PhD student Ashley Rogers attended the SCCJR event ‘Global Social Science? Practical Issues and Ethical Dilemmas’ on March 10 2017. Here are her reflections.

Given the increasing focus on ‘internationalisation’ in academic institutions, and requirements by funding bodies to show an engagement in global fields, it is important to consider how we might engage with other contexts in ways that are meaningful and sensitive to local conditions and realities.

For this event at the University of Glasgow, Dr Alistair Fraser brought  together leading global academics and qualitative researchers in sociology and criminology alongside postgraduate students, to engage in discussions surrounding experiences of working in global contexts.

Professor Karen Joe-Laidler from the University of Hong Kong began the roundtable event by highlighting the challenges of managing personal and intellectual lives, and coming to realise that what you know “is all that you know”. She drew particular attention to basic skills such as understanding and speaking in another language, and to the challenges involved in social interactions in a context where cultural meanings are often unclear for the foreign researcher.

PhD Researcher Annie Crowley, from the University of Glasgow, who had spent time as a visiting scholar in New York, pointed out that opportunities to work abroad in other contexts can be fruitful, and encouraged others to grasp such opportunities to do so. She pointed out that the questions she frequently received about her own country encouraged her to be more reflective about her own local context. Annie also highlighted that there can be a change in working when in another context: given the often limited time that researchers may have, and therefore given her fleeting presence, a more proactive approach was adopted which made her feel energised and motivated. Importantly, she also highlighted an awareness of privilege in relation to the opportunities to engage with other cultures and pointed out that with such privilege comes an even greater level of responsibility.

Given Annie’s fleeting presence as a visiting scholar in New York, a more proactive approach was adopted which made her feel energised and motivated

Following from this, and drawing on both the challenges of interacting in other cultures and making them meaningful as well as the increased responsibility on researchers, Professor Shamus Kahn from Columbia University in New York warned of the reproduction of inequalities through the construction of knowledge. He emphasised caution in relation to the need for deeper consideration of local contexts and realities and to consider the application of ideas during exchanges in order to produce beneficial outcomes and avoid a simple Global North circulation of intellectual capital.

PhD Researcher Louise Brangan, from the University of Edinburgh, who had spent time at the University of Berkeley, followed with a message to consider the relationship that the ideas you are presented with in other contexts have with your own discipline, and how they can be used meaningfully. She described the reception to her work on penal politics in Scotland and Ireland, and questioned the way it was frequently framed as ‘exceptionalism’. For Louise this draws attention to hierarchies of knowledge production and an assumption of the US as the ‘centre’ of global criminology.

Finally, I highlighted the personal, ethical and practical challenges of conducting research in the context of Bolivia. I brought together some of the points from both Prof Laidler and Prof Kahn in relation to making research meaningful for those who are the focus of the study and pointed out the complexities of doing this in a second language and in an entirely different cultural context.

This event can be considered to mark the beginning of interactions which will seek to delve deeper in to the ethical, practical and personal challenges that global researchers face

The discussion was then opened to the attendees, and many issues arose from the need to consider ethical requirements that may meet Global North ethical bodies but are not sensitive to Global South realities; as well as how to disseminate information and communicate knowledge in a way which does not reproduce power.

It is obvious that there are many issues involved with researching and working in more global contexts, and with an increase in the term internationalisation in our academic working lives, Dr Fraser is seeking to have an ongoing discussion about these issues across the SCCJR and more broadly. This event can be considered to mark the beginning of interactions which will seek to delve deeper in to the ethical, practical and personal challenges that global researchers face – as well as those visiting international institutions for work – but is also relevant to those engaging with contexts, histories, realities and stories that are not similar to their own in order to understand and consider how their research might be meaningful and beneficial outwith the production of knowledge in the Global North.

Ashley Rogers is an SCCJR PhD researcher based at the University of Stirling.