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Ethical considerations of disaster research in conflict-affected areas

Rodrigo Mena, Dorothea Hilhorst

2021 Yemen, South Sudan, Afghanistan, Africa

Purpose – Debates on the ethics of disaster and humanitarian studies concern unequal relations in research (among research institutes/researchers/stakeholders); the physical and psychological well-being of research participants and researchers; and the imposition of western methods, frameworks and epistemologies to the study of disasters. This paper focuses on everyday ethics: how they need to be translated throughout the everyday practices of research and how researchers can deal with the ethical dilemmas that inevitably occur.

Design/methodology/approach–This paper analyses the process of addressing ethics-related dilemmas from the first author’s experiences researching disaster governance in high-intensity conflict settings, in particular drawing from 4 to 6 months of field work in South Sudan and Afghanistan. In addition, ethical issues around remote research are discussed, drawing on the example of research conducted in Yemen. It is based on the personal notes taken by the first author and on the experience of both authors translating guidelines for research in remote and hazardous areas into research practices.

Findings–The paper concerns translating ethics into the everyday practices of research planning, implementation and communication. It argues for the importance of adaptive research processes with space for continuous reflection in order to advance disaster studies based on (1) equitable collaboration; (2) participatory methodologies wherever possible;(3) safety and security for all involved; (4) ethical approaches of remote research and (5) responsible and inclusive research communication and research-uptake. Openness about gaps and limitations of ethical standards, discussions with peers about dilemmas and reporting on these in research outcomes should be embedded in everyday ethics.

Originality/value–The paper contributes to discussions on everyday ethics, where ethics are integral to the epistemologies and everyday practices of research.

Disaster research, Everyday research ethics, Methods, Safety and security, Remote research