Ethical Ambivalences in Research With Children Living in Accommodation Centers for Refugees

Sarah Fichtner, Hoa Mai Trần


In the ethnographic study "Everyday Life of Young Children in Accommodation Centers for Refugees," we accompanied over an eight-month period children and their families in collective accommodation centers in Berlin. Through participant observation, formal and informal interviews and child-centered methods, the perspectives of different actors (children, parents, management, child care, security, etc.) were recorded and analyzed. Based on experiences in the research process, we focus in this article on questions of practical ethics. Here, the inherent logic of the field as an ethical environment—an environment characterized by fluid boundaries of public and private spaces, unclear responsibilities, and scarcity of resources—is of particular importance. We elaborate the relationality of ethical questions in the discussion of two moments of uncertainty in the field: handling the news of a deportation notice and observing (potentially) transgressive behavior towards children. The reflexive examination of these ethically significant moments illustrates the interventionist nature of research and the continual negotiation of the researcher's role. Our involvement, feelings, thoughts and actions are constructively related to each other. Questions of responsibility and the process of reflecting on them have significant consequences for research practice in a field marked by power relations and uncertainties. In conclusion, we describe the importance of engaged research that goes beyond the Do No Harm principle and aims at creating benefits for actors on different levels.


research ethics; practical ethics; ethnography; self-reflexivity; refugees; childhood research; ethical mindfulness; engaged research, research tandem


Copyright (c) 2018 Sarah Fichtner, Hoa Mai Trần

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