DevISSues Vol.25, No. 1 Including ethics in development research

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MAY 2023 VOL.25 – NO.1 NOVEMBER 2022 – NO.2


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From the Editorial Board

The what and how of research ethics

The theme of this DevISSues is research ethics, specifically about how we include ethical considerations in our research. But what are research ethics? And how do we implement them in practice?

A dictionary definition tells us that ethics relates to the science of morals or the rules of conduct (Concise Oxford Dictionary). Though a useful starting point, the ‘science of morals’ does not help us much in practice. As with ethics, we can ask ourselves whose morals, to what end? The ‘rules of conduct’ is possibly more useful, suggesting as it does actionable modes of conduct that determine how we ‘do’ research. The three themed articles in this issue seem to implicitly agree with this definition, highlighting, as they do, the action of research.

In their article, Mena and Stenico focus on the notion of doing no harm (or no risk of harm) during research, while Faling emphasizes the reciprocity between research stakeholders. In her contribution, Hutter lays more focus on developing indicators to measure the quality and ethics of research. Thus though approaching ethics in research from different standpoints, all three articles recognize and highlight that how we implement an ethical approach to our research is very much a continuous process of weighing up the diverging interests and expectations of the various stakeholders and looking closely at the specific context in which they take place. These interests and expectations are dynamic and may conflict with each other – what is ‘right’ for the researcher may not be ‘right’ for the research participant. How we deal with this, when we deal with this, indeed whether we deal with this, is where research ethics come in.

The other articles in this issue also touch on ethics, though not explicitly. In their Staff-student discussion, Siegmann, Nabila, Hatmanti and Wulaningsih examine the treatment and rights of migrant domestic workers, pointing out that despite a decade of conventions, they still face poor working conditions and abuse. Likewise, our Focus article on the recent launch of the Legal Mobilization Platform describes the many ethical and political questions which arise when ‘mobilizing for a just world’. What all our contributors show is that research ethics is an important and complex issue that demands our continued attention.

We hope you enjoy and are inspired by this issue.

What and why of research ethics?

Rector’s Blog

Thank you all for the wonderful years

This will be my last DevISSues blog as rector of ISS. After serving two terms, eight years, it is time for a new rector to take over. With three months to go, I am in the process of contemplating the past years. The years have certainly flown by; sometimes I can’t believe it all went so fast. Arriving from the University of Groningen in 2015, I was looking forward to working in a university institute with high societal relevance, with a very strong global focus and with people who work with passion. I found all that: passion for the field of development studies, for critical social science and for the societal relevance of our activities. Even now, whenever I enter the building full of students and staff of many nationalities, I feel as if I’m stepping into the world. What a privilege to work here!

I entered the institute with some major tasks pending: the reorganization and renovation of student housing, the renovation of the building and the aftercare of the 2013 staff reorganization. Those first years were not easy for any of us. Co-formulating the 2018-22 strategy, entitled Energized, Embedded, Engaged, was a great joy to do together. Erasmus University Rotterdam’s (EUR) new strategy on creating positive societal impact facilitated the further integration of ISS into EUR. As all ISS’ activities had been highly societally relevant for almost 70 years, we were able to share our expertise. I believe that ISS is now an essential part of EUR, in The Hague, and we are seen and appreciated as such – for who we are and what we do.

Of course, COVID-19 brought many challenges, especially in the field of teaching. Our teachers were very quick and dedicated to finding online solutions, but I still feel sad when I talk with alumni who identify themselves as part of the so-called corona batch and who had to live and work in their rooms, studying online and isolated for almost eight months. However, corona also gave us good things such as the Local Engagement Facility projects: ISS researchers conducted research for action on corona-coping mechanisms among several different marginalized groups in The Hague. Despite the circumstances, it was great to see how ISS could contribute to our local community.

There is so much more to contemplate and memories to cherish: the Dies celebrations, particularly the lustrum in October 2022; chairing PhD defences; meetings with the Advisory Committee – there is too much to mention. I will have time to contemplate more during my upcoming sabbatical when I will continue working as academic lead on the EUR strategy and the Erasmian Values in relation to leadership and culture in the organization. Some of my passions – on culture, leadership and transformations of universities towards more societal impact – will come together here. My experiences as ISS rector will greatly contribute to that work.

I want to thank you all for the wonderful years. It has been a privilege to contribute to the further development of ISS of Erasmus University Rotterdam.

Inge Hutter, Rector ISS 3
Societally relevant research and ethics Towards societal engagement: ‘Ethics work’ in action research 7 Where are they now? 14 ISS News 17 New publications 18 Focus on ISS 20 Staff-student dialogue 22 ISS publications 23 Student life
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What and why of research ethics?

What is research ethics?

Research ethics can generally be understood ‘as the evaluation of attitudes and behaviour based on a combination of ideas of values and reality’ (Lidén, 2020: 61). While this evaluation can be done at the level of the values to guide attitudes and behaviour in research, it can also focus on the reality of the decisions and research practices, for example by assessing their impact.

Either way, the ethics of research seeks to ensure that research practices do no harm and do not create conditions for the occurrence of harm (i.e., the risk of harm). However, defining what is harm and what is doing harm is also

context specific. To address this, organizations, groups or other entities reflect on practices that are acceptable and unacceptable behaviour in their particular context and community of practice. In research this has been broadly translated into a process to avoid harming all research-related actors. In more specific terms, this is sometimes translated into guidelines and norms of conduct, such as the Netherlands Code of Conduct for Research Integrity (KNAW et al., 2018).

The core tenet ‘do no harm’, captures principles of ‘beneficence’, ‘justice’ and ‘respect for autonomy’ mainly envisioned for research participants. Research ethics complements these with principles assuming the capacity of research to create social value, for example,

Rodrigo Mena is Assistant Professor of Disaster and Humanitarian Studies at ISS
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Chiara Stenico is Ethics Secretary at ISS

principles of transparency, independence and responsibility.

Because research occurs in many different contexts, addresses a multitude of issues and interacts with a myriad of people and institutions, recognizing what negative consequences practices and decisions may have in a particular context is not enough; researchers also need to take decisions and actions that help prevent or mitigate the negative consequences of research practices. In this process, other variables come into play such as the research question, methodology and the dissemination of results. Research ethics becomes, therefore, a reflexive act, which dynamically balances out ethical considerations along the whole research process.

