Ethics ≠ Law

Thomas Dekeyser, Bradley L. Garrett

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)


There is an ongoing movement towards situated and relational, rather than static and transcendental, understandings of research ethics within Geography. Yet this tendency has not yet succeeded in destabilising a priori judgements of ethnographic engagements with unlawful spatial practices. As such, many socially and politically important projects are either sidelined or eschewed for fear of liability or complicity. In cases where ethnography is deployed, primarily in the field of participatory action research, the tensions between ethics and legality are not often explicitly engaged with. We want to suggest here, in light of increasing interest amongst geographers in “subversive” spatial practices, that ethnographies of illegality raise a range of important ethical concerns for research practices that also inform broader understandings of situated ethical frameworks. In this vein, the authors draw on past and ongoing ethnographic experiences into illicit spatial practices (or what criminologists have termed “edge ethnographies”) to think through the entire process of research engagement – from planning to data retention – with consideration to the incommensurable relationship between ethics and law where we take situated ethics seriously.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)410-417
Number of pages8
Issue number3
Early online date24 Nov 2017
Publication statusPublished - 10 Aug 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • ethnography
  • fieldwork
  • illegal spatial practices
  • law
  • methodology
  • situated ethics


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