EASA, 2010: EASA2010: Crisis and imagination
Maynooth, 24/08/2010 – 27/08/2010
Ethics in conflict: doing research in conflict areas and the ethical dilemmas that arise
Date and Start Time 25 Aug, 2010 at 11:30
For several years, anthropologists have been concerned with ethics in research and writing. The active involvement of anthropologists with military operations in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan has further stirred discussion and has even led to the change of the code of ethics of the AAA (2006). This code, and others like it, are however, rather rigid and do not take into account the different (often contradicting) levels of ethical obligations and dilemmas researchers working in conflict areas continuously encounter (Bourgois 1990). Our ethical obligations towards our interlocutors, the states in which we work and expectations by our research institutions and sponsors are often incompatible.
As researchers we continuously have to juggle between different positions and especially when studying conflict we are persistently confronted with expectations of taking sides - not only by academia and our readers, but first and foremost by the people we work with. Anthropology has historically been a discipline of the underprivileged and the study of perpetrators of violence is still, unjustly, being looked upon with suspicion. How do anthropologists, who either work with victims or perpetrators, deal with the expectations of our interlocutors and colleagues? Do we necessarily have to take side with our informants, do we (have to) criticize them, how far do we engage in their struggle for justice and how do we represent our findings, and ourselves to different audiences?
We welcome contributions that tackle such ethical issues. Contributions may analyse these ethical dilemmas structurally or methodologically, and address questions of (re)presentation.
This workshop is closed to new paper proposals.
Giving voice or becoming a mouthpiece?
Working in conflict areas, anthropologists often find themselves between two extreme ethical positions, which are impossible to satisfy. Rigid structural frameworks make (legal) access to the field difficult. On the other hand, we are expected to give voice to the oppressed and to bring injustice and human rights violations to light. Fellow anthropologists and not least our interlocutors expect us to become morally and politically involved. Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork among Kurdish activists in Turkey, I elaborate how fieldwork became a political endeavor, as I was forced to take sides, and had unequal access to all warring parties. But by becoming political and giving voice to the oppressed, are we not at the risk to become the mouthpiece of certain political groups and their interest - on the expense of those already silenced by their political discourses?
The ethics of teams
Ethnographic fieldwork has since its inception in the early 20th Century in most cases been framed as the immersion of the individual ethnographer in a larger social field. During most of this period team research has been seen as a poor substitute.
Drawing on the experiences collected in a comparative ethnographic research program undertaken in Colombia, Guatemala, South Africa and the West Bank this paper argues that team based research is a more ethical approach to field work in conflict ridden societies and communities.
Ethics and the struggle to get data: experiences in Rwanda
Ethics is of course a prerequisite for conducting good research, but what if this means that you will not have access to relevant data? In this paper I would like to show how applying the norms and conditions of the Rwandan Ethics Committee prevents the researcher from freely conducting research and hinders his or her access to the Rwandan peasantry. With being in line with the conditions of the Ethics Committee the researcher would become too closely linked to the Rwandan government and would not be able to voice the thoughts and feelings of rural Rwandans. In obeying to national ethical codes the researcher would then sort of betray the people he wants to give a voice to. How ethical is that?
Juggling positions: between peace activism and studying soldiers
This paper will deal with the juggling of the researcher's position in the field between peace activism and studying soldiers. During my fieldwork in Israel between 2006-2007 I studied soldiers who had been active as combatants in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Later, in the summer of 2006, I also interviewed those who were sent as reserves into Lebanon where the 'Second Lebanon War' had broken out. At the same time I was actively engaged in the protest movement against this war. Such a position is susceptible to criticism, I my case of two kinds: those who criticized me for researching Israeli soldiers in general, but especially without looking at their Palestinian victims and those who thought my (open) activism to stand in the way of my abilities as a researcher. In this paper I would like to counter these critics by showing the way I juggled between these positions.
Know your enemy? Reflections on studying military presence in Afghanistan
My anthropological research into Afghanistan inevitably leads me into ethical dilemmas. The main dilemma stems from the need to study the victimizers in order to understand the complex relations between armed forces and civilian populations. The fact that stories of suffering and violence caused by armed groups are prevalent in my research, urges me to pose the following questions: is it ethically justifiable to study also the victimizers? Are soldiers primarily to be considered as victimizers? How will my research of (alleged) perpetrators affect my relation to the victims? Asking these questions is particularly relevant in the context of Afghanistan, where hostile images of (foreign) armed forces have a long history. In this region, armed forces are likely perceived as an "enemy" - not only by the Afghan population, but also by critical anthropologists. The paper will also address this partial convergence of interlocutors' and researchers' perceptions concerning armed groups as well as the ethical dilemmas that this implies.
Ethics in conflict in- and outside academia: professional anthropologists versus anthropological professionals
There seems to be a growing gap between the way in which professional academic anthropologists discuss and reflect upon the ethical dilemmas that arise from doing fieldwork in conflict areas and the realities that our students encounter when they enter the non-academic job market. In my paper I want to take the case of a student who took a job with the armed forces as an 'anthropological' liaison officer and the way in which this was discussed among students as a starting point to reflect upon the different levels of moral obligations inside and outside the academic arena and how we can include this in our teaching. By teaching our students implicitly or explicitly a rather rigid code of ethics we run the risk of leaving them empty-handed or ill-equipped when entering the job market outside academia.
This workshop is closed to new paper proposals.