only" a researcher meant that new avenues to trust needed to be created and that when (and if) their life stories were revealed, it was not in exchange for therapy or advice. The resulting imbalance in our relationship was yet another ethical concern, but was alleviated by other reciprocities, for example, bonds of trust, mutual exchange of thoughts and moments of intersubjectivity. These attributes of "enduring friendship" assist in writing about motherhood in prison; however, it is unclear what remains of the research-generated solidarity for the women who continue with their life of confinement.

Panel IW04
Ethically sensitive researches in anthropology