Ethics of Transregional Research and the Covid-19 Pandemic

July 16, 2020 - Jamie Monson

This piece was written by history professor Jamie Monson and originally published by the Social Science Research Council

The spread of the Covid-19 virus—as with any global pandemic—is a transregional phenomenon. Its biological survival depends upon its ability to cross borders. The movement of the virus follows movements of people, thus meaningful Covid-19 research must focus on transregional trajectories of mobility and connection. We are in a time when, more than ever, a robust understanding of the transregional is needed.

Yet, the virus has drawn attention to deep inequalities and other ethical challenges that obstruct global research collaboration. In response to the pandemic, research and professional engagements throughout the world have moved online. As universities have closed, their faculty and students are working from home where connectivity may be uneven or nonexistent. These constraints have been there all along but have too often been ignored or tolerated in the past. So, we find ourselves here, at the very moment when we most need to work together across borders, facing unresolved historical inequalities of access and connection that hinder us from doing so.

These inequalities of research collaboration are further entangled within the broader context of amplified insecurity that characterizes transregionality in the Covid-19 era. Thus not only are there ethical challenges to research collaboration; inequalities within the transregional experience itself have made it more fraught, whether at the level of the individual migrant or at the level of the state. Drawing on examples from the Global South, China and the United States, in this essay I reflect on the impact of Covid-19 at both registers—the intellectual and the political-economic—to ask: How can social science researchers do ethical transregional research in this context of insecurity and risk?

Read the rest of this article where it was originally published.