Social Movement Studies is seeking papers on the theme of ‘Ethics of Research on Activism’ for a special issue to be published in 2012.

Every stage of the research process into social movements can introduce complex ethical questions. The issues we choose to address are often highly politicised and often involve our own moral judgements and sympathies. The groups and individuals with whom we engage, whether directly or through documentary records, may be in positions of peculiar vulnerability. They may be relatively powerless by virtue of their social situation, their activities may be covert or illegal, they may face a high risk of repression. The data we gather, then, has special risks associated with it, but ethical challenges do not stop once we insert our own analyses. Rather, we must make choices about what we report, in what terms we report it, and what we leave unsaid, judging the risks faced by research respondents and deciding on the importance of giving voice to those who feel under-represented in their societies. Moreover, we must choose which audiences we wish to address. Are we satisfied, having elicited ‘rich data’ from our research respondents, to use these solely in pursuit of intellectual plaudits in the academy? Or should we seek to speak for or against the movements we study, risking the appearance of condescension to movement participants and excessive political involvement to our scholarly peers? Attempts to engage in the coproduction of knowledge with movements also pose difficult ethical and scholarly questions. How much co-production should there be and how are mutual interests to be negotiated? To
what extent should academics serve activists and to what extent is their independence compromised by doing so?

These issues and many more are likely to be familiar to anyone who has engaged in research on social movements, whatever the particular methodological techniques they employ. While some of these ethical challenges may seem unique to the study of social movements, we also believe that the lessons available here may be much more broadly applicable to original research in a number of cognate fields. We hope to use this special issue of Social Movement Studies as a forum for open and honest debate on the problems and opportunities inherent in our research activities. This issue will become both an essential point of reference for researchers in our field and also a valuable set of reflections for all academics occupied with research in sensitive or complex social environments.

We are seeking proposals for papers on any aspect of the ethics of research on activism. Contributors should reflect on actual experiences of research on social movements and, where possible, consider the reactions of relevant communities to their work, where that might include movement participants, funders or other audiences. Proposals that include activists‘ voices directly through co-authorship or a conversation format are also encouraged.

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