Unpacking ethics-in-practice in fragile contexts: research in education with forced migrants

Year: 2019

Author: Baker, Sally, Fox, Alison, Charitonos, Koula, Moser-Mercer, Barbara, Jack, Victoria

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

The United Nations estimated that, by 2017, 68.5 million people had been forcibly displaced worldwide (UNHCR, 2018), with the result that quality education is not easily accessible by those affected. Half of the world’s refugee children are out of school, and comparatively very few refugees participate in higher education (UNHCR, 2018). There is a clear need for further research to understand the experiences and issues faced by forced migrants in trying to access education in both displacement and resettlement contexts.

Any research with those forcibly displacedplaces particular responsibilities on researchers, and their ways of working within interdisciplinary teams operating across humanitarian, development and education fields.They need to be strongly cognisant of the ethical challenges relating to such settings in whichfragility, vulnerability and urgency are manifest. Researchers need strategies on which to draw to frame their studies appropriately as well as navigate the micro-ethics arising as research progresses (Guillemin & Gillam, 2004; Dona, 2007). This paper points towards the benefits of taking a holistic ethical appraisal approach when researching with people who have been forcibly displaced. By providing researchers with the confidence that their research can contribute to answering ethical questions raised by the displaced themselves, the displaced can express their voices, their choices, hopes and calls for justice.

The ethical appraisal framework discussed in this presentation (Stutchbury and Fox, 2009) incorporates four complementary strands of ethical consideration for research design —Consequentialthinking, Ecologicalthinking, Relationalthinking, and Duties(the CERD model) —to guide ethical decision making before entering, while in, and after leaving ‘the field’. This holistic ethical framework can be used to appraise the opportunities and challenges of educational research for (and with) forced migrants. This framework also has significance for other educational research with human participants, particularly with groups considered ‘vulnerable’.

In this presentation, we will present three cases of researching with forced migrants to highlight the benefits of taking an ethics-in-practice approach. The presentation will conclude with implications for researchers to redefine vulnerability and approaches to research which exercise urgency and justice.