Between trust and distrust in research with participants in conflict context

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Trust is often treated as a binary where research participants either trust researchers or not, whereas in reality trust is multi-layered. Drawing on 10 months of fieldwork working with internally displaced persons and their non-displaced neighbours in rural Colombia, this article provides a more nuanced discussion of trust in research. It identifies ways in which participants are vulnerable, provides fieldwork strategies to address these vulnerabilities, and questions the assumption that extended time spent in the field necessarily results in greater trust. It argues that such beliefs underestimate the complexity of conflict and post-conflict research contexts where political and social relations are often unstable. Demonstrating that trust may be compartmentalised, and that trust and distrust can coexist, it proposes that the question researchers should ask themselves is not whether participants trust us or not but rather in what capacity and to what degree they (dis)trust us and what influences their level of trust.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)373-383
Number of pages11
JournalInternational Journal of Social Research Methodology
Issue number3
Early online date19 Jan 2018
Publication statusPublished - 2018


  • Trust
  • Vulnerability
  • Qualitative Research
  • Conflict
  • fieldwork
  • forced migration
  • Ethnography

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