Why research ethics?

1. Research care

For the most part, research depends on the participation of others. In that, we see the primary importance of engaging in ‘care labour’ when doing research. Effectively, ‘doing no harm’ first reflects on the relationship with research participants who volunteer their time, experiences and knowledge. GonzálezLópez (2011) develops an idea of ‘mindful research’ as subject-centred, ethically conscious and alerted to the circumstances of the participants: ‘Far from being simply “subjects” participating in a qualitative study, the informants who are willing to share their life histories and stories are human beings with complex everyday lives characterized by unique social circumstances’ (González-López, 2011: 448). Managing this relationship ethically and mindfully can be complex and demands care. Dilemmas arise continuously and unexpectedly, particularly in the absence of ideal initial conditions and an equal researcherparticipant relationship (Fujii, 2012).

Thinking through this relationship and its complexity is not all when it comes to

care. Another aspect of it, one which is rather integral to research, is: when choosing to work around certain topics, research also expresses a commitment to do justice to these topics. This is particularly relevant when working with vulnerable communities or data on topics which directly affect and are of special value to those communities –this is often the case in ISS-led research.

2. Research credibility

Collective, democratic research needs to be credible in the eyes of research communities and society at large. For example, Irina, an activist and practitioner who has often contributed to research projects with her own life experience and knowledge, clearly unfolds this idea of credibility,1 by questioning the way she may be represented as marginalized and as a vulnerable community member.

The principles captured by ‘do no harm’ have evolved into a better articulation of what consent means by establishing voluntariness and the autonomy of research participants as necessary elements to it (Beauchamp, 2010). In the spirit of credibility, we must speak of autonomy against ‘a presumption of autonomy’ (Rhodes, 2005) which

translates into being respectful of someone else’s capacity for autonomy.

Credibility also plays out at the level of making research accountable. Research should nurture its relationship with society and research ethics advocates for research to become an increasingly transparent endeavour that actively responds, sometimes embeds, citizens’ views.

3. Research sustainability

Building on the aspects of credibility and care is the idea that ethical research has a longer life span than research that is not reflexive. While the focus of research ethics and its significance is, understandably, mostly on the researcher-participants relationship, by treating it ethically, we impact beyond the sphere of this one relationship. Ethical research first creates relational trust amongst researchers, collaborating partners and research-outcome users. In the broader framework of responsible research and innovation, research that can be defended as sound, ethical and accountable can sustainably endure and further develop.

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‘… researchers … need to take decisions and actions that help prevent or mitigate the negative consequences of research practices.’

How to do it?

Developing ethical research is not easy. In general, the process encompasses multiple phases. The first is to analyse the possible risks associated with the research endeavour. This will identify which elements of the research may, or risk doing, harm. Based on this analysis, multiple actions can be developed to reduce the identified risks, mitigate their consequences and identify what modifications to the research are necessary.

A few things to reflect upon here are:

1. Collecting and processing personal data, especially when this may be sensitive.

2. People participate on a voluntary basis, can withdraw at any time and are informed of the details of the research. Researchers need to be attentive to participants such as minors, children, people with learning disabilities, undocumented migrants, patients and prisoners for whom voluntary and informed consent require special attention.

3. To offer anonymity or confidentiality to create a safe space and increase open and reliable answers.

4. Are there any incentives offered to participants?

5. Whether researchers require the cooperation of a gatekeeper for access to the groups, communities or individuals to be recruited.

6. To reflect whether the research could induce psychological stress or anxiety, cause harm or have negative consequences for research participants or researchers.

With this information, the project can be submitted for ethics review in which a research ethics committee considers the research proposal and sees whether all possible risks have not only been identified, but whether measures are in place to address them. Following a positive recommendation, the next phase requires two things: implement everything that was presented to the ethics committee and develop a reflexive attitude to the research process, constantly reflecting on the risks of the research for researchers and others.

Closing words

There are important considerations to bear in mind when talking about research ethics. The first is that it does not only apply to what is commonly called qualitative research. Quantitative research also carries multiple risks. For example, the decision about which statistical parameter to use is often left to the researcher’s discretion and in the

process unrecognized biases can reinforce the negative labels of some groups.

Another important consideration is that risk assessment does not create risks, it merely allows us to observe them and do something with them. Not listing all possible risks does not make them disappear, it only renders them invisible to us and increases the risk of affecting other participants and research practices. Likewise, ethical considerations are not only for those who do ‘field work’. Risks are everywhere in research practices (Bos, 2020; Curran, 2006) and research ethics also applies to remote research.

Thinking about research ethics is also an invitation to rethink research agendas, methods and allocation of resources (Smith, 2012). To observe possible top-down and ‘western’ agendas, methods/methodologies can carry or mobilize multiple risks. In this sense, extractivist research practices and approaches are not strange to research endeavours.

Finally, researchers need to be conscious of not falling into ethics-washing practices: making research practices appear risk-free, whilst in reality risks have simply been hidden or placed elsewhere. An example is risk dumping in which we use local researchers or research assistants without considering the risk that doing research brings to them.

All in all, research ethics can be seen as a reflexive act, evaluating attitudes and behaviour and their impact. Taking care of these considerations not only makes research more legitimate or accountable, more importantly, it makes it more caring and, as indicated by Fujii (2012: 722), ‘[w]restling with ethical dilemmas is the price we pay for the privileges we enjoy. It is a responsibility, not a choice, and, when taken seriously, it may be one of the most important benefits we have to offer those who make our work possible.’

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1 See
For full references see
‘…when choosing to work around certain topics, research also expresses a commitment to do justice to these topics.’

Where are they now?

Study programme Diploma in Rural Policy and Project Planning

Year of graduation 1986

Country of origin Sri Lanka

Current occupation I retired in 2006. My last appointment was as Deputy Director at the Ministry of Plantation Industries. I worked on the development of tea plantations.

What made your time at ISS special? At ISS we became a global family with students from 60 countries. It was a pleasant experience. I still have the group photograph. The Netherlands is a beautiful country full of flowers. I enjoyed travelling on the tram into The Hague.

What is your most memorable moment at ISS?

It has to be my post-graduate diploma. Our teachers so friendly, the love and affection of a family. I must mention my supervisor, Mr Harry Wagenbuur. He was such a nice person. I appreciate his kindness and personality.

