Ethnographic Research Seminar 2020

Research Ethics in Ethnography

Over the last decade there has been an increasing ethical regulation of social and humanities research. While this tendency has been applauded, the bureaucratisation of research ethics has been subject to criticism, including for its propensity to stifle participation-based methodologies and for its inability to take into account the complexities that arise in ethnographic research. This course aims to explore the specific ethical issues that arise in the conduct of ethnographic research, how to overcome them, and how to develop a more reflexive and relational ethics approach.

Topic of the course

Ethnographic research is often thought to be in tension with institutional research ethics protocols, which have often been designed from a model of science as separate from social activity and politics. The complex field relationships that ethnographic participant observation or creative participatory methods produce and the impossibility of anticipating all ethical issues that will arise when using interpretive ethnographic methodologies, make the writing of ethical self-assessment reports particularly challenging for ethnographers. This three-days intensive course aims to explore this tensed relationship and help junior researchers overcome the difficulties in designing their research projects in a manner that meets institutional ethical standards, yet that also takes into account ethical issues that may be overlooked by ethical boards. The course aims to increase insight in the complexity of ethical issues that may arise in ethnographic research with regard to recruitment, consent, confidentiality and potential adverse effects of research or misuse of research results.

Objectives of the seminar

Through lectures and practical workshops, the research seminar aims to stimulate reflection on (1) how to overcome the tension between the requirements of institutional ethical boards and the specificities of ethnographic research, and (2) how to design a research ethics that moves beyond the shortcomings of institutional ethical protocols.

After completion of the course, participants:

  1. will be better informed about ethical requirements and data protection obligations and how they affect ethnographic research practice.
  2. will be able to more adequately identify ethical issues in all phases of doing ethnographic research.
  3. will be able to more critically reflect on the ethical issues that arise in ethnographic research, in particular in relation to unequal and shifting power relations in the field and in relation to the effects of research.
  4. will be stimulated to develop a strong ethical framework to guide research and practice that takes into account relational processes and power dynamics.
  5. will be stimulated to adopt a reflexive engagement with issues of recruitment, (continued) informed consent, privacy protection, data management, categorization, potential adverse effects of research or misuse of research results.
  6. will have improved their skills in writing about the specific ethical issues in ethical self-assessment reports or in the ethics section of their dissertation (or papers on the topic).

Info and registration

This research seminar is disciplinary in focus and offered to PhD students of all universities, yet preference will be given to students from Ghent University, Leuven University and VUB. All students can receive a ‘proof of successful participation’, which can be recognized by their home PhD programme.

Registration by sending an email to: before August 15th 2020. IPlease include your name, affiliation, the doctoral school you are a member of, and a brief description of your research and of your motivation for participating in this course. The organising committee will select students based on who they think would benefit most from participating in the research seminar.

The maximum number of participants is 20 students.

Venue: Blandijnberg 2, 9000 Gent, room 110.079 (first floor)

If the research seminar cannot take place due to the corona regulations, it will be postponed to a later date. Registered participants will be notified if this would occur.

Online participation in lectures

The lectures by Rachel Spronk, Jacinthe Mazzocchetti and Rahil Roodsaz in the morning part of the ERS programme will be accessible through Zoom for everyone that is interested. If you would like to join, please send an e-mail to Sara De Vuyst ( and you will receive a link and the password to join.


DAY 1 – 16 SEPTEMBER 2020

10:00-12:00: Lecture 1: Ambitions and ambiguities of ethical ethnography (location: room 110.079)

Prof. Dr. Rachel Spronk (University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands)
Chair: Prof. Dr. Steven Van Wolputte (SMEC, Social and Societal Ethics Committee, Leuven University)

12:00-13:00: Lunch break

13:00-14:30: Workshop 1: GDPR and ethnography (location: room 110.079)

How to bring your research in sync with the GDPR requirements (such as data minimization, explicit consent and data governance)?
Workshop teachers: Dr. Marjan Moris (Expeditions vzw) & Raf Jespers (Just Lawyers)

