ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Ethics and Empathy

Doing Ethnography in Conflict Zones

Is there an ethical litmus test that qualifies researchers to do ethnographic research in conflict zones?


In ethnographic research, there is an ongoing conflict between how the researchers comprehend the social world of the communities they study and how they acknowledge, understand, and make sense of their own social world. This conflict and the challenges it poses get magnified when conducting ethnographic research in politically volatile environments.

There have been many academic controversies in the past regarding ethical “incompetence.” Recently, the University of California San Diego dissociated itself from anthropologist Saiba Verma, the author of The Occupied Clinic: Militarism and Care in Kashmir (2020), after she was accused of unethical conduct during her research in Kashmir—concealing “crucial” information about her family. Her father had been a part the Indian state’s coercive apparatus serving in the same conflict zone. Concealing such personal information in ethnographic research complicates the idea of informed consent and demands a problematisation of the “personal.” Had Verma revealed the “crucial” personal information, would she have been able to collect data? All the possibilities of this question must be contextualised before labelling her research as ethical malpractice or otherwise. Personal information that may impact the data collection process in any form must be disclosed to the respondents, and concealing such information is an ethical tragedy. However, I am not suggesting that any researcher with a less-than-ideal background be disqualified, putting an end to all possibilities of scholarship in conflict zones; rather, I want to raise a more critical question: How does the field determine the suitability of a researcher by destructing the notion of “personal” and placing ethical limits?

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Updated On : 25th May, 2022
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