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Accepted Paper:

Failed research in the Democratic Republic of the Congo: Navigating ethical and logistical considerations in the field  
Allison Furniss (University of Cape Town)

Paper short abstract:

Based on failed ethnographic research in Democratic Republic of the Congo, this paper discusses how the realities of complex research terrains in politically unstable contexts outweigh well intended ethical considerations, presenting unique considerations on how to conduct ethical research.

Paper long abstract:

Conducting ethical research in politically unstable African contexts presents unique challenges for researchers as they navigate protection of participants, safety considerations, power imbalances and extreme unpredictability. While researchers may have good intentions in research design, ethical considerations can also hinder research, calling for context specific ethics in research. This paper is based on reflections, case studies and comparison of two periods of ethnographic research conducted in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo in 2019 and 2022, over six months, with female artisanal miners. Placing these two periods of fieldwork, one which was relatively successful and the other which largely failed, in dialogue, I seek to explore the following questions: What does it mean to conduct ethical research in African states that exist in contexts of governance without government? Who decides what constitutes ethical research? How can ethical research be reconciled with the practical dimensions of conducting research in contexts of political instability? How does the researcher’s gender affect these processes?

In response, this paper explores how well-intended measures to gain research permissions from relevant local authorities crippled the research projects to varying degrees, primarily due to bureaucratic processes. In addition, a widespread emphasis on ‘protecting’ the female researcher blocked access to field sites, revealing additional gendered dimensions to research ethics and practice. This paper considers how research may fail in complex terrains where the realities of logistical challenges outweigh well intended ethical considerations to research, presenting unique considerations and lessons on what it means to conduct ethical research.

Panel Poli37
Pasts and futures of research ethics in the African contexts
  Session 1 Saturday 3 June, 2023, -