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A Call for Better Conduct in Field Research

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October 16, 2017

A Call for Better Conduct in Field Research
Study illustrates hostile environments/sexual harassment

Scientists, especially female scientists, experience widespread sexual harassment and hostile work climates. While these experiences can have lasting detrimental career consequences, the incidence of unwanted and unprofessional behavior can be reduced by specific interventions, according to a new report published online in American Anthropologist (AA), the flagship journal of the American Anthropological Association.

As part of a series of reports from the Survey of Academic Field Experiences (SAFE), in this follow up to a 2013 study of 666 individuals, Robin G. Nelson, Julienne N. Rutherford, Katie Hinde, and Kathryn B. H. Clancy analyze in-depth interviews with 26 randomly selected respondents. Their findings reveal that incidences of sexual harassment are more common in fieldwork settings where there is a lack of clarity regarding the repercussions for violating appropriate behavioral expectations.

The interviews also demonstrate that hostile fieldwork environments and negative experiences can have a lasting detrimental impact on the career trajectories of individual researchers. Negative field experiences can lead to career stalling or lateral career moves to new sites or institutions that disrupt productivity. In some cases inappropriate behavior by advisors or other instances of misconduct can lead to withdrawals from academic programs or the abandonment of a career path.

One respondent noted persistent negative consequences, “The head of the site would systematically prey on women … he was with a married master's student and she had to leave the site because he was seducing her and she couldn't say no. I had to serve as a kind of bodyguard … some of these women would sleep on (my) floor because they were afraid he was gonna come into the room at night.”

These findings, though unfortunately not surprising, should serve as a call to action. Field directors and those in positions of power must embrace codes of conduct, uniformly enforce consequences for those who violate the codes, and provide protection for those who come forward with their issues and concerns.

The findings will be printed in the December issue of AA and are available online through the AnthroSource database.

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Founded in 1902, the American Anthropological Association, with 10,000 members, is the world’s largest scholarly and professional organization of anthropologists. The Association is dedicated to advancing human understanding and applying this understanding to the world’s most pressing problems.

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