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Reading: New Challenges for Fieldworkers in Latin American and Caribbean Studies


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New Challenges for Fieldworkers in Latin American and Caribbean Studies


Judith Adler Hellman

York University, Toronto, CA
About Judith

Judith Adler Hellman is Professor of Political and Social Science at York University. She is the author of The World of Mexican Migrants (NY: New Press, 2008) and the editor of Changing Lives and Changing Times in the Caribbean and Latin America: Ten Oral Histories (Toronto: CERLAC, 2013) as well as articles on peasant movements, international migration in the Americas and Europe, and social movements in Europe and Latin America.

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This essay aims to stimulate debate by proposing that the imposition of ill-conceived research protocols by universities and grant giving institutions not only blocks the kind of personal contact between researchers and subjects that makes for insightful findings, but actually imperils the researchers themselves. The protocols are meant to protect research subjects from harm, but this goal is a far more complex and difficult undertaking than those imposing these protocols seem to grasp. In particular, ethics administrators’ focus on obtaining ‘informed consent’ underscores their lack of direct experience with the full process of research and dissemination of findings because the decisive point that bears on the safety and happiness of research subjects is not the moment when these people accept the fieldworker’s invitation to share their thoughts and experiences. Rather, it is the inevitably difficult decisions made by researchers regarding how much of the material they have collected can actually be published.


Resumen: Nuevos desafíos para investigadores de campo en el estudio de América Latina y del Caribe


Este ensayo argumenta que las instituciones universitarias y de financiamiento académico imponen protocolos de investigación inadecuados que no sólo impiden el tipo de contacto entre investigadores y sujetos que generan resultados interesantes, sino que además ponen en peligro a los mismos investigadores. Los protocolos están diseñados para proteger a los sujetos de investigación de cualquier peligro, pero aquel objetivo es mucho más complejo y difícil realizar de lo que los administrando los protocoles aparentemente entienden. La importancia que los administradores de la ética académica le otorgan al ‘consentimiento informado’ pone en evidencia su falta de experiencia directa con la totalidad del proceso de investigación y de difusión de resultados. Lo que realmente determina la seguridad y el nivel de felicidad del sujeto de investigación no es el momento en que este acepta ser parte de la investigación, sino que son las siempre difícil decisiones que toma el investigador al decidir que material conviene, o no, publicar.

How to Cite: Hellman, J. A. (2015). New Challenges for Fieldworkers in Latin American and Caribbean Studies. European Review of Latin American and Caribbean Studies, (100), 99–110. DOI:
Published on 08 Dec 2015.
Peer Reviewed


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