Doing Fieldwork on State Organizations in Democratic Settings: Ethical Issues of Research in Refugee Decision Making

Sule Tomkinson


By drawing on eighteen months of ethnographic fieldwork and my field diaries in refugee decision-making in Canada, I make three arguments in this article. First, the binary of research in closed vs. open settings may have contributed to overlooking of ethical challenges of research in state organizations in democratic settings. We have to overcome this binary by opening a dialogue among ethnographers. Second, despite well-developed and diverse nature of scholarship on Research Ethics' Board's (REB) formal practices and their negative impact on ethnographers' research proposals, the scarcity of scholarship on "ethics in practice" or "everyday ethics" show that we seem to forget that ethnographers, after receiving research ethics approval, still have to do considerable interpretation for what "being ethical" means. Finally, paying attention to "ethically important moments" during research practice may help us bridge the gap between principles of formal ethics and ethics in practice. Using field diaries in these reflections instead of more sanitized subsequent accounts illustrates the immediacy and importance of ethical concerns during research practice.



ethics in practice; micro ethics; research on state organizations; ethnography; informed consent; refugee research

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Copyright (c) 2014 Sule Tomkinson

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