Participatory Organization Research in the Context of the Police: Ethical Research with Vulnerable Groups Using the Example of Detention Centers

Katharina Miko-Schefzig, Cornelia Reiter


In this article, we reflect on the ethical implications of a participatory security research project that focuses on police detention centers in Austria, that is, prisons run by police instead of the judiciary. In this project, we work together, on the one hand, with detainees to be deported—who are vulnerable in their specific situation. The detainees are asylum seekers with a negative asylum decision awaiting their deportation. On the other hand, we partner with the police, a powerful agent with respect to the detainees because of its institutional task of enacting detainment. Participatory research including two partners with such power differences raises ethical issues. For example, there is the question whether it is even possible to make a "free decision" to participate in the research given the existing dependency relation of the custody. We also reflect on how the empowerment of a vulnerable group can succeed in such a constellation. Our solution relates to the research design and includes the method of a vignette-based focus group.


deportation; custody; security research; police; participatory research; free decision; vignette-based focus group; power; vulnerability


Copyright (c) 2018 Katharina Miko-Schefzig, Cornelia Reiter

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