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


  • Sule Tomkinson Université de Montréal



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


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.



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Author Biography

Sule Tomkinson, Université de Montréal

Sule TOMKINSON is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Political Science of Université de Montréal. She holds a Master's degree in theory and practice of human rights from University of Essex. Her research interests include public policy and administration, Canada and Québec politics, refugee decision making, administrative tribunals, qualitative methodology and ethnography.




How to Cite

Tomkinson, S. (2014). Doing Fieldwork on State Organizations in Democratic Settings: Ethical Issues of Research in Refugee Decision Making. Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 16(1).



FQS Debate: Qualitative Research and Ethics