ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Doing Good, beyond ‘Do No Harm’

The Ethics of Studying Protests

Scholars of protests must think of how they can give back to the communities they are studying and drawing knowledge from.

Protest research is accompanied by heavy, thickened ethical questions. Most scholars who study protests are not participants in those protest sites, nor are they members of the communities being studied. On the one hand, scholarship has always reflected contemporary movements and world events, and there is no doubt that now, the study of protests is in; it is useful and important for protests to obtain greater incidence and visibility in academic literature. On the other, this visibility unfairly benefits the scholar—one who is in a space of institutional power, privilege, and isolation from the consequences of the study. The unbiased polemic is distanced and, hence, saved.

The ethics of studying protests, particularly those led by marginalised peoples (as protests often are), is necessary first and foremost because of the extreme risk of harm. Records of surveys and interviews, even with the sincerest measures of safety, could mean a present or future identification of participants by authoritarian regimes, regressive government institutions, and opposing organisations. In research around protest/s, there is a very real possibility of harm and violence for the participants and the researcher, but a more skewed proportion of risk for the interlocutors, agents, and fixers. Institutional research funding is not enough to account for legal fees for repercussions stemming from improper maintenance of participant confidentiality. And if they did, the harm to participants still exists in the form of punishment by executive and judicial processes.

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Updated On : 28th Nov, 2022
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