SUMMARY:Ethical issues have always complicated the study of Middle East politics, as they do for any researcher working in undemocratic contexts. How are scholars to negotiate complex issues concerning research access, notably the responsibility to protect oneself and one's subjects while remaining as open and transparent about one's research as possible? Given the US government's deep involvement in the region, research on politics also means negotiating whether to engage, in one's scholarship or elsewhere, with existing political policies and practices.
After the outbreak of the uprisings in late 2010, the Project on Middle East Political Science organized a panel on this topic and subsequently published several of the essays together. (Available here: http://pomeps.org/2014/06/11/the-ethics-of-research-in-the-middle-east-memos/) Since then, a number scholars have asked that we seek to continue and expand the conversation, with a view toward engaging the following questions in particular: What are the ethical responsibilities of our scholarship, and to whom are we primarily responsible? Should we seek to shape public debates, and if so, how? Should we engage with government agencies and policy debates, and if so, are there limits? Are petitions, boycotts, and otherwise "speaking truth to power" appropriate roles for us, or should we strive to remain "objective" and "outside" of political debates? Is neutrality possible? When is it acceptable to remain silent, and when might we be obligated to lend our voices to certain critiques?
This roundtable would include prominent scholars who work in different methodological traditions, selected because they hold reasoned and thoughtful positions on these issues but who also have strong disagreements with each other. The objective is to open this debate to a wider audience, at the very least to illustrate and share different views in order to help individuals consider where they personally might stand. Speakers would make opening comments of 5-7 minutes each, after which the floor would be open to all comments. The original speakers will not speak again unless questioned directly, as the goal is to have a forum to debate on these issues without privileging any particular positions.
The speakers and I all feel that ethics are a very crucial issue to discuss openly, and we hope to hold the discussion in a room that is organized like a roundtable (that is, not in panel or state format) in order to level all voices and encourage discussion.