LOVA Study Day 2020a – The Challenges of the Fieldworker

Because of the Covid-19 pandemic, the annual LOVA Study Day 2019 was replaced by a webinar on the afternoon of June 19. LOVA members Janne Heederik and Lise Zurné initiated this workshop to call attention to more awareness and preparation of Master’s and PhD students regarding their vulnerabilities during fieldwork in places and situations unfamiliar to them and improve institutional support systems for students with bad experiences. Two expert presentations, information on seven affiliates of Master’s and PhD programmes of most universities in the Netherlands, and a discussion on four basic questions formed the programme. About thirty persons attended the webinar and most of them also filled in a short online survey after the meeting. A report of the webinar and the results of the survey were published in LOVA Journal 41. As a follow-up, Janne and Lise created a LOVA working group on Safety in the field and will keep this topic on the agenda of the LOVA Network.

Friday 19 June 2020, 14.00 – 16.00

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 that 70 per cent 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, 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 crosses 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 field workers 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 on this issue and work towards a better support system for fieldworkers. Other attendees are welcome to think along.