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Values and Vulnerabilities: The Ethics of Research with Refugees and Asylum Seekers

Values and Vulnerabilities: The Ethics of Research with Refugees and Asylum Seekers

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Values and Vulnerabilities: The Ethics of Research with Refugees and Asylum Seekers

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293 pages
4 hours
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Издано:
May 31, 2013
ISBN:
9781922117144
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Книге

Описание

Forced migration is a global issue.

About 34 million of the world’s inhabitants were identified in 2010 by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees as either refugees, internally displaced persons, asylum seekers or stateless people. Systematic inquiries are urgently needed to understand and improve the circumstances in which these people live, and to guide national and international policies and programs

However, there are many ethical complications in conducting research with uprooted people, who have often been exposed to persecution and marginalisation in conflict situations, refugee camps, immigration detention settings, and following resettlement. This book brings together for the first time key scholars across a range of disciplines including anthropology, bioethics, public health, criminology, psychology, socio-linguistics, philosophy, psychiatry, social policy and social work to discuss the ethical dimensions, challenges and tensions of such research.

It encompasses the theoretical, conceptual, practical, and applied aspects of research ethics, while integrating different disciplinary perspectives. It is intended as a resource not only for researchers, students and practitioners but also for those conducting cross-cultural research more broadly. Many of its arguments, examples and concerns are pertinent to research with other vulnerable or marginalised populations.
Издатель:
Издано:
May 31, 2013
ISBN:
9781922117144
Формат:
Книге

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Values and Vulnerabilities - Australian Academic Press

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PART

1

ETHICAL FRAMEWORKS AND KEY CONCEPTS

CHAPTER

1

Ethics in Research With Refugees and Asylum Seekers: Processes, Power and Politics

Karen Block, Elisha Riggs, and Nick Haslam

Forced migration is a growing global issue. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) listed the number of ‘people of concern’ — comprising refugees, internally displaced persons, asylum seekers and stateless people — at approximately 20 million in 2000, expanding to approximately 34 million people a decade later (UNHCR, 2012). While the majority of the world’s refugees flee from, and to, less developed countries, the number of asylum claims in wealthy industrialised countries is also rising.

Accompanying this escalation in the number of forcibly displaced people is a corresponding growth in the demand for research. Systematic inquiries are needed to understand and improve the circumstances in which refugees live, and to guide national and international policies and programs. Researchers working in this area are invariably committed to social justice, the corollary of which is a close connection between refugee scholarship and advocacy. It is also clearly imperative that scholars working in this field must first, do no harm. However, there are many ethical complications in conducting research with uprooted people, who have often been exposed to persecution and marginalisation in conflict situations, refugee camps, immigration detention settings, and following resettlement. Moreover, these complications arise throughout the research process, from formulating a question through to the dissemination of findings.

Ethical challenges for researchers who seek to understand refugee experiences also frequently have methodological implications. They include the process of negotiating access to research participants and obtaining informed consent; the sensitivities involved in gaining and respecting the trust of participants; the logistics of working with different language groups, varying literacy levels and diverse understandings of research; the imbalance of power between researchers and participants; and the need to maximise inclusion and agency in the research process. The highly charged political environment in which much refugee research takes place adds to this complexity, often creating tensions between rigour and advocacy. Ethical guidelines such as those produced by the Refugee Studies Centre, University of Oxford (Refugee Studies Centre, 2007), set out the general principles for ethical research on forced migration. It is the goal of this collection to explore how such general principles operate in practice and to embed them in a broader intellectual context.

This book grew out of a symposium on the same topic, held at the University of Melbourne in November 2010 organised by the first two editors as representatives of the Researchers for Asylum Seekers group. The symposium brought together key scholars with expertise in refugee and asylum seeker research to discuss the ethical dimensions, challenges and tensions of research conducted with these groups. It attracted widespread interest from researchers, students, members of government departments and the nongovernment sector. Each of the speakers contributed a chapter to this volume as did a number of additional high-profile national and international scholars with established expertise in the ethics of research with refugees and asylum seekers.

The collection is intentionally multidisciplinary — while all the authors are actively engaged in refugee research, their respective disciplines include anthropology, bioethics, public health, criminology, psychology, philosophy, psychiatry, social policy and social work. Previous studies of the ethical issues involved in research with refugees and asylum seekers have been relatively narrow in disciplinary terms. This book is therefore unique, in that it encompasses the theoretical, conceptual, practical, and applied aspects of research ethics, while integrating different disciplinary perspectives. It is intended as a resource not only for researchers, students and practitioners working with refugees and asylum seekers across a broad range of disciplines, but also for those conducting cross-cultural research more broadly. Many of its arguments, examples and concerns are pertinent to research with other vulnerable or marginalised populations.

