The issue of ’vulnerability’ in researching political elites

Traianou, Anna. 2024. The issue of ’vulnerability’ in researching political elites. Education Inquiry, ISSN 2000-4508 [Article] (In Press)

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Abstract or Description

This paper examines the concept of “vulnerability” in the context of the ethics of researching education policy elites. This concept may seem inapplicable: if elites have power, can they be vulnerable? However, I draw on discussions in the research ethics literature to point out that vulnerability is a matter of degree, relevant to all participants. I argue that people may be susceptible to particular kinds of threat, that relate to different sources and types of potential harm, which must be taken into account in any judgement about whether additional precautions are required to protect them. I illustrate some of the complexities surrounding the issue of vulnerability by discussing how these apply in the context of researching members of a Greek political elite involved in negotiations, on behalf of the Greek Government, with the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development. I argue that protecting elite participants from harm was an important consideration in this research, even though this had to be balanced against my responsibility to document the exercise of power and its consequences for Greek society. My paper contributes both to the literature on researching elites and to the field of research ethics, by problematising further the concept of “vulneralbility”.

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Funding: This article is part of a funded research project by the British Academy (BA/Leverhulme, SRG1819\191004) in partnership with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.


Education policy elites; vulnerability; harm; research ethics; ethical judgements

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Educational Studies
Educational Studies > Centre for Identities and Social Justice


3 January 2024Submitted
30 April 2024Accepted
12 May 2024Published Online

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Date Deposited:

18 Jan 2024 09:56

Last Modified:

31 May 2024 10:43

Peer Reviewed:

Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.


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