9: Owning Our Mistakes: Confessions of an Unethical Researcher

This chapter is a reflection on the methods and ethics of doing fieldwork with highly vulnerable children. Fired up with good intentions, a knowledge of children’s rights, and a belief in the necessity of child-focused anthropology, a quarter of a century ago I went to Thailand with the aim of working with child prostitutes. My naive intention was to explore the children’s lives and suggest solutions to the problems they faced. I found the reality very different from my expectations, and therefore this chapter looks at the lacuna between my theoretical knowledge of ethics and the difficulties I had making sense of them on the ground. Here I discuss how my feelings about this work have changed over time and I interrogate the mistakes I made during both fieldwork and ‘writing up’. The chapter looks at the strengths and weaknesses of child-centred anthropology, raising questions about how to interpret children’s voices when they do not fit with one’s own worldview or morality. In doing so it looks at the lifelong impacts such research can have on both researcher and researched and questions the purpose of such research and whose needs it fulfils

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