What does ISS mean to you now? ISS helped me lift my knowledge and career to another level. I became part of a global network. I love DevISSues. It broadens my mind.

Study programme MA in Development Studies, Governance of Migration and Diversity Track

Year of graduation 2022

Country of origin South Africa

Current occupation Where am I now? Still at ISS! After graduating, I took up two positions – one as a Communications Officer with the Marketing and Communications Team and the other as a Project Liaison as part of Professor Hilhorst’s Humanitarian Governance project.

What made your time at ISS special? Walking around ISS, I’m reminded daily of the amazing opportunity I had to earn an MA here. The community that is created (and that continues after graduation) is what has made my time at ISS so special.

What is your most memorable moment at ISS?

One of my most memorable moments is when the only 4 GMD students occupied the entire library for a week when we had a hectic assignment and exam period! Many laughs, tears and snacks were shared, and many memories made of ‘we’re in this together’.

What does ISS mean to you now? Working behind the scenes makes the MA experience come full circle as we are reminded of all the great, tangible work and people that come out of and shape the institute itself. And I’m not the only former student around, there are more! ISS continues to be a community after graduation and will forever hold memories of such.

7 ISS Alumni
Shirani Jayasinghe Gabriela Anderson Fernandez

Societally relevant research and ethics: The importance of reflexivity, positionality and legitimacy

our longstanding knowledge and experience in societally relevant research with the whole university and strengthen our relationships within EUR. This was nicely expressed in the final strategic plan with its many references to ISS’ societally relevant research in the Global South.

ISS has long identified its key values as social justice and equity;2 values that have motivated our teaching, research and engagement activities. With these values we aim to achieve social justice by conducting research among marginalized groups, by conducting critical social science research and by creating new academic knowledge and generating societally relevant outcomes such as policy advice, interventions, advocacy and so on.

In 2019, Erasmus University Rotterdam (EUR) defined its 2024 strategic plan with its objective of creating positive societal impact. The underlying Erasmian Values1 include being societally engaged and open-minded, connecting and entrepreneurial, and world citizenship. In line with Rokeach (1973), these values can be seen as instrumental to reaching the ultimate goal. That is, these values motivate us to achieve impact in research on local-global societal challenges.

From my perspective as rector of ISS, the EUR Strategy 2024 has meant a lot for ISS and for our integration in EUR. The strategy’s direction enabled us to share

The publication Social Impact @ sciences: the end of the ivory tower? (Van Bergeijk and Johnson, 2014) reflects ISS’ efforts in defining and operationalizing societal relevance over time. For me, the document served as an important guideline in my application for ISS rectorship eight years ago. Being a participatory action researcher myself, I was looking forward to following this up and further co-developing aspects of societally relevant research and engagement at ISS.

What does it mean to conduct societally relevant research or research for social change, or – as EUR defines it – to conduct research with impact? In the second edition of Qualitative Research Methods (Hennink, Hutter and Bailey,

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Inge Hutter is outgoing rector of ISS Client-based care in De Hoven, the Netherlands. Participatory research project. ©Hennink et al

2020), two chapters3 on participatory qualitative research bring the following principle to the table: research for social change implies that research aims to build academic knowledge and achieve societally relevant outcomes. These two objectives need to be defined at the very beginning of the research cycle, i.e., at the design stage. Hence the research questions and objectives are co-created with relevant other societal stakeholders and include their knowledge on the issues involved. This implies two underlying principles: that researchers also consider themselves to be societal stakeholders and that researchers acknowledge that other knowledge systems exist and need to be included. In addition, it implies that research methodologies and methods are used that are participant and/or transformative in character. And – finally – it implies further co-creation between researchers and other societal stakeholders in terms of social change outcomes such as interventions, actions, policy recommendations, advocacy and so on.

Qualitative Research Methods illustrates the principles of participatory qualitative research with examples of co-authored participatory qualitative research in India, Malawi, Ghana and the Netherlands. The projects focus on the co-creation of community-based nutrition interventions; on community-based maternal health interventions; on community-based monitoring of health services; and on client-oriented care in care organizations, respectively. Starting from the principle identified by Paulo Freire (1970/1993) in Pedagogy of the Oppressed, ‘the point

of departure … lies in the people themselves… Accordingly, the point of departure must always be with the men and women in the “here and now” which constitutes the situation in which they are submerged, from which they emerge and in which they intervene. Only by starting from this situation – which determines their perception of it – can they begin to move’ (Hennink et al. 2020: 53, Freire 1970/1993: 58).

Similar principles are included in the ISS framework on the societal relevance of research developed by Jo Baskott and myself, in close collaboration with the ISS community, and finalized in 2022. The framework, developed following a request by the research evaluation committee in 2017 and based on Sinek’s circle of ‘why’ (2009), is:

… a visual representation … providing guiding principles and ideas whilst designing, conducting and ultimately evaluating our societally relevant research, and using the circles of the diagram to pose the issues raised in the table. Hence, the framework is to be used to learn, to reflect backward, to think forward, and subsequently adapt the framework further’ (Baskott and Hutter, 2022: 8).

Questions to ask ourselves include:

• Which values does/did our research strive for?

• How is/was the research project societally relevant? In which stages in the research cycle is/was it included? What are/were the proposed academic and societally relevant outcomes?

• With whom is/was societally relevant research and action conducted? Which

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Community-based nutrition interventions in India. Participatory research project. ©Hennink et al
‘…research for social change implies that research aims to build academic knowledge and achieve societally relevant outcomes.’

other societal stakeholders are /were involved, why are/were they involved and how and where do/did they co-create together? Is/was it really a co-creation? How are/were power relationships dealt with?

• Who is/was the project aimed at,

other than academic peers, in terms of its societally relevant outcome?

This procedure, thinking forward or reflecting backwards while going through the cycle, implies the application of reflexive evaluations, mutual learning

and developing the framework further.