Ethical Considerations in Research With Refugees and Asylum Seekers

Three fundamental themes recur throughout this book, and other work concerned with the ethics of refugee research: vulnerability, power, and the relationship between research and advocacy. This section will briefly consider each of these recognised ethical challenges, and is followed by an overview of subsequent chapters.

Vulnerability

Vulnerability in research is a contested concept, and one that is almost inevitably an implicit factor when considering the ethics of research with refugees and asylum seekers. In some cases, the vulnerability of these groups is simply assumed. In other cases, this label is resisted as implying a ‘deficit-position’, which disregards the resilience and agency of those fleeing persecution. Understanding the potential vulnerability of research participants as resulting from the circumstances in which they find themselves — rather than locating it within the person — helps to remind us that such groups consist of ‘ordinary people’ buffeted by extraordinary — albeit disturbingly common — events.

Historically, the issue of vulnerability in research ethics is associated with groups of people who may have decreased capacity to give informed consent or who have a heightened susceptibility to coercion. Coleman (2009) makes the point that while the concept of vulnerability has ‘intuitive ethical appeal’, deeming whole populations or categories of people as vulnerable, lacks sensitivity to context and fails to consider what a person might be vulnerable to. One suggestion for addressing this conceptual deficiency is that vulnerability be defined as ‘an identifiably increased likelihood of incurring additional or greater wrong’ (Hurst, 2008, p. 195). Coleman takes this further, arguing that in relation to research ethics, it is useful to consider three distinct types of vulnerability. The first of these, ‘consent-based vulnerability’, arises where there are barriers to obtaining meaningfully informed and voluntary consent. The second, ‘risk-based vulnerability’, entails an enhanced level of research-related risk of harms. The third, ‘justice-based vulnerability’, arises where neither the individuals participating in a study (who take on the associated risks and inconvenience), nor the society of which they are members, benefit directly from the outcomes of the research. It is not difficult to envisage situations where one or more of these specific vulnerabilities might apply to refugees and asylum seekers involved in research.

Power

One of the circumstances that may render refugees and asylum seekers vulnerable is a relative lack of power. Given that abuse of power is often the precondition for people becoming refugees in the first place, it is not surprising that a key ethical concern for a number of researchers is the disparity in power between researchers and researched. Such disparities leave the disempowered ‘subject’ susceptible to harms through misrepresentation by researchers or misuse of findings. Reflexive practice along with collaborative and participatory methods may alleviate some of these risks (Block, Warr, Gibbs, & Riggs, 2013; Ellis, Kia-Keating, Yusuf, Lincoln, & Nur, 2007; Goodnow, in press; Pittaway, Bartolomei, & Hugman, 2010). Participatory approaches to research, by drawing on the direct experiences and knowledge of its intended beneficiaries, are considered more likely to produce relevant knowledge for informing policies and practices. ‘A participatory world view’ also implies an ethics of emancipation, human rights and equality (Swartz, 2011). However, Doná (2007) warns against easy assumptions that ‘participatory’ research is of itself an ‘empowering’ experience for refugee participants, if it fails to advocate for transformation and challenge the disempowering social and political conditions that they face.

Power asymmetries pose particular challenges for negotiating appropriately informed consent (Ellis et al., 2007; Mackenzie, McDowell, & Pittaway, 2007; Pittaway et al., 2010). Ellis and colleagues suggest that the very notion of informed and voluntary consent may have little relevance in some contexts, given that the constructs it invokes assume ‘culturally bound, western values of individual autonomy, self-determination, and freedom’ (Ellis et al., 2007, p. 467). It is critical therefore, that consent be seen as a process that includes ongoing negotiation over involvement in the research process and development of authentic understanding of what the research requires (Mackenzie et al., 2007).

The cross-cultural nature of most refugee research raises additional methodological and ethical concerns that implicate power. Birman (2006) makes the point that ethical behaviour may be defined differently within different cultures, and any imposition of dominant concepts and measures that originate in the researchers’ culture may therefore misrepresent the phenomena of interest. Emphasising the interdependence of methods, scientific validity and ethics, several writers have argued for caution when attempting to use standardised research instruments and techniques that may be inaccurate or inappropriate for different cultural groups or attempting to measure constructs that do not exist or have different meanings in different cultures (Birman & Chan, 2008; Ellis et al., 2007).

