Researcher vulnerability: An overlooked issue in vulnerability discourses

Laar AK (2014)


Although widely referred to in research, vulnerability is arguably not well understood by both researchers and research regulators. Authoritative sources including dictionaries, ethics encyclopedia, and esteemed authorities in the field of ethics offer little help; multiple definitional perspectives exist on the subject. Efforts have been made to clarify a component of vulnerability in research – ‘participant vulnerability’. There is no closure on this subject of what participant vulnerability is or should be. Researchers, just as the researched may be vulnerable in some instances. This is designated and discussed in this paper as ‘researcher vulnerability’. While acknowledging the emphases that regulators place on protecting vulnerable study participants, the paper argues that this should not be interpreted to imply that researchers are immune to vulnerability. The paper articulates the many and varied challenges that researchers confront in research. Such experiences speak to the fact that researcher vulnerability may vary in meaning among contexts, but can be contextually defined and understood as a cross-cutting concept.

Key words: Vulnerability, researcher vulnerability, human subjects research, vulnerable populations, vulnerable researcher.

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