Accepted Paper:

Applying Ethics to Research Reality: Responsibility, Mutuality, and Participation in the Field  


Susann Huschke (Wits University, Johannesburg, South Africa)

Paper short abstract:

In my doctoral research, I grapple with questions of health & illness in the context of irregular migration. Drawing from my experiences in the field with undocumented Latin American migrants in Berlin, this paper discusses ethical issues related to my research topic, methodology, and implementation

Paper long abstract:

This paper discusses ethical issues that occurred during my ongoing anthropological field work on health and sickness of undocumented Latin American migrants in Berlin.

For undocumented migrants, fear of being discovered and deported is a substantial part of every day life. Therefore, any data gathered by the anthropologist is potentially dangerous to the informant, if given to certain institutions. In this research setting, accessing the field involved to a number of practical ethical issues.

In order to get involved with the Latino community in Berlin, I worked as a volunteer for migrant organizations. When participating in informal communication situations, it had to be decided how to disclose myself as a researcher. Furthermore, talking about sickness experiences in the particular context of irregular migration may cause great emotional distress for the interlocutors. Hence, ethical responsibilities of the researcher may demand to defer interviews in order to avoid negative emotional experiences for the informants.

Once informants were found, further questions of responsibility and participation arose. This doctoral study is based on the idea of field research as a process of mutual exchange of services. On the other hand, anthropological participant observation, especially in this highly political and sensitive research setting, could easily turn into mere participation and emotional involvement. Thus, in a continuous process of self-reflection, it must be decided which services are adequate or even mandatory from an ethical point of view, and with which intensity they can be performed without relinquishing the role as a professional scientist.

Panel W037
Medical anthropological fieldwork: ethical and methodological issues