This article examines the ethics of using ethnographic methods in contemporary conflict zones. Ethnographic research is an embodied research practice of immersion within a field site whereby researchers use ethnographic sensibility to study how people make sense of their world. Feminist, conflict and peacebuilding scholars who research vulnerable populations and local dynamics especially value ethnographic approaches for their emphasis on contextual understanding, human agency, egalitarian research relationships and researcher empathy. While immersion leads to knowledge that can hardly be replaced by using more formal approaches, it also elicits ethical dilemmas. These arise not only from the specific research context but also from who the researcher is and how they may navigate violent and often misogynous settings. I argue that many dilemmas may and perhaps should not be overcome by researcher skill and perseverance. Instead, ethical challenges may lead researchers to adopt limited and/or uneven immersion in their field site, not as failed or flawed ethnography but as an ethical research strategy that incorporates ethnographic sensibility to a varying extent. Examining why researchers may opt for limited and uneven immersion is important because in conflict research, stereotypes of the intrepid (male) researcher with a neutral gaze still tend to mute open discussions of how gender, race, ethnicity, nationality, class and other background factors inevitably shape immersion. This article seeks to contribute to creating discursive space for these conversations, which are vital for researchers to analyse, reflect and write from the position of a ‘vulnerable observer’ and incorporate greater transparency in the discussion of research findings.
This was originally published on SAGE Publications Ltd: Journal of Peace Research: Table of Contents.