Safety in the Field

While #MeToo opened up the debate about experiences of intimidation and sexual harassment of scientists at universities, the issue of safety during fieldwork is rarely addressed. Fieldwork requires long-term stays in unfamiliar areas and close (working) relationships with people on whom we are dependent for our data. This Working Group aims to further explore how often and what kind of situations occur in which researchers feel their safety is undermined during fieldwork.

After personal experiences of harassment during fieldwork, we firstly organized an online webinar titled ‘Choosing between success and safety: The challenges of the fieldworker’. The webinar explored the role universities play in (not) protecting their researchers in the field, both before, during, and after the fieldwork period. It was complemented by a survey, which showed how strikingly often (69%) respondents had experienced issues of (sexual) intimidation and harassment and how many respondents (85%) felt their employer had not adequately prepared them for fieldwork. These numbers correspond with the few studies that have been done on this issue, with an American study finding that 70 percent of women academics experienced sexual intimidation during fieldwork. Hierarchy and competition often lead to reluctance to report such experiences as they might affect academic trajectories. 

The Working Group Veilig in het Veld / Safety in the Field aims for three activities in the coming years. A first step is to extend and broaden the research that we have been conducting on this issue. A master’s student of the Master Cultural Anthropology and Development Sociology at Leiden University will assist us as a research intern.

Secondly, we believe that pre-fieldwork training will better prepare researchers for situations that may occur in the field. We would like to develop workshops focussed on protecting boundaries and recognizing and minimizing potentially dangerous conditions. Additionally, we believe that better support systems should be in place at universities, and want to develop workshops for university staff, lecturers, and supervisors to raise awareness on how to recognise potential issues for their students and how to support them before, during, and after fieldwork. 

Thirdly, as narratives of negative fieldwork experiences challenge our academic success, they are often ignored or pushed to the periphery of academic debates. We would like to create more awareness and recognition academically that such experiences are a possibility, and to some extent integral, part of fieldwork. We, therefore, aim to compose a Special Issue in the LOVA journal on this matter in the near future. 

Would you like to join us, discuss new ideas, or contribute to our work? You can email us at We look forward to hearing from you.

Janne Heederik, MSc (PhD, Radboud University)

Lise Zurné, MA (PhD, Erasmus University)