Ethical issues in anthropological research and ethics in museology

Tina Palaić
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Before we started to study their perinatal customs, practices and experiences, I have visited Roma women to determine the research issue and project activities together. All women, to whom I spoke to in two Roma communities and at the society which one of them leads, were willing to talk about maternity. They recognize the identity of being a mother crucial for them and they immediately started to talk about their different experiences. It was extremely important for me to plan the activities together and to give them the opportunity to express their fears and possible obstacles and also to suggest some changes in the process of cooperation. With my colleagues – Nika Rudež and Anja Božič, performers of the theatre of oppressed – we discussed a lot about how to do the research into such a demanding and complex issue with the group of women, being often discriminated both – in contact with the wider community and within their own group. Ethical considerations were also necessary when we were curating the exhibition.

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Mosaic of our realities – creator of the exhibition, Jasmina Ahmetaj’s dress / Mozaik naših realnosti – obleka Jasmine Ahmetaj, ustvarjalke razstave

A lot has been written about the research ethics in anthropology. Additionally, I also used the ICOM Code of Ethics for Museums. As a starting point, we decided to conduct all the project activities together with Roma women; they actively participated in all stages of the project. To avoid causing any harm to them either inside their group or inside the majority community, we had to get acquainted with their needs and habits and of course respect them. Several factors had to be considered when preparing the activities: Slovene language skills, household, business and study obligations of the women, presence of children at the workshops in one of the groups, group dynamics and willingness to cooperate. We adapted the intensity of the research process to all of these factors. It was also important that we were focused on the process and not on the end results of the project, which empowered Roma women and gave them the feeling of control over the collaboration process. In my opinion, this was the crucial decision, since it enabled them with the power and security to stop the process at any time, due to the voluntary basis of the collaboration.

While curating the exhibition, we had to combine professional competence of museum curator and the needs and wishes of Roma women – as the holders of their heritage. Roma communities understand their heritage variously and the fear of the possible discrimination inside their community and in contact with majority population impacted the selection of presented content. Thus, the exhibition was the result of negotiations and compromises between the museum curator and Roma women and also between the participant Roma women themselves. They are experts in their heritage however, we cannot expect that they are familiar with the museum mission and the museology. Therefore, it is not ethical to enable them an entirely free creative expression, but it is the duty of the curator to create the exhibition in a proper way together with them. This means he or she has to include only accurate and valid information and be aware of the purpose of the museum interpretation. While curating the exhibition, we discussed about contents and images, which could possibly harm the Roma community and especially women and even strengthen stereotypes about Roma in the wider society. We had to avoid some presentations that could do harm also to other groups, for example majority community or some groups of Roma people inside Slovenian Roma community. We also turned the perspective and rather than presenting the Roma women in the position of victims, we presented them as active creators of their own lives. With the mosaic of their stories, we emphasized the differences between Roma groups and especially between women in a particular group. Therefore, we tried to overcome the image of homogeneous Roma culture and, what is more important, of powerless individual determined by it.

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Prenatal customs/ Šege v času nosečnosti

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Child protection against evil / Zaščita otroka pred zlom

 

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