The process of integrating societal relevance into the research cycle requires additional skills and competences alongside academic skills. Co-creation with other societal stakeholders requires, for example, the ability to:

• connect and co-create with people who do not have an academic background;

• listen carefully to and try to understand (or rather ‘Verstehen’) their perspectives and include these in the research cycle;

• make academic principles and language understandable to others involved by using more colloquial language;

• identify power relations in the

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‘…thinking forward or reflecting backwards while going through the [research] cycle, implies the application of reflexive evaluations, mutual learning and developing the [research] framework further.’
Sinek (Sinek, 2009) Academic knowledge WITH (FOR?) WHOM? Social justice Equity Inclusion WITH WHOM? WHAT? WHY? HOW? Social change ekatS h o l ders Participants Marg in a l i z de spuorg suorogiR aeser r c h ( q u al i t y) Participatoryapproach policies andprocedures > mu l t i d i s c lip i ian r y a hcaorpp Focus onexcisting Focus o n r e la seussidlrow sgolB ,stuptuocimedacA ,skoob ra t ci el s e t c Academic conferences Reports Skill sharing Policycontributions Intervent ions / a c t i o n s Ifn o tenretni-gnirahs soediV pcimedacAsree Universitypartner Policymaker Slateico spuorg
and Hutter, 2022. Based on the Golden Circle concept

interactions and reflect on own positionalities and how they may influence co-creation processes; • co-act, where relevant, as a change agent and co-develop social change outcomes.

Reviewing ethical dimensions, societally relevant research thus requires an ability to reflect on both research and social change processes, on our own positionalities and to act upon these. These concepts, reflexivity and positionality, are important indicators of the quality and ethics of qualitative research. Personal reflexivity involves reflection by the researcher on their own backgrounds and how these might influence the qualitative research process. Interpersonal reflexivity involves reflection on, for example, the interview setting and interpersonal dynamics between researcher and participants that might influence the research process (Hennink et al, 2020; based on Hesse-Biber and Leavy, 2006). Positionality refers to reflections on the power relations between researcher and participants and how these affect the research process (cited by Hennink et al, 2020).

This also begs the question ‘to whom are we as researchers accountable in societally relevant research’? To our academic peers, for sure, in terms of the quality of our academic work. But in our societally relevant outcomes? Are we accountable to the values that drive our research, to our academic peers, to other societal stakeholders involved or to the participants of our research? Or to all four?

Based on the research quality PLUS framework of the Canadian International Development Research Centre, Jo Baskott and I identified additional criteria to check the quality of societally relevant research:

• Research Legitimacy which focuses ‘on the process of participation, how the research engages with local knowledge and the level of trust between researchers and the people who might eventually use the research

findings’ (based on Baskott and Hutter, 2022: 7-8).

• Research Importance which focuses ‘on how research meets the needs and priorities of potential users’ (ibid.) and Positioning for Use which focuses ‘on how the research process has been managed and research products prepared’ (ibid.).

It will be very useful to develop such indicators – of quality and ethics –further, based on current developments in Open and Responsible Science. In so doing we will arrive at an even more comprehensive set of indicators that help us reflect on our societally relevant research.


I want to thank Jo Baskott for her excellent work and our pleasant cooperation in formulating the report on societal relevance for the evaluation of ISS research that will take place in June 2023.

1 Erasmian Values also reflect how EUR wants to give shape to its identity, thinking and actions, i.e., in being an Erasmian.

2 In recent years, inclusion has been added as a value that motivates our behaviour, interactions and activities in building a safer and inclusive space to work and study.

3 The two chapters are written with Christine Fenenga.


Baskott, J. and I. Hutter (2022) Societal relevance of research: towards a framework on societal relevance. 11 March 2022 (unpublished document part of ISS’ mid-term research review).

EUR 2020 Creating positive societal impact the Erasmian way: Strategy 2024 Freire, P. (1970) Pedagogy of the oppressed. London: Penguin Classics, Penguin Random House UK. Hennink, M., I. Hutter and A. Bailey (2020) Qualitative Research Methods, Sage Publishers, London.

Sinek, S. (2009) Start with Why: How great leaders inspire everyone to take action. Portfolio

International Development Research Centre (2017) The Research Quality Plus (RQ+) Assessment Instrument Rokeach, M. 1973 The nature of human values The Free Press

Van Bergeijk, P. and L. Johnson (2014) Social Impact @ sciences: the end of the ivory tower?

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‘…reflexivity and positionality, are important indicators of the quality and ethics of qualitative research.’
Community-based nutrition interventions in India. Participatory research project. ©Hennink et al

Towards societal engagement: ‘Ethics work’ in action research

The importance of closer connections between science and society is increasingly recognized, in the Netherlands as well as abroad. Examples are manifold. EUR’s Strategy 2024 ‘Creating Positive Societal Impact: The Erasmian way’, presents societal engagement as central to addressing contemporary societal challenges. Societal engagement is believed to benefit science in different ways. Facilitating dialogue among stakeholders such as policymakers, citizens, business and civil society may help to disclose ambiguities and the conflicting needs of stakeholders, while engaging them in the co-creation of knowledge. This allows science to incorporate differing and often excluded views, manage confrontations and seemingly incompatible tensions, and make sense of complex situations (Alvarez-Pereira, 2019). As such, it is believed that science is better able to contribute to addressing pressing challenges such as climate change, poverty, displacement and conflict.

One way to embed societal engagement in research practices is through action research. Action research relates to ‘a participatory process concerned with developing practical knowing in the pursuit of worthwhile human purposes. It seeks to bring together action and reflection, theory and practice, in participation with others, in the pursuit of practical solutions to issues of pressing concern to people’ (Reason & Bradbury, 2008:4). It challenges researchers to invest in reciprocal relations with stakeholders and engage in unpredictable learning processes.

Besides placing specific demands on researchers, due to its interactive and collaborative nature, action research is characterized by certain specific ethical considerations. It is a normative endeavour, founded on ideals such as mutual learning and social inclusion, with the principle of beneficence as its ethical starting point. While it is a moral responsibility of the researcher towards action research participants to explicitly incorporate ethical considerations in research practice, it also helps to safeguard the reliability and integrity of science and may facilitate protecting and maintaining healthy relations among action research participants.

However, simply capturing ethics in protocols is usually insufficient, because this overlooks the dynamic and messy ways in which ethical issues tend to emerge throughout the research process. Rather, ethical considerations require continuous attention and tailormade approaches once they reveal themselves. To emphasize the everyday and situated nature of ethics, and based on my own experiences with action research, I refer to the incorporation of ethical considerations as ‘ethics work’ (Abma, 2020). I identify four points of attention when engaging in ethics work. I hope these contribute to a dialogue, so that the collective journey towards more societal engagement remains mindful of ethical considerations. The issues I identify here are loosely based on Davidson et al. (2021) and Abma (2020) and illustrate some of my own struggles with ethics work.


