Research in the Context of Vulnerability and Extreme Suffering—Ethical Issues of Social Science Disaster Research

  • Cordula Dittmer Freie Universität Berlin
  • Daniel F. Lorenz Freie Universität Berlin
Keywords: disaster research, research ethics, informed consent, dual imperative, do-no-harm, vulnerability


In this article we discuss ethical questions of social science disaster research. We assume that disaster research has to confront ethical issues in a special way, since its main field of research is often extreme suffering and vulnerability. Because such studies should also contribute to alleviate this suffering and the vulnerability of the people affected, they have to be more of an applied and less of a theoretical nature. Based on the figural depiction of the heterogeneity of the field, ethical questions of social science disaster research are presented and contrasted with standardized ethical research principles, institutional review boards and guidelines in the US and Germany. In this contribution, we discuss the dual imperative with the informed consent as well as the principle do-no-harm and we critically identify underlying aporias. Based on Judith BUTLER's reflections on ethical violence and fundamental sociological reflections on the structure of societies, we propose taking a critical look at standardizations and call for a reciprocal ethic of vulnerability that can provide a foundation for research on disasters beyond all standardization.


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Author Biographies

Cordula Dittmer, Freie Universität Berlin

Dr. Cordula DITTMER ist Soziologin und wissenschaftliche Mitarbeiterin an der Katastrophenforschungsstelle (KFS) der Freien Universität Berlin. Ihre Arbeitsschwerpunkte sind sozialwissenschaftliche Katastrophenforschung, Friedens- und Konfliktforschung, Transdisziplinarität, postkoloniale Theorie und Flucht/Fluchtursachen.

Daniel F. Lorenz, Freie Universität Berlin
Daniel F. LORENZ ist wissenschaftlicher Mitarbeiter an der Katastrophenforschungsstelle (KFS) der Freien Universität Berlin. Seine Arbeitsschwerpunkte liegen in der sozialwissenschaftlichen Katastrophenforschung, der Forschung zu sozialer Vulnerabilität und Resilienz sowie dem Themenfeld Katastrophenschutz, Flucht und Flüchtlingsbetreuung.
Research Ethics in Qualitative Research