A guide to safer fieldwork

Research can be risky. According to a recent report by Scholars at Risk, higher education professionals were subject to 324 attacks in 56 countries within a single year (2018/19). Ilyas Saliba, a research fellow at the Democracy and Democratization Research Unit, recounts how during a fieldwork mission in Cairo in 2016, devastated by the gruesome torture and killing of a fellow field researcher, he was struck by the absence of books addressing the risks of doing work in the field.

Joined by Kevin Köhler, Jannis Grimm, Ellen Lust, and Isabell Schierenbeck, Saliba brought together fieldwork experienced researchers, journalists, digital security activists, and human rights advocates. Asked to discuss how their work is affected by phenomena like securitization, conflict, epidemics, psychological stress, or data security, they offered up ways of dealing with these issues – not just during, but also before and after field assignments.

The resulting volume is a comprehensive how-to guide on managing the manifold risks arising from fieldwork-based data collection in various political, social and economic contexts. Seven chapters investigate different aspects of fieldwork safety, from research in famine-ridden rural regions, to working with marginalized communities in cities; from measures aimed at protecting sensitive data to the role of research institutions and their balancing of duties of care and a responsibility to enable and support knowledge production.

Against an idealization of fieldwork as an inherently risky endeavour, the authors call for a management of risk. Fieldwork, they claim, should be seen as an exercise in rigorous transparency, trust-building and care for informants and interlocuters. Rather than focus solely on research ethics or methodology, fieldwork needs to be guided by the systematic approach to reduce risks, making it safer for anyone involved.

 

24 July 2020

Image
safer

Jannis Grimm, Kevin Koehler, Ellen M. Lust, Ilyas Saliba, Isabell Schierenbeck: Safer Field Research in the Social Sciences
A Guide to Human and Digital Security in Hostile Environments. SAGE (2020).