The initiative is currently led by Tamara Gupper and Laura Thurmann. We started this project in May 2021 as a group of researchers with a shared interest in fieldwork safety, together with our former member Kira Kreft.
The initiative’s main goal is to increase awareness for physical and emotional risks that might occur during all stages of fieldwork. We are working on this on both a practical and a theoretical level. On the practical side, we conceptualize and hold workshops that provide researchers with tools to reflect upon their own safety in the field. On the theoretical level, we participate in academic debates around fieldwork methodology.
We develop our concepts based on Laura’s MA and PhD research on gendered risks and safety in fieldwork, our own experiences with (ethnographic) fieldwork, literature, and extensive discussions.
We argue that safety in fieldwork is closely related to the researcher’s intersecting positionalities, the topic and context of the research, as well as the methodology. Therefore, we refrain from offering general safety strategies or guidelines and instead open up new spaces for reflection about risks and vulnerabilities that exist for each individual researcher and research project.
We distance ourselves from generalising ideas such as “dangerous countries”, “high-risk projects” or “hostile environments”, as this can shift blame to affected researchers or reinforce stereotypes of the people we work with (see Thurmann, 2023). It can also give a false sense of security regarding contexts that are conceptualized as “safe”.
For more information on our initiative and theoretical framework, see our position paper (forthcoming).
Our Workshop Concepts
In our workshops, we combine theoretical discussions with a hands-on approach involving group exercises based on realistic fieldwork scenarios. We adapt the workshops to the specific interests and needs of the participants. We introduce different tools and strategies for the participants to reflect upon safety in relation to their own project and their intersecting positionalities and vulnerabilities. Due to the sensitivity of some aspects of fieldwork safety, we work with a trauma-informed approach which creates a space where experiences can be shared but do not have to be.
So far, we have held our workshops as digital and face-to-face formats, as independent events and as part of seminars, and in English and German. Our workshops are designed for researchers from various disciplinary backgrounds and at different stages of their academic career (BA, MA, PhD and Postdocs).
We have developed four workshop concepts:
- Beyond Tales of Heroism – A Workshop on Safety in Field Research
This two-day workshop is our most extensive format combining input presentations and interactional elements. We introduce tools to reflect about different emotional and physical risks during fieldwork, with the goal of developing individual easy-to-implement risk-mitigation strategies. This workshop also includes a session for the participants to discuss the safety concepts for their own research in peer groups and with the instructors.
- (Un)limited Possibilities – Gendered Safety and Positionality in Fieldwork
This one-and-a-half-day workshop features the key aspects of our two-day format, but focuses specifically on gender as one part of reseachers’ intersectional positionality.
- What Could Possibly Happen? – Fieldwork Safety as Part of the Research Practice
This four-hour workshop focuses on the practical assessment and mitigation of risks before and during fieldwork. Through extensive group work, the participants reflect upon safety aspects in several stages of a fictionalized research project.
- Research at What Cost?- Physical and Emotional Wellbeing during Fieldwork
This two-hour format gives a brief introduction to our main considerations and tools regarding fieldwork safety.
Thurmann, L. 2023. Predicaments of power. Trust-based sexualized violence in ethnographic fieldwork. In Sexual Misconduct in Academia. Informing an ethics of care in the university. Routledge, edited by E. Pritchard and D. Edwards. London: Routledge, 83-97.