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Exploring Risks and Vulnerabilities: Gender and Power Relations in Field Research


December 12-13


Dr. F. Reysoo (IHEID); W. Wiesigel (UniNE)


Jerika Lauren Heinze (

Agnieszka Kroskowska, Gender and Social Equity Coordinator, Helvetas


The objective of this workshop is to bring forward a much-needed conversation that is often lacking in academic institutional training: the topic of risks and vulnerabilities, which researchers encounter in the field. With the understanding that the type of risks, related to fieldwork is dependent on various factors (the geographical context, the type of research conducted, as well as the researcher's positionality) we intend to cover a broad range of challenges and preventive actions regarding matters of health, gender, and political risk. In 2009, Amy Pollard, then a graduate student at Cambridge University, drew attention to the difficulties and vulnerabilities researchers faced during fieldwork: from feeling afraid and uncomfortable to being harassed. These risks and vulnerabilities, as the works of Kloß (2016) and Johansson (2015) illustrate, are not located external to the practice of fieldwork, but very much within. More recently, Hanson and Richards (2019) have shown how distinct notions and standards of what counts as 'good research' encourage researchers to 'edit gender and sexuality out of [...] fieldwork discussions' (4).

Locating risks and vulnerabilities within the practice of fieldwork, therefore, allows us to explore gender and power relations in field research. As such, this allows us to take cognizance of not just risks associated with health and illness, but also bodily violence researchers may experience. In light of the recent pandemic, the uncertainties surrounding travel and mobility restrictions, as well as the ethical implications of doing field research and risking exposing or being exposed to the virus became a widely debated question (Rutherford 2020; Arregui 2020). Health concerns may also come up with regards to the impact of the physical (dis)ability and/or mental health of a researcher on their (un)safety, as well as doing fieldwork in conditions that pose health hazards due to environmental factors. Academics are also increasingly expected to engage with an institutionally required risk assessment. The latter is meant to evaluate how perilous one's field site is based on pre-existing maps assessing zones of varying degrees of risk. We aim to consider both the advantages and limitations of this type of assessments that are informed by geo-political power relations. Moreover, the importance of considering the researcher's embodied experience in the field extends to experiences of gendered violence and discrimination targeting non cis-male individuals, as well as LGBTQI+ persons and racialized minorities. Interest in the topic of sexual(ized) harassment in the field as well as structural problems that hinder dealing with it in academia has been taken up in recent discussions (Kuijpers 2015; Steffen 2017). How can we rethink or reconceptualise fieldwork, taking into account the possible risks and vulnerabilities researchers may face? How do we address the uneven fieldwork experiences researchers--particularly, women, LGBTQI+ persons, people of colour--encounter? Furthermore, how can academic spaces be supportive of researchers' needs? We see this workshop as a continuation of these discussions in addition to tackling other forms of intersectional structural or symbolic violence that are reported by field researchers.

The workshop will run over two days with morning and afternoon sessions. In the first morning session, a training will be provided by Jerika Lauren Heinze from FISST ( The second morning session entitled will be led by Agnieszka Kroskowska, Gender & Social Equity Coordinator at Helvetas Swiss Intercooperation, who will address how an international development organization has developed a dashboard to manage Risks and Safety issues for its operational staff. In the afternoon sessions of both days, presided by Dr Fenneke Reysoo (prof emeritus at IHEID) and discussions led by doctoral students, the aim will be to leave the floor open for doctoral participants to present and discuss their own perceived, anticipated and/or lived risks and vulnerabilities in the field. Based on short written essays circulated among the participants ahead of the workshop, the candidates will be divided into four or five groups based on common thematic concerns raised in the essays (for example, fieldwork in conflict zones). Each afternoon will then be dedicated to two or three groups who would introduce the main risks and vulnerabilities attached to their particular areas of interest, followed by a discussion in which questions and suggestions can be brought to the table.


La Rouvraie, Bevaix



Deadline for registration 09.12.2022
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