International conflict analysis

Ethics of Research in Conflict and in Migration Studies


a) Give a brief overview of your intended topic.

We want to research the internal governance mechanisms existing outside the formal sphere of state apparatus in Sierra Leone, that is to say how a rebel group (here the RUF) governs the territories under its control. It is important to understand individual motivations and orientations at the micro level in order to better situate the rationality of action at macro level. Therefore the research methods will be based on interviews of both former combatants and civilians who fought or lived under insurgents’ rule. During field work, a gatekeeper will be identified and then the research would rely on a snowball effect, on both the combatants’ and the civilians’ sides.


b) What intended or unintended consequences, positive or negative, might your research have for the field/the people you are studying? Of what potential consequences must you be aware?

When considering the consequences this research might have, ideally the intended consequence would only be to contribute to the field of governance in rebel territories in evaluating the efficiency of structures without denying their existence or importance. On the other hand this research can potentially have unintended consequences, such as causing psychological or even physical harm. For example, the researcher should be aware and also clearly indicate to the interviewee that he might stir up past traumas or even put them in physical risk for being recognised as a former combatant. Indeed it must be taken into account that in the case of Sierra Leone, a former combatant could have been a child soldier during the conflict.


c) Discuss how you will balance active engagement/empathy with your interviewees and avoiding being “co-opted by the field”.

First of all, considering that there will be a language barrier between the interviewer and the interviewees and therefore that the presence of a translator will be required, the risk of being personally and/or emotionally engaged with the interviewees in diminished. To continue on this linguistic issue, the interviewees will probably be from different regions in order to have a wider variety of experiences and thus the dialect might be different which will accentuate the ‘foreigner’ perspective and impact on and put distance in the relationship with the interviewees. On the other hand the researcher should be aware that the interviewees might have been perpetrators of violence and this should not impact on the interviewer’s behaviour or judgement.


d) Reflect on the impact, if any, that your own personal position or experiences might have on the research you intend to do.

An example of an impact of the normative position of a female researcher might be that male interviewees would not mention atrocities or detail violence because of the cultural assumption that they should spare the researcher’s emotions. Moreover if they ever raped or attacked women it is unlikely that they would even mention it. On the other hand, in the case of interviewing civils victims of violence, the researcher’s position as a foreigner might be an advantage to gain trust about keeping their privacy and anonymity.


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