Bearing Witness to ‘Irreparable Harm’: Incorporating Affective Activity as Practice into Ethics

  • Kim Barker
  • Catriona Ida Macleod


Research with individuals who have experienced trauma requires careful consideration. In preparing the ethics protocol for an ethnographic study of an anti-rape protest, we gave careful consideration to the potential ethical challenges in accordance with the University ethics code. However, this process did not prepare the first author for the dynamic and reciprocal positioning she encountered in relationships in the field or the ‘ethically important’ moment-by-moment decision-making which this required of her. Drawing on the philosophy of Emmanuel Levinas, a feminist reading of the contemporary ‘turn to affect’, and examples from our research, we show how ethical decision-making in ethnographic research is always relational and dialogical, both in our direct interactions with participants and in the ways in which we approach our ‘data’.



Thanks to the reviewers and editors for their thoughtful input on this chapter. We also gratefully acknowledge the support of both the Mellon Foundation and the National Research Foundation for Kim’s doctoral studies which form the basis of this chapter. Catriona’s work is supported by the South African Research Chairs Initiative of the Department of Science and Technology and National Research Foundation of South Africa (grant number: 87582).


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Kim Barker
    • 1
  • Catriona Ida Macleod
    • 2
  1. 1.Rhodes UniversityGrahamstownSouth Africa
  2. 2.Critical Studies in Sexualities and Reproduction, Department of PsychologyRhodes UniversityGrahamstownSouth Africa

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