Considering Ethics and Safety in Field Research in the Global South

Field research is an integral part of data collection for many (PhD) researchers. Yet, questions of ethics and safety in the field are not always adequately addressed by institutions, universities, and PhD supervisors. Thus, many insecurities prevail. How to deal with power relations when conducting research in the Global South? And how to make sure that all parties remain safe and sound when dealing with sensitive topics?

In order to discuss such questions and to create a room for exchange, a team of six PhD students from German Institute for Global and Area Studies (GIGA: Niklas Krösche, Lisa Hoffmann, Désirée Reder and Swantje Schirmer) and Peace Research Institute Frankfurt (PRIF/HSFK: Simone Schnabel and Clara-Auguste Süß) organized the digital workshop “Considering Ethics and Safety in Field Research in the Global South” on 8th and 9th of December 2020. Thanks to the financial support of the Leibniz PhD Network’s event funding, we virtually brought together 24 doctoral researchers from GIGA, PRIF, Helmut-Schmidt University Hamburg as well as from the Universities of Bonn, Tübingen, and Leiden.

The two-day workshop focussed on two crucial, yet still widely overlooked aspects of field research – ethics and safety – and thereby aimed at discussing and critically reflecting power relations, identity and positionality in the field. The participants were invited to not only share their experiences but also their inquiries which helped to critically assess our role as researchers in conducting research in the Global South. In doing so, the workshop featured participant presentations focusing on individual research projects and questions as well as two keynote speakers followed by Q&A sessions.

The first workshop day on ethics was kicked off with a keynote by Prof. Dr. Timothy Williams (Bundeswehr University Munich) who explored ethical questions and responsibilities arising from social relations with interviewees, research assistants and the state during field research. Special attention was given to aspects related to power, vulnerability, security and data. The keynote led to three major takeaways:

  • First, there is no one size fits all approach when thinking about questions related to ethics. Instead, before entering the field, a detailed and context-specific planning process is of utmost importance.
  • Second, building and sustaining trust is a key prerequisite in field research.
  • Third, ethics is more than an institutional requirement but it is ingrained in and integral to the whole process of research and knowledge production.

Thus, discussions about ethics should be held on a regular basis. Later that day, three participants gave insights in their own research projects, referring to localized ethics, positionality and trust, and to coping strategies when researching sensitive questions and topics.

The second day first started off with a keynote by Ilyas Saliba (WZB/GPPi) on safety aspects before, during and after field research, as well as on digital security. His talk built on both the recently co-edited book “Safer Field Research in the Social Sciences” and his own experiences when doing research in North Africa. Key insights included the importance of a thorough risk assessment of direct and indirect threats and the responsibility of researchers for all involved actors. Two participant presentations then covered local violent conflicts, aggression and road safety, as well as sexual harassment during field research. The workshop closed with an open discussion wrapping up the two days and identifying broad links and overarching questions. 

Thanks to the outstanding speakers and the participants’ willingness to share their experiences and inquiries, the workshop provided very helpful and thought-provoking insights with regard to ethics and safety in the context of field research. Additionally, despite having taken place digitally, all participants and organizers agreed that they succeeded in creating a safe space, which allowed everyone to address and discuss more personal concerns and sensitive topics. Furthermore, the workshop fostered exchange not only within the organizing team prior to the event, but later also within the whole workshop group. There was wide-spread interest amongst organizers and participants to continue this exchange, within a broader setting as well as on a more individual basis, for instance in a topic- or region-centered manner.

We hope that this is only one of many future initiatives discussing the questions of safety and ethics in fieldwork and that cooperation between all involved research institutions will also prosper.

General Assembly 2021

Once a year, all elected PhD representatives of the 96 Leibniz Institutes and Research Museums meet for two days of networking, exchange of best practices and discussions on current and future challenges of doctoral researchers in Germany. This General Assembly is of crucial importance for the Leibniz PhD Network, since it also contains a discussion of the Standing Rules and the election of a new Steering Committee.

Due to the current worldwide crisis, we decided that the Leibniz PhD Network the General Assembly will be held online. It will take place on 23rd and 24th of September. The Assembly will be held over Zoom : the first day of the General Assembly 2021 will be open for all doctoral researchers of the Leibniz Association. We invite all members of the Leibniz PhD Network and our associated networks. Dr. Thomas Kleinsorge from the Leibniz Research Centre for Working Environment and Human Factors (IfADo) will give a keynote about “Work-life balance: societal, cross-sectional, and longitudinal perspectives ”. There would also be an interesting workshop “Keeping your work life-balance while working on your PhD” delivered by Heli Korhonen from “Scienza”. On the second day, September 24 (10:00-2:00 pm), the representatives of the institutes elect two new spokespersons, a treasurer and one section spokesperson for each section.

If you would like to run for one of the positions, please do not hesitate to let us know in advance as well (you do not need to be a representative at your institute to be elected spokesperson, treasurer or section spokesperson). This is a very exciting opportunity in which you can learn a lot about the inner workings of academia, get to know many active researchers from all over Germany and practice some leadership skills!

If you are interested in getting elected, but you are not a representative at your institute at the time of the General Assembly, we will set up an extra access to the program of Day 2 for you. For any questions and enquiries we can be reached at

PhD Networks publish Wahlprüfsteine for the German Federal Elections

On September 26, Germany elects a new federal parliament, the Bundestag. This election affects all aspects of life, including the worklife of doctoral researchers, development of science and diversity in acadmia. To help doctoral researchers and other early-career scientists, several PhD networks have joined forces to provide them with a guide to navigate the elections using information that directly affects them. We very much encourage you to cast your vote if you can!

The project was conducted by the the N² network (Helmholtz Association, Max Planck Society, leibniz PhD Network and IPP Mayence), the TUM Graduate Council of the Technical University of Munich (TUM), the ProKo of the Friedrich-August-University in Erlangen-Nürnberg (FAU), THESIS e.V., the Doctoral Covenant of Baden-Württemberg, the Coucil of Doctoral Researchers of the Technical University of Brunswik, the ProRat of the University of Leipzig, and the DR.FSU of the University of Jena.

With our forces joined, we asked the political parties currently present in the Bundestag about their plans after the election regarding science and academia, including the working conditions of doctoral researchers among other topics. The result can be read in our report. The report is only available in German because this is about the German elections and entails an introductory note, summary tables, a short text with our overall impression and an annex with the verbatim answers of the parties.

Our joint effort has received complete sets of answers from the parties CDU/CSU, FDP, Bündnis90/Die Grünen and Die Linke. The SPD has answered to one of the blocks of questions only, while the AfD has not sent any answers.

We hope the report is a useful tool to inform your voting decision.


“Institutes need to be aware of LGBTI+ issues”

Interview with Jan Klenke on IDAHOBIT

Today, LGBTI+ folks around the world and their allies observe IDAHOBIT – the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia, Interphobia, and Transphobia. As the Leibniz PhD Network, we would like to express our support for the community. To shed a light on LGBTI+ issues in academia, our Working Group Diversity conducted an interview with our Co-Spokesperson Jan Klenke.