When research becomes predatory. Reflections on inequity and injustice… | by sahibzada mayed | صاحبزادہ مائد | Dec, 2023

Reflections on inequity and injustice throughout the research pipeline

An image of a grayish cat sticking its tongue out with a mysterious look. Text on the right side reads “When research becomes predatory” in white-colored font and the author’s name written below it in English and Urdu

One of the phenomena I have noticed and felt is the predatory nature of research, particularly when research participants become “prey”. Courtney Martin’s essay on “The Reductive Seduction of Other People’s Problems” examines how attractive it may seem to work in communities that are ‘underprivileged’ and do not have adequate access to social capital and resources. “If you’re young, privileged, and interested in creating a life of meaning, of course you’d be attracted to solving problems that seem urgent and readily solvable (Martin, 2016).”

This phenomenon is more widespread and deep-rooted than we can even imagine. Somewhere along my journey as a researcher, I came across a report by Chicago Beyond titled “Why am I always being researched?” This resource helped me express and articulate a critical component of research: examining power dynamics and structures. It was one of those formative moments I can recall where I started to think of research as an institution. What that means is understanding how research drives policy and sociopolitical interactions, as well as deconstructing the pipeline of how research decisions factor into systemic injustices. If we look closely, we start to notice patterns of where research is being conducted, what factors are being prioritized, who gets to engage in decision-making and what outcomes eventually emerge. An example cited by Chicago Beyond in their report describes how “Jonte is one of thousands in Chicago who, over decades, have participated in research studies with price tags in the millions, all in the name of societal change. And yet, the fruits of those studies have infrequently nourished the neighborhoods where their seeds were planted (Chicago Beyond, 2019).”

As researchers, we have an ethical responsibility to serve the communities we are working with and are being impacted by our work. Yet, we often overlook how the decisions we make may misalign with the actual needs of those impacted. It is important to question why we feel compelled to do certain work and what right do we have to engage in it. George Aye in his article “Design Education’s Big Gap: Understanding the Role of Power” highlights how designers working in complex social sectors often do…

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