7.3 Ethical Concerns

There are always ethical concerns when doing research in the field and when gathering data from human subjects. However, there are a couple of particularly critical ethical concerns surrounding the gathering of stories about instability and conflict.

Re-Traumatization

Before we discuss issues of privacy and personal safety, it is important to consider the issue of “retraumatization”. This is a process that results when an individual is prompted to remember traumatic events and, as an indirect result, become retraumatized. 

Retelling events of trauma can make individuals feel extremely vulnerable. These stories are nothing like local fables or legends -- they are highly personal. As a result, there is always a risk of retraumatization. This may not always occur; sometimes individuals express that retelling their stories helped them come to terms with their trauma. But data gathering must be done carefully because there can be unwanted effects.

Personal Safety of consultants

Individuals who share community information can potentially face drastic repercussions depending on the nature of the information and the context in which such information is shared. There are both physical and mental safety concerns in these situations. Physical retribution could be sought against your consultant if it becomes known that they shared certain details with others. This could be from within their community or from individuals from an opposing community or political group. More commonly, consultants could face non-physical retribution, such as public defamation or isolation from their community. Sometimes consultants could even be shunned by friends and family members due to disagreement over their decision to speak out and share truths.

Whether you are an outsider or even a member of a local community, you need to consider the potential consequences of your research and take all steps possible to mitigate. These steps could impact any and all phases of your project, from the data gathering itself to how and when you disseminate your data. The next page discusses this in more detail. It is also important to weigh the potential impact against the benefits. In some situations, the cost of collecting this information may not be worth the value of archiving it. Documenting language and culture should never harm the community.