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Conducting Ethical Ethnography in a Globalized World

The Center for Global Ethnography trains students and assists faculty to develop rigorous methodological and intellectual practices that incorporate fieldwork ethics. Ethnographic research is empirical research involving long-term immersion in the social lives of people. Ethnographers make use of the basic building blocks of cross-cultural understanding, including cultural relativism, holism, and comparative research. The use of ethnographic methods originated within the discipline of anthropology, but has been implemented across social science and humanities disciplines, in engineering, business, education, and medicine.

Living among "research subjects" presents complex ethical issues and requires an understanding of human rights and local and global politics. Modern ethnography may be multi-sited, interdisciplinary, or involve participatory research by members of the community. Ethnographers study globalizing cultures in the context of climate change, deforestation, pandemic disease, and social inequality. Twenty-first century ethnographers adhere to professional codes of ethics, and students of ethnography must learn and follow ethical practices and policies.



"The American Anthropological Association (AAA) advocates that all ethnographic researchers should cultivate a strong foundation for the ethical conduct of research with human populations. This means that the risks of harm must be considered in relation to the potential benefits of ethnographic research. This process should actively involve the researcher and the IRB, the researcher and participants, and finally the IRB, the researcher and stakeholders."

Fieldwork Experience Dilemmas

Reading about or listening to field research experiences of other ethnographers can provide insights to dilemmas you are facing or will face when conducting ethnographic research. Here are a few such resources.

Suddenly Non-vegetarian: Dilemmas in Anthropological Fieldwork

Shaming of the Anthropologist: Ethical Dilemmas during and in the Aftermath of the Fieldwork Process

Case 21: Ethical Dilemmas and Moral Responsibilities