Consent, Mediation, and Complicity: The Complex Ethics of Informed Consent and Scholarly Representation in Violent Contexts

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As fieldworkers engage in research in unstable social contexts, standard processes of informed consent are complicated and unsettled. In addition, our work in the field raises complex questions of potential complicity with the violence around us. In this paper, we present a comparative autoethnographic analysis of these dynamics in distinct fieldwork and archival projects dealing with topics of state violence: Gruner-Domic’s work drawing on video archives of testimonios of genocide survivors in Guatemala, and Hallett’s research on the experiences of Salvadoran migrants in the U.S. immigrant detention regime. Both research projects entailed challenges in accessing data without contributing to further violence in the lives of research subjects, given complex and unpredictable future risks and fraught political fields involving warped representations of research subjects. Drawing on these experiences, we argue that ethical responses to such complex field research problems require a flexible approach to methodology, an acute critical reflection on the reproduction of violence, and an awareness of the temporal-geographic complexity and fluidity of risk. While ensuring that we follow standardized protocols for consent and data analysis, researchers should also be prepared to move beyond the standard and think both critically and concretely about our ethical obligations not only while collecting data, but also in the construction of representations.




Taylor & Francis

Peer Reviewed