Conducting Fieldwork with San and Hadza (Post-)Hunter-Gatherer Communities in Africa: Regulatory and Ethical Issues
Peer reviewed, Journal article
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Original versionTrends in Psychology. 2023, 1-18. 10.1007/s43076-023-00271-1
In this paper, we address some of the challenges and opportunities of conducting international research in psychology. We examine issues that arise from working in contexts that differ substantially from those in which most psychological research is still conducted. We take our experiences with Tanzanian and Namibian (post-) hunter-gatherers as a starting point for discussing regulatory and ethical issues. We have experienced a highly structured and regulated approach to research in Tanzania and a much less regulated situation in Namibia. We compare both and discuss con- flicts that arise from differing demands of national regulations (or lack thereof) and funders or home institutions in the Global North. We focus on the special point of establishing informed consent. While the people we have worked with are not only often illiterate, they also have a very different background of experiences, which means that the translation of consent procedures is not sufficient, and other consider- ations need to come into play. We discuss cultural characteristics of hunter-gatherer groups, particularly norms related to individual autonomy, that convince us that our participants have the ability to consent nevertheless and compare this with the situ- ation in other groups that we have worked with (for example, Indian farmers). How- ever, we also reflect on ethical choices that become relevant in a digitalized world, particularly when working with children. We argue that an understanding of cultural models and norms is necessary to design and conduct meaningful psychological research and enable us to interpret findings correctly. We suggest to include com- munities that researchers work with into the research process wherever possible, to aim for long-term commitment and to cultivate an ethical stance regarding research, already in students that become involved in research projects.