The first point is collaboration. Action research fundamentally requires collaboration to ensure that actions proposed are acceptable to those involved. Research activities may bring forth significant costs for participating actors or may lead to tensions among participants. Therefore, to facilitate a smooth and fair process, the researcher has to give up their – privileged –position of control over the research. This requires the researcher to accommodate the wishes and needs of research participants, while simultaneously safeguarding quality standards of academic research. The researcher thus needs to navigate in ways so that activities are accepted by all participants. This is not always easy. Once, a colleague and I introduced a theoretical framework we considered suitable to track the development impact of a partnership. Although we sensed hesitation from the participating business and civil society partners, they accepted the framework and we continued working with it. Throughout the process we experienced how partners failed to embrace the framework, most likely because the underlying view of what development entails was not shared by all parties. We ultimately did not manage to create ownership of the framework with the partners, who neglected it in their own activities such as annual reporting.

2 The second point is competence

Action researchers have a duty to develop cognitive competence regarding the social and historical context of the research in question. Even more so than in other research approaches, the action researcher needs to invest in

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understanding the context and experiences of participants, to speak their language in order to have sensible conversations with participants. Not being adequately prepared means wasting participants’ time while being insufficiently able to interpret information. Limited competence may risk compromising the image and credibility of the researcher and hence the quality of research process and results. Action researchers therefore need to prepare accordingly. In a recent action research project, the research team planned a preparatory learning phase prior to the kick-off to prepare and get the required competence.

3The third point of attention is adaptability. While resources may be limited, the researcher has a responsibility to stick to the project, usually until project completion, while demonstrating flexibility to adapt to changing project timelines. When engaging in action research, the researcher has a duty to provide information and input at key moments in the project, in forms digestible by participants. Besides a moral responsibility, it is an opportunity to demonstrate the value of the research. Such informationsharing may not always be according to contract or may conflict with the timeline and deliverables of the researcher. For instance, whereas academic publications are usually desirable deliverables from the perspective of the academic researcher, other participants might not benefit from nor see the value of these outputs. One way I have dealt with this is to organize presentations and workshops on an on-request basis, to inform participants of the research progress and address any

burning issues. Researchers may use such moments as an opportunity to triangulate and validate insights. Furthermore, instead of spending significant time on preparing a glossy report, a much quicker presentation and accompanying slide deck usually serves participants’ demands.

4A fourth area of attention is consent

Action researchers tend to have continuous and repetitive exchanges with participants in research. They speak with many people, in differing settings, at different times. All this information is used, either explicitly in reporting or as background information. Thus, a key concern in action research is stakeholders’ informed consent to participate. In research projects that I am engaged in, project managers and donors usually formally agree to engage in action research, but their consent obviously does not extend to other potential participants. All participants need to be informed about the research, must have the option to remain anonymous and must be able to withdraw from the research whenever they want. Considering the unequal power relations between and among participants, this is easier said than done. Target audiences of development projects are unlikely to decline participation in studies conducted with stakeholders on whom they are dependent for support. Professional and/or dependency relations as well as feared consequences of withdrawal may all affect consent. I do not have an easy solution and my main point would be to remain continuously aware of the issue of informed consent. Some obvious measures include explaining the study, documenting (verbal) consent and clarifying that

Workshop on an exploration of crowding in on the dairy value chain in Kieni West, Nyeri county, Kenya. ©Marijn Faling

(refraining from) participation has no consequences. It may be helpful to ask for consent again at the closing of a project, so that participants may opt out from the study without this being noticed by others. In several action research projects that I was engaged in, the researchers organized opening and closing events with as many participants as possible to convey the research objectives and findings and provide people the opportunity to ultimately withdraw from the research.

Everyone will endorse the importance of ethics work. However, the above points show that when researchers engage in ethics work, this may clash with the demands that science usually places on researchers. Academic structures may inadvertently compromise ethics work if these place strict requirements and demands on researchers. The ‘commoditization of research’, with its focus on publications, may complicate the researcher’s adaptability to participants’ knowledge needs. Funding structures may require ‘key performance indicators’ and assume linear research processes, whereas ethics work requires appreciation of adaptive and flexible research processes. Hence, I hope these four areas of attention may serve not only as a starting point for an open discussion among action researchers around ‘ethics work’ in action research, but also show that academic structures need to provide flexibility for action researchers to engage in ethics work, to enable meaningful and morally sound societal engagement without compromising researchers’ careers.


Abma, T. (2020) Ethics work for good participatory action research. Beleidsonderzoek online. September 2020, DOI: 10.5553/BO/221335502020000006001

Alvarez-Pereira, C. (2019) Emerging New Civilization Initiative (ENCI): Emergence from emergency. Cadmus, 1(4), 1-13.

Davidson, R.M., M.G. Martinsons & L.H.M. Wong (2021) The ethics of action research participation. Information Systems Journal, 32(3), 573-594.

Reason, P. & H. Bradbury (2008) The SAGE Handbook of Action Research: participative inquiry and practice, 2nd edition. London: SAGE Publications.

13 Themed article

ISS news alumni awards EUR events

PhD projects research staff students

Rodrigo Mena receives prize for his Train the Trainers course Award

Winning prizes for both his idea and his pitch, Dr Rodrigo Mena hopes to develop a Train the Trainers programme in safety and security in the field for researchers carrying out research in crisis and vulnerable conditions.

Alumnus wins Africa Thesis Award Awards

Congratulations to Robert Okello who recently won the award for his thesis ‘Rural Women’s Legal Empowerment Through Digital Technology: A Case Study from Northern Uganda’. The prize is awarded by the African Studies Centre in Leiden.

Alumn appointed Attorney General of Nepal Alumni

Dr Dina Mani Pockharel was recently appointed Attorney General of Nepal He graduated from ISS in 2007.

Alumna appointed Chief Justice in Ghana Alumni

Gertrude Torkonoo has been a Justice of the Supreme Court since 2019. She completed the ISS International Law and Organizational Development programme in 2001.

14 ISS news

Inaugural lecture Professor Arul Chib Staff

In Memoriam

As an ISS community we send our heartfelt condolensces to the family and friends of those former students and staff who have passed away in recent months.

