Research safety and security: Addressing the risks of studying disasters and humanitarian action.

Panel details

Panel organiser(s) will be presenting In-Person & Online
Number of paper presentations 1


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Panel organisers:

Dr Rodrigo Mena
Institute of Social Studies (ISS) of Erasmus University Rotterdam
Dr Dorothea Hilhorst
Institute of Social Studies (ISS) of Erasmus University Rotterdam
Dr Marta Welander
Lea Liekefedt
Institute of Social Studies (ISS) of Erasmus University Rotterdam

Disaster research and practice commonly rely on gathering information and data from places affected or at risk of disasters. This practice, commonly called fieldwork (or in-situ research), encompasses activities such as going on digs, experiments and collecting data at first-hand via observational and interviewing work (Angrosino, 2007; Goffman, 1989; Loyle et al., 2019). It involves being physically present in the places where information is collected and includes interactions between the researcher and the interviewees (or artefacts) for supposedly prolonged periods of time. Doing fieldwork, however, entails multiple risks for researchers, research participants, facilitators and organizations supporting or hosting research projects (Koch, 2013; Roguski, 2013). Depending on the context and specifics of each research project, these risks involve illness, accidents, reputational damage, (re)traumatization of research participants, stress, and even arrest or kidnapping in some scenarios. Unfortunately, multiple examples testify to the risks of conducting fieldwork research (see for instance Flower, 2010; Goode, 2010; Kleinman and Copp 1993; Shaw, 2011; Shih, 2015).
Aim: This panel seeks to open a space for discussion and reflection not only on the risk of conducting research in our field of disaster and humanitarian studies, but more importantly, on how researchers, students, and practitioners address research-related risks. Research safety and security is the field that studies and advances the process of identifying research-related risks and of developing measures to reduce them as well as prepare, and respond adequately if something happens (Hilhorst et al., 2016). Safety and security of research is, moreover, an important ethical action. Understanding that research ethics is about do not harm, research safety and security is everything that we do to avoid harm from happening, and therefore it is a core element of research ethics (Fujii, 2012; Matelski, 2014; O’Mathúna, 2010; Turner, 2013).
We invite presentations and papers that discuss:
1. The risk of conducting research in the field of disaster and humanitarian studies and practices
2. The measures, practices and arrangements researchers and research intuitions have in place (or not) to develop research that is safe and secure
3. The effect of safety and security on research practise, including methods, case selections, analysis and research dissemination.
4. The experiences of people dealing with safety and security aspect of research
Motivation: The motivation of the panel stems from the fact that there is limited knowledge on how researchers and universities can prepare for a safe, secure and ethical fieldwork practice. While the number of books, articles, or guidelines accounting for the risks, challenges and costs of conducting fieldwork research (particularly in places affected by violent conflict, authoritarian regimes, and high levels of fragility) is plenty, there is limited knowledge on how to conduct fieldwork research safely and secure.
Outputs: The panel foresees the development of a journal special issue where panel participants and other actors can share and discuss in more detail about Safety and Security of Research.
Organisations: This panel is hosted by the “Safety and Security Impact Journey” project (Erasmus University) and the IHSA Working Group on Safety and Security of Research.

Angrosino, M. (2007) 'Doing ethnography and observational research: Data collection in the field', SAGE Research Methods Online, pp. 1-23. doi: 10.4135/9781849208932.
Fujii, L.A. (2012) 'Research ethics 101: Dilemmas and responsibilities', PS, political science & politics, 45(4), pp. 717-723. doi: 10.1017/S1049096512000819.
Flower, S. (2010) 'Despatches from Papua New Guines', RIMA: Review of Indonesian and Malaysian Affairs, 44(1), pp. 233-240. doi: 10.3316/ielapa.656720053609279.
Goffman, E. (1989) 'On fieldwork', Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, 18(2), pp. 123-132. doi: 10.1177/089124189018002001.
Goode, J.P. (2010) 'Redefining Russia: Hybrid regimes, fieldwork and Russian Politics', Perspectives on Politics, 8(4), pp. 1055-1075. doi: 10.1017/S153759271000318X.
Hilhorst, D,. Hodgson, L., Jansen, B. & Mena, R. (2016) 'Security guidelines for field research in complex, remote and hazardous places', International Institute of Social Studies and International Humanitarian Studies Association (IHSA).
Koch, N. (2013). 'Introduction – Field methods in ‘closed contexts’: undertaking research in authoritarian states and places', AREA, 45(4), pp. 390-395. doi: 10.1111/area.12044.
Kleinman, S. & Copp, M. (1993) 'Fieldworkers as Professionals', in Emotions and Fieldwork, California, United States: SAGE Publications Inc, pp. 140-153. doi: 10.4135/978141298404.
Loyle, C., Smith, A. & Swedlund, H. (2019) 'Fieldwork in “restrictive” environments: Contrasting methodologies', SAGE Research Methods Cases, pp. 1-14. doi: 10.4135/9781526466631.
Matelski, M. (2014) 'On sensitivity and secrecy: How foreign researchers and their local contacts in Myanmar deal with risk under authoritarian rule', Journal of Burma Studies, 18(1), pp. 59-82. doi: 10.1353/jbs.2014.0008.
O’Mathúna, D.P. (2010) 'Conducting research in the aftermath of disasters: Ethical considerations', Journal of Evidence-Based Medicine, 3(2), pp. 65-75. doi: 10.1111/j.1756-5391.2010.01076.x.
Roguski, M. (2013) 'Key issues effecting field researcher safety: A reflexive commentary', New Zealand Sociology, 28(1), pp. 18-35.
Shaw, W. (2011) 'Researcher journeying and the adventure/danger impulse: Researcher journeying and the adventure/danger impulse', AREA, 43(4), pp. 470-476. doi: 10.1111/j.1475-4762.2011.01032.x.
Shih, V. (2015) 'Research in authoritarian aegimes: Transparency tradeoffs and solutions', Qualitative & Multi-Method Research, 13(1), pp. 20-22. doi: 10.5281/ZENODO.893087.
Turner, S. (2013) 'Red stamps and green tea: Fieldwork negotiations and dilemmas in the Sino-Vietnamese borderlands: Red stamps and green tea', AREA, 45(4), pp. 396-402. doi: 10.1111/area.12017.

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