Safer Field Research in the Social Sciences

A Guide to Human and Digital Security in Hostile Environments

Bucerius Fellow Ilyas Saliba and his co-authors published a guide for a safer fieldwork

How did the book come about?

Ilyas Saliba: Four years ago on fieldwork mission for my PhD research in Cairo I was searching for resources and best practices on safe fieldwork under the impression of the gruesome murder of our colleague Giulio Regeni in Egypt. However, I was surprised to find very little to nothing in the social science literature on this issue. Many discussions and conversations over the following years with Kevin Köhler, Jannis Grimm, Ellen Lust, Isabell Schierenbeck and many more led to this publication.

Who is this book for?

Ilyas Saliba: Scholars planning to undertake fieldwork themselves, their supervisors & those teaching on fieldwork methods. Although geared towards a social science crowd much of the advice in the book is also useful for other disciplines, journalists or NGO staff.

What can I expect from the book?

Ilyas Saliba: After the introduction (1) the book is structured along the three phases of fieldwork:
2) before the field with Sylvain Lefebvre, Daniel T.R. Masterson & Francesco Strazzari
3) in the field with, Alessandra Russ, Emma Beals & Osama Diab
4) after the field with Mara Revkin, Sarah E. Parkinson & Florian Kohstall
Followed by 2 chapters on:  5) digital security and data protection (6) with Morana Miljanovic, Vasillis Ververes & Kersti Ruth Wissenbach

It concludes discussing the role of universities & funders in fieldwork safety (7).

From the introduction:

We need a change of perspective. Not all dangerous research is necessary, or worthwhile; research is not valuable just because the risks are high. There is no shame in valuing your own or your team’s physical and mental well-being over ‘sexy’ research. Being a maverick and engaging in research despite harsh realities should never be a mark of success. On the other hand, field research is almost never risk-free. Given the unpredictable nature of some of the risks we will discuss in this book, striving for completely safe field research risks imposing too many restrictions on what researchers can do. By contrast, a fundamental conviction motivating this volume is that safer research is possible. Responsible researchers should thus assess when fieldwork is too risky, understand when the benefits do outweigh the costs, and take all measures to keep everyone involved as safe as possible. We advocate an approach of risk management as a middle way which avoids both an overly restrictive approach or the risk-embracing attitude encouraged by a resilience perspective.