Freek Schiphorst

With a heavy heart we share the news that

Dr Freek Schiphorst passed away at the end of March. Freek worked in the field of Labour Studies and took up various other roles at ISS on the Works Council, the Board of Examiners and, from September 2013 to June 2020 when he retired, as Deputy Rector for Educational Affairs. The ISS community will remember Freek as an extremely kind and supportive colleague, a solid and wonderful academic and for his tremendous sense of humour. He was closely connected to and embedded within ISS and will be missed dearly.

Professor Arul Chib discussed the relationship of technology to power. He stressed the importance of understanding the interplay between vulnerabilities and technological affordances.

Daphina Misiedjan appointed to Young Academy Appointment

As a member of the prestigious Young Academy of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences, Dr Daphina Misiedjan hopes to further contribute to connecting science and society.

ISS rector steps down Staff

After two terms as rector of ISS, Professor Inge Hutter will step down in August this year. She will remain at EUR as academic lead on EUR’s strategy in relation to leadership and organizational culture. Inge will give her valedictory lecture on 21 June.

Eric Mattaba

It is with great sadness that we heard of the untimely passing away of former student Eric Mattaba. Part of the 2020-21 MA batch, Eric was also Scholas president and greatly involved in the student life over several batches at ISS.

Eric will be sorely missed by the ISS community, with his big smile and tenacity to encourage everyone onto the dance floor, as well as his gentle soul, kind heart and passionate dreams for the world.



Former professor Graham Pyatt sadly passed away in February following a protracted illness. He joined ISS in 1994 as professor in the Economics of Development, remaining there until his retirement.

ISS news 15

PhD defences PhD

Yukari Sekine

10 March 2023

Agrarian struggles in the era of climate change, populism and authoritarianism in Myanmar

Brandon Sommer

15 December 2022

The transformation of contemporary China - from Mao to Xi: An immanent causality morphogenetic regulation analysis of socio-economic transformation

Alumn appointend to Nepal Ministry of Finance Alumni

Dr Ram Prasad Ghimire was recently appointed as Secretary (Revenue), Ministry of Finance of Nepal. Ram graduated from ISS in 2003 with an MA in Development Studies.

ISS alumna new Ambassador to France Alumni

Manisha Gunasekera was recently named as Sri Lanka’s Ambassador designate to France. She graduated from ISS in 2008 with an MA in Development Studies.

Sharing research finding Awards

Dr Matthias Rieger has been awarded a prestigious Dutch Research Council grant for research into the impact of sharing research findings with study participants.


Sjamsoeoed Sadjad

5 December 2022

Intimations of an “Us” when imagining and encountering the “refugee other”: Reactions and responses to refugees’ presence in Indonesia


24 November 2022

Connecting expressions of discontent: The processes of escalation, de-escalation and recurrence of conflict in Colombia and South Africa



4 November 2022

A development lens to resource constrained innovation: Exploring frugality in medical device manufacturing in South Africa

Inaugural lecture Professor Andrew Fischer Staff

Professor Andrew Fischer gave his inaugural lecture in December 2022. In his lecture he argued that a scaling up of redistribution is essential to face the global challenges in a highly unequal world.

Alumna named Chief of Staff for ECLAC Alumni

Silvia Hernández is the new Chief of Staff for the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, a regional commission of the United Nations.

ISS news 16
Fabio Andrés Díaz

New publications

New books authored or edited by ISS researchers.

Scan the QR codes for more information or direct download.

250 PhD graduates at ISS

Including interviews with past PhD candidates, research leaders and the most recent graduate, as well as facts and figures and a catalogue of all 250 ISS defences, the booklet provides a perfect overview of the ground-breaking and socially relevant PhD research at ISS.

Politico-religious extremism and violence against women in Sri Lanka

Dr Shyamika JayasundaraSmits argues that despite progressive national policies and becoming a signatory to numerous international conventions, there has been a steady increase of genderbased violence, especially violence against women, in Sri Lanka since 2009.

The state of accountability in the global south: Challenges and responses

Edited by Dr Sylvia Bergh, Professor Sonny Pellissery and Dr C. Sathyamala, this book investigates public accountability in the Global South, looking for ways in which people can seek redress and hold their public officials to account.

Outsourcing the polity in Myanmar: Non-state welfare, inequality, and resistance in Myanmar

Dr Gerard McCarthy examines how ideals and practices of non-state welfare in Myanmar can both sustain democratic resistance and undermine social reform over time.

Contours of feminist political economy

This book is an exploration of conversations in Feminist Political Ecology by feminist scholar-activists. It is an output of the recently concluded project Wellbeing, Ecology, Gender and community.

Cambridge Economics in the Post-Keynesian Era: The Eclipse of Heterodox Traditions

Emeritus professor Ashwani Saith chronicles the rise and especially the demise of diverse revolutionary heterodox traditions in Cambridge theoretical and applied economics.

Perspectives in development

A collection of the best essays written by MA in Development Studies students at ISS. The collection shows the rich variety of topics and themes dealt with during the MA programme.

17 New publications

After months of anticipation and years of collaborative learning among the members of the Platform, particularly between colleagues at the International Institute of Social Studies and Amsterdam Law School, the Legal Mobilization Platform (LMP) was launched on 12 January 2023. The launch took place both online and live from the Concordia, a cultural centre located in The Hague, the Netherlands. The launch event was centred around the Platform’s main goal: uniting people to explore the potential of mobilizing for a just world.

Launch of the Legal Mobilization Platform: Mobilizing for a just world

How is climate justice understood?

We began the launch with introductions from the Legal Mobilization Platform’s then coordinator, Rana Kuseyri, and moderator and member of the Platform’s Advisory Board, Ambreena Manji (Cardiff University). We then moved on to a discussion about how climate justice is conceptualized and how it can be understood in relation to other forms of social justice. Speakers Margaretha Wewerinke-Singh from the University of Amsterdam, Misha Plagis from Leiden University and Obiozo Ukpabi from the University of Humanistic Studies shared their thoughts on this question.

Wewerinke-Singh remarked that in any climate justice discussion, it is important to take into account historical injustices, including colonialism, extractivism, violence against indigenous peoples and violence against women. She affirmed that blindness for any of these existing injustices could indeed undermine climate justice. In addition, she recognized that legal judgements and mobilization coming from the Global South, including from India, Pakistan and the Philippines, was playing a critical role in shaping the climate justice discourse and in building global solidarity.

