Choosing between Success and Safety? The Challenges of the Fieldworker

Friday 19 June 2020, 15.00 – 17.00

Online webinar

Since #MeToo there has been more openness about experiences of intimidation and sexual harassment of predominantly women scientists at universities. Several universities have committees committed to the safety of the workplace. However, the issue of safety during fieldwork is rarely addressed. While an American study reported 70 percent of women academics experienced sexual intimidation during fieldwork, this issue is still not a common topic in (under)graduate research courses. Fieldwork requires long-term stays in unfamiliar areas, without a personal or professional network. Moreover, it requires close (working) relationships with people, in which we are dependent on them to gain access to information. This dependency can become dangerous when the people we work with initiate behaviour that cross personal boundaries, making researchers feel they have to decide between the success of their research or their personal safety. Additionally, hierarchy and competition in academia lead to reluctance to report such experiences.


In this session, the aim is to open up the discussion around the structural issues that prevent fieldworkers to be better prepared, and better cared for on their return. The session aims to critically examine the role universities play in (not) protecting their researchers in the field, both before, during, and after the fieldwork period. In an open discussion with researchers from different universities, we ask: what is being done in terms of pre- and post-fieldwork training? How can researchers be better prepared for challenges they might face in relation to protecting their personal boundaries? What kind of changes are necessary? Who currently has the responsibility, and who should ideally be responsible for the well-being of researchers who experience intimidation or sexual harassment? What structures are currently in place at universities after researchers report such experiences? And how does the university respond when these experiences affect the researcher’s project as a whole, and possibly, their mental health? How can we ensure the safety of researchers is guaranteed without affecting their academic trajectories?

For this workshop, we invite affiliates from different universities in the Netherlands to share their perspective and knowledge upon this issue and work towards a better support system for fieldworkers.  Other attendees are welcome to think along.

To join the online discussion, please register at conference@lova.network.