Tag: ethics

The “Doing” of Collaborative Ethnography

There is no simple way to tell the story of the recent history of Sainte-Thérèse Island, known as IST (Île-Sainte-Thérèse) by members of the Montreal Waterways research collective, a group based out of the Concordia University Ethnography Lab. Once you start, there is little certainty as to where the story may lead, as its tellings often open different and overlapping pathways for understanding the landscape. Therefore when it came down to the question of how to tell the story of an island—one with a diversity of characters, histories, and happenings—Montreal Waterways made the decision to create a multi-authored compilation of ethnographic texts in the form of a book, entitled An Island is More Than a Park and available online—as part of its research outcomes. The title of the book came from a direct quote made by one of the island’s residents during an interview conducted at a rather difficult time. In the months prior, the community of IST had been preparing to legally defend themselves against a government which had labelled them as squatters, and which was committed to expropriating the seasonal inhabitants to make way for an eco-park. In the time Montreal Waterways spent engaging with the island’s residents and its landscape, it became evident that an island is more than a park: an island is actually a composite of a great number of things that hold meanings that sometimes conflict or contradict each other, especially when so many actors are invested in a version of the island’s story. There was understandably some apprehension on behalf of IST residents, who were suspicious as to why a group of anthropology students were interested in learning about the park, their expropriation, and a project involving collaborative ethnographic research. (read more...)

Gazing into the Eyes of Elephants: Unsettling Recognition in Multispecies Relations

“Do the elephants recognize you?” I am asked some version of this question by most people who find out my work has involved multiyear relations with elephants in Thailand. The short answer is yes, but not in the ways that most people think when they ask about recognition. I know that the elephants recognize me because they ignore me, because my presence in their space does not perturb them; the absence of a reaction, what might be interpreted as indifference, is how I know that I am familiar to them. People find this response disappointing. The ways that elephants express recognition do not seem to be legible to people as recognition. I think what people expect, or perhaps hope to hear, is a picture of recognition that aligns more with certain anthropocentric and often commodified forms of human-elephant interaction. (read more...)

Who Knows About Ethical Research?: Reflections on Research Ethics and Vulnerability in Abortion Research

People who have abortions are often thought of as inherently vulnerable. When retold without nuance, this narrative can be harmful to abortion-seekers, as well as to reproductive autonomy more broadly, since it reinforces negative stereotypes about abortion and abortion-seekers. Changing affective paradigms around abortion has been a key concern for feminist activists around the world. In fact, a significant part of my ongoing PhD research on pharmaceutical abortion, healthcare access, and feminist activism in Argentina is concerned with how and why feminist activists seek to disrupt the social perception of abortion as intrinsically being a certain kind of experience—tragic, shameful, vulnerable, to give just a few pointers. While preparing for my data collection, I was struck by the discrepancy between how feminist activists who accompany abortions conceptualise the agency of (potentially) vulnerable abortion-seekers and my UK university’s research ethics committee’s approach to it. Especially given my own positionality as a non-Argentine PhD student, this prompted me to reflect on the challenges of navigating this divide when researching feminist activism and self-managed abortion. To this end, I unpack some of my reflections while trying to balance my duty of care for potentially vulnerable participants with respect for their agency. Striking this balance can be especially complicated when the understandings of both risk and ethical practice diverge between ethics committees, who—to a certain extent have to—adopt a universalist approach, and feminist practitioners holding contextually specific expertise on the subject, while also frequently working with different definitions of care. This divergence is even more pertinent in the case of abortion, an experience steeped in assumptions based on moralised and medicalised social and political discourses. Throughout my research process, I have understood refusing to reproduce such paternalistic discourses as essential to doing ethical research, alongside attending to potential vulnerabilities. (read more...)

Enigmas of Corporeal Justice: Surrogacy and Legality in India

Over the last two decades, India has become a popular global destination for what is commonly referred to as reproductive tourism, wherein clients travel from one part of the world to another to seek biomedical interventions to help them have children. Breakthroughs in assisted reproductive technologies (ART), such as in-vitro fertilization (IVF), have led to a boom in surrogate pregnancies as a means of having children, with international clients (mostly from the Global North) flocking to countries in the Global South, like India, to avail of these services. Like much of the medical tourism industry, this movement is motivated by access to state-of-the-art medical facilities, skilled professional care, along with remarkably low costs and the availability of poor bodies to extract from. (read more...)

Like, Share, Comment, and Follow: Labor and Capital on Instagram

Social media content creator Ishita Mangal (@ishitamangal) uploaded a post with multiple slides on her Instagram page. The first slide is entitled “an apology letter to my audience.” In the rest of the slides, she highlights a “barter collaboration” gone sour. The collaboration entailed the digital creator featuring four Indian kaftans (a type of clothing) brands on her Instagram page in exchange for keeping the outfits that she would feature. One of the brands was singled out, with their Instagram handle mentioned in the caption for viewers of the post to easily access. The brand was accused of harassing the digital creator; walking back on the terms of the agreement; asking for the garment in question back after “absorbing maximum benefits of all the posts on various platforms.” The digital creator proceeds to tell the tale of harassment and “extortion” she experienced at the hands of the luxury brand owner. (read more...)

Knowledge Production, Toxic Corporate Capital, and the Anthropologist’s Entangled Ethics

The dominant disciplinary literature on cultures and practices of extractivism relies on a separation of “the field,” and the insights gained there, from our professional lives as anthropologists in an academy culturally and socially situated in the “Global North.” Increasingly, such distinctions fail to hold as the consequences of extractivism and the conflicts that it produces arrive at the doorstep of the anthropologist’s place of work. I wrote this piece as I grappled with how to frame the effects of toxicity from gold mining in ways that fully accounted for its vast reach beyond “the field” and beyond the material forms (gaseous, liquid, sludgy, in blood levels, as illness symptoms) that I expected it to take. In grappling with the extensive nature of mining toxicity, events occurred to shift my attention to the transnational webs of capital, and the forms of life such toxicity generates. I began to ask: Beyond (read more...)

Days of Their Lives: The Limits, Possibilities, and Parallels of Media-Ted Research during a Pandemic

On a regular day, a Hindi soap opera production set in Mumbai is home to upwards of 100 artists and technicians – production associates, actors, make-up artists, costume artists, lighting technicians, assistant directors, creatives, and spot boys.  Their collective efforts ensure that audiences have new episodes to look forward to daily. Come rain, hail, or shine, through collaborations and conflicts, together they build melodramatic worlds that entertain millions of households in India. But what happens when the meaning of “regular” is redefined? What happens when even two become a crowd? When the first wave of COVID-19 hit Mumbai in March 2020, it brought, among other things, the Hindi soap opera industry to a halt. Daily production activities of soap operas across channels were abruptly paused. Sets had to be abandoned in haste when a citywide lockdown was announced. The absence of film work meant that workers would go without payments (read more...)

Girls, Gadgets, and Gatekeepers: What is Ethical Feminist Fieldwork When Working with Children?

There is no Institutional Review Board (IRB) or equivalent body in India. The ethics of research are left to the purview of researchers, their supervisors, and departments. Therefore, as an international PhD student, I first encountered the IRB when planning my MA project at UC Irvine, where I investigated the intersectional effects of gender and class within the family, and how they shape differential access to mobile phones for adolescents in urban India. (read more...)