Plagis remarked that, in the context of climate justice, where many issues have been litigated, the manner of how courts function is critical to understand, as are

the tools available to leverage change and hold violators accountable. But we need to interrogate how we want to change these legal structures. Due to democratic backsliding, change is often regarded with a lot of scepticism because it somehow implies that one would lose more than one would gain. Rather than tinkering around the edges by introducing a new law or legal reform, it can in fact be important to fundamentally rethink what we have and whether it is really working for us at all.

Ukpabi explained how her research is looking at transnational lawsuits that are targeting oil multinationals. It appears to be very important from the perspective of the oil companies that they are not perceived as standing against victims of environmental harm; hence, they are reluctant to come face-to-face with them. She also observed that, even though a legal case may be finished, the issues they address continue; they have an afterlife. Moreover, litigation is not always useful to accomplishing transformative justice and may even contribute to reinforcing the distance that feeds into the injustice.

Focus on ISS 18
Rana Kuseyri worked as coordinator of the LMP Jeff Handmaker is Associate Professor in Legal Sociology at ISS Panellists in the LMP launch event ©Sarah Njoroge

Who do we mobilize for?

The second session focused on who we mobilize with and for. Panellists Waruguru Gaitho from the University of Cambridge, Eva Rieter from Radboud University in Nijmegen and Jeff Handmaker from the International Institute of Social Studies engaged in a critical discussion on who is included in litigation, the multiple forms of legal mobilization that are part of the legal mobilization toolbox and the vital autonomy of marginalized groups. The panellists also reflected on their own positions within legal mobilization processes.

Gaitho noted that, as a starting point in understanding the potential of legal mobilization, it is important to understand both how and why we centre law. While it may seem a paradox for legal mobilization organizations and researchers, we need to be ready for non-legal positions and be ready to de-prioritize law. Gaitho noted how it may be much more important to support political engagement – working with political leaders or engaging people on Twitter – rather than going to court. Strategic litigation does not always bring the best results. Accordingly, researchers

and practitioners may need to approach other people about these dilemmas, in an iterative process, rather than simply those who are traditionally associated with legal mobilization.

Rieter shared her perspectives from the Nijmegen Law Clinic which works with groups whose rights have been structurally violated. This involves a constant dialogue with different communities and heritages. She affirmed that the clinic only enters these discussions through the community organizations who lead the legal mobilization and take a decision whether (or not) to litigate. This approach involves constant reflections by those working in the clinic – a diverse group of students – on their role and an awareness of what they can teach others.

Handmaker remarked it should be a standard response that any legal mobilization claim should be led by the individuals and organizations who experience violations. However, this is not always the case. The structure of the legal profession often obscures the agency of those whose rights have been violated. Hence it is critical that anyone involved in either researching or pursuing the practice of legal mobilization be cognisant of their privilege. This, in turn, is crucial in order to overcome the

institutional challenges of patriarchy, racism and elitism and also to recognize under-appreciated dimensions such as the rights of nature. He agreed that legal mobilization is much more than litigation alone and contains a wealth of different uses of law, both cooperative and confrontational.

During the intermissions, we enjoyed sketches made by Jade Borra (@underworldarts on Instagram) from a Platform workshop earlier this year as well as a musical performance by Lois Ava (@loisava on Instagram), a singer-songwriter from The Hague.

As the Platform continues to grow and develop, we will continue working to critically understand the potential of legal mobilization through cutting-edge research. We also want to be a place where organizations can reflect on their legal and communication strategies and other approaches in the practice of legal mobilization.

We are very grateful to have been able to co-create a Platform in which legal mobilization researchers and practitioners can find a sense of belonging to this dynamic and reflective shared space.

Focus on ISS 19
‘Rather than tinkering around the edges … it can … be important to fundamentally rethink what we have and whether it is really working.’
Backstage during the LMP launch event ©Sarah Njoroge Musical interlude by Lois Ava ©Sarah Njoroge For more about the Platform and to become a member, see

The rights of migrant domestic workers in the Netherlands

Dr Karin Astrid Siegmann in conversation with Ismi Nabila, Ivy Hatmanti and Kustia Wulaningsih (Wulan) who are taking her course on ‘Gender at work in development’.

Karin (KAS): A very warm welcome. Thanks for agreeing to have this conversation on the event we held at ISS called ‘It takes two to tango’ on migrant domestic workers’ rights and good employership.

Ismi (IN): Why was the event called it takes two to tango?

KAS: This English expression suggests that you cannot achieve anything on your own. You need a partner and that’s what migrant domestic workers have experienced – they need the support of their employers to realize their rights and they need a partner to actually implement those rights.

Ivy (IH): I’m curious about the employers; do they also support domestic workers’ rights?

KAS: The short answer is no, although some employers do. For example, some of the people who co-organized the event are members of migrant organizations which are raising awareness about migrant domestic workers’ rights. But what the migrant domestic workers who co-organized the event want is that more employers become aware that these rights are independent of whether or not there’s a contract, of whether or not people are working casually or full-time, of whether workers are undocumented

or regular migrants. We had hoped to have employers at the event but there were hardly any in the room. Later, some people told me that they employed domestic workers but that they hadn’t felt safe sharing that.

Wulan (KW): Maybe the space didn’t feel safe enough. We need to think about how to organize events that will make

encourage others to do the same.

IH: I’ve read a lot about domestic workers in Indonesia and how their rights are so different from the rights of domestic workers in the Netherlands. Despite some similarities, domestic workers in the Netherlands have more privileges than those in Indonesia, with people wanting to support them. In Indonesia, even the government doesn’t want to support domestic workers and many employers are abusive.

KW: What surprises me is how domestic workers are harassed when they try to work. I remember an Indonesian migrant worker telling us during the ISS event that she faced harassment. I realized how vulnerable being a domestic worker, especially for women, is here.

IN: It’s sad to reflect that the current situation is not very different from what happened in the past. If we look at the historical context of domestic workers when the Dutch were in Indonesia, we see that they also used to hire indigenous people in their home. And we see a clear division of labour – there’s European, then Arab and Chinese and then Pribumi – the indigenous population – as the lowest level of society. The situation hasn’t changed much.

employers more open to sharing their side of the discussion.

