10 Jul 2018

Science Diplomacy on the Ground: Protecting Researchers in Difficult Environments

Round Table Session at ESOF, Toulouse; organised by Angela Liberatore, Frank Kuhn, Inge Ruigrok

With Alia Gana, Barak Kalir, Emma Loosley, Silvana Mandolessi and Martin Saxer


Research is at times a risky endeavor, not only concerning the risk of failure of an experiment or a scientific theory but also in terms of researchers' safety and the safety of research subjects. Some research involves the need for fieldwork in conflict areas or countries where freedom of research is not safeguarded. Ethical protocols are being developed by research institutions to deal with such cases; this is necessary but insufficient to protect researchers and research subjects. Science Diplomacy is an important element to help ensuring the conditions for research to be pursued, for example by facilitating access to sites (e.g. access to archaeological sites, access for field work in/with displaced persons or minorities), protecting scientists in cases of tensions (with initiatives aimed at protecting refugee scientists and other academics at risk), and facilitating cooperation between 'foreign' and 'local' researchers.

Protecting scientists and scientific freedom is an increasingly important element of 'diplomacy for science' –one of the three elements of 'science diplomacy' as defined by the Royal Society/AAAS Report on 'New Frontiers on Science Diplomacy', the others being 'science for diplomacy' and 'science in diplomacy'. Diplomacy for science is mostly considered in terms of fostering S&T Agreements and other forms of scientific cooperation between different countries. Less understood is the role of diplomacy in safeguarding the researchers themselves.

The session gathers researchers conducting work in difficult environments –from Afghanistan to Syria and Mexico, examining sensitive issues ranging from asylum procedures to transitions to democracy or the roots of religious communities- and addresses questions based on their experience. How can diplomacy help? Why and when are cases of researchers' safety become "high politics"? How can 'traditional' diplomacy at state level and 'bottom-up' diplomatic practices by universities?

Highland Asia Research Group
LMU, Social and Cultural Anthropology, Oettingenstr. 67
80538 Munich, Germany

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