Research & Activism: A guide

Ethical challenges

As you become involved in activist scholarship for sustainability, you are likely to come across ethical challenges. The knowledge making process raises questions of power, privilege and accountability. Who is setting the research agenda? What kind of knowledge is valued? Are we doing more harm than good? Is it possible, or desirable to be ‘objective’ in order to be rigorous?

This section explores the ethical challenges faced by scholars engaging in activism, and some of the practical strategies they could use to tackle these challenges.

The resources in this section were compiled by Julianna Gwiszcz, a participant in the 2016 STEPS Centre Summer School.

Read Julianna’s report

This report builds on the discussion at the Summer School and offers reflections and ideas on the subject.

Scholar activism: ethical challenges and strategies (PDF)


A list of links to networks and further reading on this topic.


Ackerly, B. and True, J. (2008) Reflexivity in practice: Power and ethics in feminist research on international relations. International Studies Review, 10: 693–707. doi: 10.1111/j.1468-2486.2008.00826.x

Hale, C. (ed.) (2008) Engaging contradictions: Theory, politics, and methods of activist scholarship. Berkeley, Los Angeles & London: Global, Area, and International Archive (GAIA)/University of California Press (Open Access)

Jennings, B. (2010) Ethical aspects of sustainability. Minding Nature, 3(1) (Open Access)

Nelson, M. P. & Vucetich, J. A. (2012) Sustainability science: Ethical foundations and emerging challengesNature Education Knowledge, 3(10):12 (Open Access)

Speed, S. (2006) At the crossroads of human rights and anthropology: Toward a critically engaged activist research. American Anthropologist, 108: 66–76 doi:10.1525/aa.2006.108.1.66

Blog posts

Flores, N. (2015) Meeting the ethical responsibilities of activist research while on the tenure track, AAA Ethics Blog: American Anthropological Association


Global Ethics Network