Ethical dilemmas and self-reflexivity in ethnographic fieldwork

Chuan Yu*

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to conferenceConference paperpeer-review


    Whilst ethnography has been increasingly adopted by translation researchers in examining various sociological aspects of translation (e.g. Marinetti & Rose 2013; Olohan & Davitti 2015;), the ethical dilemmas that an ethnographer encounters are often overlooked in translation studies literature. Drawing on the fieldnote data, this presentation sets out to engage in a self-reflexive analysis of the following issues: What ethical dilemmas did I grapple with during the fieldwork? How did the doubts and anxieties change my behaviour in the field and my perceptions of research participants? How can an ethnographer cope with these challenges?

    I first briefly introduce the study of online collaborative translations in China for which I undertook longitudinal immersive fieldwork in order to collect first-hand data. Then I move on to discuss an ethnographic methodology underpinned by hermeneutics and its core method of participant observation. My fieldwork can be broadly divided into three stages, i.e., descriptive observation and non-participation; focused observation and moderate participation; and selective observation and active participation. The ethical challenges that I encountered at each stage were influenced by different factors as my familiarity with the research participants and the depth of the involvement in the field evolved. In the initial stage, I struggled between undertaking covert or overt research (Lugosi 2008:133), asking myself if I should be a “candid ethnographer” (Fine 1993:282). In the second stage when I started to interact with the community members, I became a ‘self-censored ethnographer’, mostly yielding to others, including the moments when I felt uncomfortable with the gender-biased remarks made by one of the participants. In the third stage, which was also the time when I felt ‘native’ in the community, I questioned myself if I was a “fair ethnographer” (ibid.:285) and whether I kept a balance between the multiple roles that I played simultaneously.

    The self-reflections and analyses in hindsight reveal that the ethical dilemmas that one may encounter in the field can be heterogeneous, highly contextual and personal, subjecting to particular interactive instances. As an ethnographer, one may continue to struggle with un- predictable ethical challenges with which may be best dealt with constant, critical and conscious self-reflexivity.

    Original languageEnglish
    Publication statusPublished - 18 Feb 2022
    EventInternational Conference on Field Research on Translation and Interpreting: Practices, Processes, Networks - University of Vienna, Vienna, Austria
    Duration: 17 Feb 202219 Feb 2022 (Conference website) (Conference abstract)


    ConferenceInternational Conference on Field Research on Translation and Interpreting
    Abbreviated titleFIRE-TI
    Internet address


    Dive into the research topics of 'Ethical dilemmas and self-reflexivity in ethnographic fieldwork'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

    Cite this