14:30-15:00: Break

15:00-17:30:  Closed master class & workshop 2 (location: room 110.079)

A: Closed master class with Prof. Dr. Rachel Spronk (only for the team members of the ERC project LiLI)

B: Workshop 2: Film screening & discussion: ‘Fighting for the right to housing in Bucharest’ by Michele Lancione. – ethical issues and dilemmas in activist urban ethnographic research.
Workshop teacher: Prof. Dr. Karel Arnaut (Leuven University)


10:00-12:00: Lecture 2: The ethics of ethnographic fieldwork in the context of war against migrants  (location: room 110.079)

Prof. Dr. Jacinthe Mazzocchetti (UCLouvain):
Chair: Prof. Dr. Gily Coene (VUB)

12:00-13:00: Lunch break

13:00-14:30: Workshop 3: Ethnography and the unexpected (location: room 110.079)

How to handle unexpected results, and newly arising questions in ethnographic research? How to ethically and effectively manage and cope with possible unintended impact of research on the participants and/or the researcher? What to do when during the research incidental sensitive findings come up such as (sexual) abuse, domestic violence, illegal activities, etc.?
Workshop teachers: Prof. Dr. Ine Lietaert (Ghent University/UNU-CRIS) and Prof. Dr. Katrien De Graeve (Ghent University)

14:30-15:00: Break

15:00-17:30: Master class 1: Doing research in times of growing extreme-right anti-gender and anti-migration forces in society  (location: room 110.079)

by Prof. Dr. Jacinthe Mazzocchetti
How to intervene in the debates? How to prevent potential misuse of research results by extreme-right groups? How to deal with attacks by internet trolls or physical threats and intimidation?

DAY 3 – 18 SEPTEMBER 2020

10:00-12:00: Lecture 3: An ethnographic attempt to address and de-essentialise difference and polyamory in the Netherlands (location: room 110.079)

Dr. Rahil Roodsaz (University of Amsterdam)
Chair: Prof. Dr. Aymon Kreil (Ghent University)

12:00-13:00: Lunch break

13:00-14:00: Workshop 4: Ethnography and data  (location: room 110.079)

What is data in ethnographic fieldwork? How to deal with ethnographic data in an ethical manner? And what does this mean for data management?
Workshop teacher: Dr. Marjan Moris (Expeditions vzw)

14:00-14:30: Break

14:30-16:30: Master class 2: (Un)doing difference and universality  (location: room 110.079)

by Dr. Rahil Roodsaz
How to avoid reproducing difference by tracing practices of difference-making? How to engage with values of transparency and honesty as a researcher when doing fieldwork?


  1. The students prepare reading assignments for all lectures (two to four articles or book chapter per lecture, chosen by the lecturers);
  2. They prepare questions for the lectures’ Q&A rounds;
  3. Dependent on their specific needs, and using insights gained from the readings, students write a reflection on their ethical self-assessment report or a paper about research ethics that can serve as the foundation for a thesis chapter or paper. This text will serve as the basis for discussion in the master classes and can also be used in the workshops if applicable. The text should be submitted one week before the start of the seminar and will be distributed to all lecturers and workshop teachers.

Evaluation criteria:

  • 100% attendance
  • Active participation during lectures, masterclasses and workshops
  • Assignment

Organizing committee


Prof. Dr. Katrien De Graeve, CRCG, faculty of Arts and Philosophy, Ghent University

Organizing & scientific committee

CRCG, UGent:

Dr. Valerie De Craene
Dr. Sara De Vuyst
Dra. Nika Looman
Dra. Kyla Robinson
Dr. Carine Plancke


Prof. dr. Ine Lietaert


Dr. Sigrid Vertommen


Prof. Dr. Karel Arnaut
Dra. Elsemieke Van Osch
Dra.Christina Verbruggen


Dr. Susan Dierickx