ZOiS Report 2/2024

Osteuropaforschung in der Verantwortung: Forschungsethik während Russlands Krieg gegen die Ukraine

Von Nina Frieß Katrin Hoffmann 17.06.2024

Executive Summary

With the start of Russia’s full-scale war against Ukraine in February 2022, the question of the effectiveness of research on Eastern Europe has taken on a new urgency. How can research help to categorise political and social developments? What kind of research is even possible during war? What roles do researchers play in time of war? In this ZOiS Report, we show which research ethics challenges have arisen or intensified since the outbreak of war, how they influence research, and how we as researchers and members of the Ethics Committee at ZOiS deal with them. Using concrete examples from our research practice – research in Ukraine and on Russia, the communication of research findings and the positioning of scientists in public discourse – we will present problems, negotiation processes and possible solutions.

The following points appear to us to be particularly relevant for the continuation of our research in the current context from the perspective of research ethics:

  • Balancing formal ethics requirements with research practices: The tension between the formal requirements of the Ethics Committee, which issues an ethics vote at the beginning of a research project in accordance with the relevant specifications, and the practices of qualitative social science research, which must adapt to a changing research context, cannot be resolved and must therefore be addressed and discussed again and again. In research practice, it is therefore important to regularly reflect on the following questions: Where are the limits of what is ethically acceptable? What is the relationship between academic freedom and the legal requirements of data protection and the protection of potentially vulnerable participants? How can we best take into account the needs and positions of our research participants and colleagues in these processes?
  • Continuous education in research ethics: In order to meet the high standards of research ethics in democratic countries, researchers must continuously educate themselves on aspects of research ethics, such as technical data protection requirements. Early career researchers must be sensitised at an early stage to issues relating to research in authoritarian regimes or unstable political contexts, including war situations.
  • Allocation of resources for research ethics: As research ethics issues are becoming increasingly important, it is essential that more time and financial resources are made available for research ethics. Critical self-reflection and collegial dialogue at all stages of research require time and a protected space. Training sessions for researchers and Ethics Committee members also cost time and money. Institutions should take this into account when planning their budgets, as should politicians and research funding organisations when allocating funds. Only with appropriate resources can science fulfil its social responsibilities.

We are convinced that democracies need scientific expertise. We believe it is important that politics and society not only take note of research findings, but also become aware of their research ethics dimensions. In this ZOiS Report, we have provided some insights into this topic, but our explanations are not exhaustive. Rather, a permanent process of negotiating research ethics issues in conjunction with legal and practical requirements and research interests remains a central component of any research discipline that is aware of its social responsibility.