The ethics of refugee and cross-cultural research in diverse Australia: Worth the risk?

Year: 2016

Author: Azordegan, Jennifer

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Just as diversity in Australian communities has increased, so have the calls for more transparency and rigor in the methodological approaches to qualitative research of these diverse communities. However, when it comes to conducting sensitive cross-cultural research involving refugees, in particular, the reality is that the ethical considerations involved can seem complex, potentially daunting and even tedious to researchers, novice and veteran alike. Issues around negotiation of access to participants, informed consent, the researcher-participant power dynamics, and the conducting, transcribing and validating of interviews are all considerably compounded with participants who may be haunted by trauma and uncertainty in the settlement experience and who may not be literate in their own language. While there is some guidance on recruitment, data collection, translation and transcription in cross-cultural research (Eide & Allen, 2005; Hennink, 2008; Liamputtong, 2008; Schweitzer & Steel, 2008; Temple & Edwards, 2002), more attention is needed around the methodological and ethical challenges of research involving Australia’s refugee communities. This is particularly the case if we are to better understand how schools are serving these newly diverse communities. This presentation will look at the ethics journey of a doctoral student who has recently investigated the school-family relationship between a primary school and Afghani refugee families in Queensland. Data have emerged that show that refugee students are struggling in the Australian educational context (Creagh, 2014, 2015). Research has also suggested that parents are instrumental to reaching this cohort of students (Pinson and Arnot, 2005; McBrien, 2005). However, to date, little is known about how Australian schools are engaging refugee parents in their children’s education and school communities. In outlining this complex methodological and ethical journey, I will detail the approach at the heart of the study’s ethics process: researcher reflexivity, culturally-sensitive recruitment practices, visible interpreter procedures and a detailed dual-language transcription and validation process. In this research context considerable forethought was given to how to delicately negotiate access to both the school and refugee parents, manage informed consent from a highly marginalised group that traditionally has been denied access to education, and how interpreters and translators could visibly be integrated into the work in a relatively seamless but rigorous way. In the end, I contend that in the context of increasingly diverse multicultural and multilingual societies, such considerations are paramount to ethical qualitative research; and that ultimately, a longer, sometimes winding ethics journey is well “worth the risk.”