Research and/or Advocacy

Issues of vulnerability and power pervade the relationship between the researcher and the researched, and the obligations that the former owe the latter. This leads many researchers to adopt an explicitly political stance that views research as a tool for advocacy. Many would argue further, that to stop short of such a position, and regard research as a neutral quest for knowledge, risks inflicting harm. In environments where refugees are rendered particularly vulnerable — such as when lacking legal recognition by states or living in unsafe camp conditions for example — there is a very real risk that mishandled information obtained through research could further compromise their safety (Mackenzie et al., 2007). In some cases, researchers need to anticipate ways in which their mere presence may be construed as a political act. Using the treatment of asylum seekers in Australian detention centres as an example, Zion and colleagues (2010) have argued that research conducted under such conditions — where gaining access to research participants necessarily involves negotiating an agreement between researchers and responsible authorities — may risk lending legitimacy to pathological systems. In response to these concerns, others have made the point that failing to engage asylum seekers in research into their conditions, may constitute a further assault on their agency and autonomy (Bloom, 2010; Rousseau & Kirmayer, 2010). Moreover, addressing this risk of complicity — and echoing Doná’s position that researchers should aim for transformative participation — Rousseau and Kirmayer (2010) assert that:

Research ethics … require a firm commitment to advocacy. No matter how carefully and respectfully information is collected, if it is not coupled with vigorous efforts to use it to transform the situation of ongoing violence, then the weight of complicity may be too much to bear. (p. 66)

However, a position of overt solidarity between researcher and researched is not without critics. Jacobsen and Landau (2003) contend that a tendency towards ‘advocacy research’ in refugee and humanitarian studies frequently results in a lack of research rigour, ‘where researchers already know what they want to see and say, and come away from the research having ‘proved’ it’ (p. 187). Critical of qualitative approaches in particular, they argue that much of this research is subjective and methodologically flawed, and therefore has limited academic credibility and ability to inform policy appropriately. Research based on unsound methodology is, they argue, by its nature ethically suspect and may lead directly to harms when its findings are (mis)applied (Jacobsen & Landau, 2003, p. 190). Notwithstanding these assertions, and endorsing the importance of a rigorous methodological approach, the more common perspective is that ‘in refugee studies, scholarship is embedded in advocacy and advocacy in scholarship’ (Voutira & Dona, 2007, p. 167). Taking this position further, Mackenzie and colleagues (2007) maintain that where researchers are in a position to intervene on the behalf of research participants in need, failure to do so, in the name of scholarly objectivity, is itself an unethical stance (Mackenzie et al., 2007). Arguing for an ethics that goes beyond harm minimisation to one of reciprocity, they suggest that to do less can turn research into an exploitative process, the main outcome of which is a furthering of the researchers’ careers.

Overview of this Volume

It is clear, even from this brief discussion, that conducting research with refugees and other displaced persons is a necessity that presents researchers with a number of ethical dilemmas. Again drawing on the example of research into Australia’s immigration detention system, Justo (2010) graphically describes the challenge. Arguing for the importance of conducting such research, he observes that ‘as to how should it be done, researchers will have to thread a narrow strait between the Scylla of silence and the Charybdis of endangering refugees’ conditions’ (p. 62). It is anticipated that this book will assist researchers in that task.

The following chapters are divided into three distinct sections. The first section discusses a range of ethical frameworks for conducting research with refugees and asylum seekers; the second focuses on ethical research methodologies; the third examines the ethical implications of research in relation to advocacy, and its influence on policy and politics.

Part 1: Ethical Frameworks and Key Concepts

Each of the chapters in this section reflects on an ethical framework, key concept or lens that informs the design and planning of research. It begins with a discussion of the role of formal ethical requirements and frameworks in shaping refugee research. Moving from explicit formal guidelines to implicit understandings, the second chapter examines the discrepant ‘value cultures’ that researchers, research participants, institutional ethics committees and other stakeholders bring to their conceptualisation of refugees, the research process and one another. This is followed up by a third chapter that analyses the role of potentially misplaced assumptions of vulnerability that influence researchers and research ethics committee. The fourth chapter in this section deals with another key conceptual lens — the impact of power gradients on the ethics of refugee research — contrasting the differing position of the researcher with respect to policy-makers and to refugee participants.

