Owning our mistakes: Confessions of an unethical researcher

Montgomery, Heather (2023). Owning our mistakes: Confessions of an unethical researcher. In: Richards, Sarah and Coombs, Sarah eds. Critical Perspectives on Research with Children Reflexivity, Methodology, and Researcher Identity. Sociology of Children and Families. Bristol: Bristol University Press, pp. 157–171.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.51952/9781529216806.ch009


This chapter is a reflection on the methods and ethics of doing fieldwork with highly vulnerable children. Fired up with good intentions, a knowledge of children’s rights, and a belief in the necessity of child-focused anthropology, a quarter of a century ago I went to Thailand with the aim of working with child prostitutes, finding out about their lives, and suggesting solutions to the problems they faced. I found the reality very different to what I expected however and this chapter looks at the lacuna between my theoretical knowledge of ethics and the difficulties I had making sense of them on the ground. It also discusses how my feelings about this work have changed over time and about the mistakes I made during both fieldwork and ‘writing-up’. The chapter looks at the strength and weaknesses of child-centred anthropology, raising questions about how to interpret children’s voices when they say the ‘wrong’ thing and how far to believe what they say when it does not fit with one’s own worldview or morality. In doing so it looks at the lifelong impacts such research can have on both researcher and researched and questions the purpose of such research and whose needs it fulfils.

Viewing alternatives


Public Attention

Altmetrics from Altmetric

Number of Citations

Citations from Dimensions

Item Actions