IH: It’s very challenging to invite an employer to talk about how they treat their domestic workers because they may also feel guilty.

KAS: I liked the idea proposed by Leontine Bijleveld during the event, namely, to feature role models; people who are good employers and who can

KAS: I hear this from many parts of the world; how the relationships between domestic workers and their employers are still structured by systems shaped through colonial rule. You see how this heritage still structures working conditions and feelings of ‘ownership’.

IH: I feel like we still see domestic workers as people who are below us. There’s still a long way to go to raise awareness about how we should treat

Staff-student dialogue
‘There’s still a long way to go to raise awareness about how we should treat domestic workers.’

domestic workers, to realise that domestic work is a real job.

KW: Yes, we need to change how we think of productive and reproductive work because domestic work is very close to reproductive work. Without domestic workers the economy and society would fail because, for example, there would be no one to take care of children. We need to change how we look at reproductive work and to value domestic work.

KAS: The question remains, how to achieve that. We’ve had an international convention for over 10 years which recognizes domestic workers, gives them rights, but their material conditions haven’t changed much. There’s an increasing demand for domestic work and it’s very often dumped on migrants who are seen as more docile and cheaper. So demand is increasing, and maybe at the level of political discourses

we see demands for more rights and respect, but I’m a bit pessimistic about actual change.

IH: At the same time, I feel there is hope for the younger generation. For example, I now realize that domestic workers have rights, they’re doing a real job. And I now reflect on how I can contribute to changing people’s view of domestic work. It’s important to see domestic workers as a workforce and as equal. I don’t know whether we can change the law but at least we can

change people’s perspective to see domestic work as a job.

IN: I agree, we have to keep raising awareness about how important they are to the national economy. For example, I read a study that said that, because of migrant domestic workers, women’s participation in the labour force is increasing.

KW: I think this is related to the notion of gender justice, where redistribution will follow recognition. I think that by raising awareness and recognition they will also get better material conditions for their work.

KAS: Thanks for those optimistic outlooks. There are a couple of events planned in the week against human trafficking in July, and the organizers want to follow up on the conversation that we had at ISS. It’s funded by the municipality of The Hague, so there’ll be a broader audience. That may be something you want to get involved in, so let’s see.

Staff-student dialogue 21
Staff-student group (from l. to r. Wulan, Ivy, Karin Astrid, Ismi)
‘We need to think about how to organize events that will make employers more open to sharing their side of the discussion.’
full, edited transcript of this conversation is reproduced on DevISSues online at

Development and Change

Development and Change is an interdisciplinary, peer-reviewed journal devoted to the critical analysis and discussion of current issues of development. It was established by the ISS in 1969, in response to the perceived need for a multidisciplinary journal dealing with all aspects of development studies.

Volume 54, Number 2, March 2023

Compelled to Compete: Rendering Climate Change Vulnerability Investable Kimberley Anh Thomas

New Multilateral Development Banks and Green Lending: Approaching Scalar Complexities in the Global South Ali Rıza Güngen

‘Fundermediaries’ in Nairobi, Kenya: Development Partnerships in the Aid Chain Lise Woensdregt, Lorraine Nencel

Financial Globalization, Local Debt Markets and New State Financial Activism in Middle-income Countries Louis O’Sullivan, Lena Rethel

Municipal Councillors and the Everyday State: New Representations of Political Accountability in Ahmedabad, India Rusha Das, Christine Lutringer

Theorizing Power in Community Economies: A Women’s Cooperative in Northern Kurdistan Kaner Atakan Turker

Revisiting the Natural Resource Curse: Backward Linkages for Export Diversification and Structural Economic Transformation Maria Savona, Filippo Bontadini

China’s Market Reform Debate Lin Chun

How Far Does the Diverse Economies Approach

Take Us? Georgina M. Gómez

In Cold Blood at Cambridge James K. Galbraith

Working Papers

The ISS Working Paper series provides a forum for work in progress which seeks to elicit comments and generate discussion. The series includes academic research by staff, PhD participants and visiting fellows, and award-winning research papers by graduate students.

The inconsistency of EU sanctions in Sub-Saharan Africa. Hypocrisy or careful policy making? A systematic literature review Brehl, N.A. Working Paper Series 713.

Transitions: young children’s lived experiences of early learning and childcare from Covid-19 lockdowns to the present Gupta, A. (MA Research Paper Award 2021-2022) Working Paper Series 712.

Migrant labor market policies in the EU: an exploration of the trends and relationship with migrant labor market outcomes Mayo, A., (Jos Mooij Research Paper Award winner 2021-2022) Working Paper Series 711.

Son buenos para imponer sus leyes acá”: Aymara experiences and negotiations to recent migration and securitization dynamics in the Chilean border communities of Colchane and Pisiga Carpa van Iersel, M.M., Working Paper Series 710.

“When someone gets sick, we run to them, not from them”: Holding space for solidarity otherwise and the city in times of COVID-19 Cairo, A., Gronemeier, L-M., Icaza Garza, R., Salim, U., Thrivikraman, J. K. & Mattar, D. V., Working Paper Series 709.

Navigating change in international development using innovation: the case of national NGO platforms in Brazil and the Netherlands Santos de Almeida Silva, A., Biekart, K. & Mah, L., Working Paper Series 708.

Do islands trade more or less? A meta-analysis of findings from gravity models Langat, E. K., Itumoh, E. M., Demena, B. A. & van Bergeijk, P., Working Paper Series 707.

War, sanctions, peace? van Bergeijk, P., Working Paper Series 706.

22 ISS publications


Student life
Valentine’s Day at the Butterfly Bar. Photo by Sarah Njoroge Students participating in Major webinar. Photo by Darren Baradhan Right: A great ISS sporting team with their speciallydesigned t-shirts. Photo by Martin Blok Participating in the Change agents in the making career coaching programme. Photo by Sarah Njoroge Tidying the neighbourhood – ISS students clear discarded cigarette butts from around the ISS building. Photo by Ayushi Pal

Land & Life Stories –global stories about land and life

An initiative of the Commodity & land rushes and regimes research project, these short stories combine tales of displacement and dispossession, ordinary people’s courage to resist and stories of hope in fighting to defend or reclaim ordinary people’s land and territory. More than random, isolated anecdotes, they are real-life stories of the politics of land and land access.

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