In chapter 2, Lynn Gillam, an ethicist with a background in philosophy, examines the utility and limitations of formal ethical guidelines for researchers working with refugee and asylum seeker populations. Focusing on Australia’s National Statement on Ethical Conduct in Human Research (National Statement) in particular, she suggests that such frameworks offer useful general guidance but still leave much room for interpretation. Leaving aside a number of important ethical decisions, including what research should be conducted and how findings should be used, the National Statement concentrates firstly on whether a particular research proposal should proceed and secondly on the processes of conducting research. Operationalising core ethical principles of research merit and integrity, respect for human beings, justice, and beneficence, it directs researchers, and ethics review committees, to attend to the balance between risks and benefits of research participation, and whether consent is likely to be genuinely informed and voluntary. In order to aid the process of appropriate ethical review of research proposals involving refugees and asylum seekers, Gillam advises that researchers should include in their projects, an investigation of the experiences that their participants have of research participation and publish these findings.

Sandy Gifford’s chapter explores the idea of ‘value cultures’ as a way to apprehend ‘fields of difference’ in refugee research. Noting that conflicts commonly arise between researchers, ethics committees, service providers and refugees themselves over the nature and desirability of research, Gifford argues that these tensions spring in part from discrepant values and understandings of what it is to be a refugee. These value cultures shape the identities of the groups involved, give different meanings to the ideals of protecting and not harming refugees, and often result in the erasure of refugee voices. For example, refugees are sometimes ‘reduced to a collective identity woven around notions of persecution, vulnerability, dependency and need’. This reductive view, which is linked to a well-meaning desire to protect refugees from the perceived dangers of research, denies them individuality, autonomy and agency, and binds them to a single identity that obliterates all others. The chapter uses an anthropologist’s conceptual tools to expose the roots of contestation over the nature of research ethics in the field of refugee studies. In the process it offers hopes that interested parties in the research process can come to comprehend one another’s diverging views and reach some common ground.

In the following chapter, Christopher McDowell interrogates the construction by ethics review committees of displaced people as occupying a category of vulnerability, and the implications this has in terms of understandings of autonomy, agency and responsibility. He argues that a particular type of ‘refugeeness’ — based on a refugee camp paradigm, where a refugee is characterised by extreme vulnerability, a ‘lack of power, autonomy, and dignity, and occupies a liminal political space’ — has been projected onto other displaced populations such as those fleeing deteriorating environmental conditions and poverty. Researchers (and NGOs), cognisant of the structural disadvantages leading to dislocation, are likely to be complicit in this conflation of different categories of displacement as conferring vulnerability. However this lumping together of different categories ignores the complexity of contemporary migration flows, disregards the agency demonstrated during other types of forced migration and reduces capacity for investigating and understanding the actual experiences of these groups. McDowell, a political scientist, therefore urges researchers and review committees to disaggregate displacement, and consider separately the ethical implications of differences in autonomy, vulnerability, access to state protection and capacity to engage in political action typically experienced by conflict refugees, asylum seekers, ‘environmental refugees’ and ‘development refugees’.

In the final chapter of this section, Marinella Marmo delves into the complexities of power relations when researchers conduct research with refugees in ‘crisis conditions’, using as an example, the situation of asylum seekers in detention centres. Drawing on her background as a criminologist, she prefaces this investigation with a discussion of the paradoxical status of the refugee as ‘victim-offender’. This position is ascribed to asylum seekers by governments and some sections of the media, who demonstrate a neo-liberal stance deeming asylum seekers responsible for their own victim status, thereby losing their image as ‘idealised’ defenceless and passive victims through taking action. They further ‘offend’ through projected complicity with people smugglers. The social researcher thus enters a highly politicised field, usually identifying the asylum seeker as the voiceless sufferer whose voice he/she aims to become. Marmo argues that the fundamental job of the researcher is to generate knowledge, and questions the ethical propriety of turning research into direct social activism, particularly where research participants believe there will be a direct benefit to them from the research. She anchors this argument in an examination of the difference between the way power operates at the macro (political) level and the micro (interpersonal) level within refugee research. At a macro level, the researcher is attempting to disrupt the malign influences of power on refugees’ lives and the narratives shaping their representation as deviant offender. This is fundamentally an ethical undertaking, which aims to reduce harms and promote justice. At a micro (personal) level, however, the researcher is in a dominant position with respect to the asylum seeker. This creates ethical complications, with postcolonial overtones, as the researcher — who usually represents an ethnically or socially privileged group - dominates and represents the ‘voiceless’ research subject. Marmo concludes by suggesting that participatory models of research may redress this power imbalance and that these need to be systematically evaluated using power as an ethical

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