Doing research that goes “under the skin”: How to bear witness to narratives of suffering?

Friday, February 5, 2021

At 10.00-15.30

Online via Zoom

Please register here by January 29, 2021.

An increasing number of researchers of migration and ethnic relations at different career stages is doing research on sensitive topics and with people who experience or have experienced distressing or traumatic events. Especially researchers working with forced migrants and/or racialized groups may encounter traumatic narratives without being trained to bear witness to such experiences. Thus, researchers may feel unequipped or unsure about how to respond or act when hearing narratives of suffering. It is also possible that the issues faced in research are emotionally so intensive that the research gets “under the skin” of the researcher, and managing a boundary between one’s personal and professional life becomes challenging. Furthermore, many may feel uncomfortable discussing the psychological weight of research because of the awareness of their own privilege and of being able to get help when needed - an option that may be unavailable to their research participants. 

Despite this inherent power asymmetry, it is important that researchers acknowledge their need for self-care. The purpose of this seminar is to provide a space for scholars to discuss the emotional, psychological, and social impact of conducting research with people who have faced suffering. The seminar comprises two keynote speeches that provide researchers with tools to think about the painful narratives and experiences they are witnessing in research. The concepts discussed include, among others, secondary/vicarious trauma, referring to the impact of indirect exposure to traumatic experiences, and compassion stress, exhaustion resulting in a reduced ability to feel empathy towards research participants. After the keynote speeches, the registered participants will have the opportunity to discuss these questions in small groups.

The keynote speeches are open for all, but registration is required to receive the Zoom link. 

The small group discussion is limited to a maximum of 20 participants (2 groups, max. 10 participants each); the spots will be filled on a first come, first served basis. REGISTRATION FOR THE SMALL GROUP DISCUSSION IS CLOSED.

Registration link:

Program 5.2.2021

10.00-10.10    Opening words by Academy Research Fellow Johanna Leinonen (University of Oulu) and  Academy Research Fellow Johanna Ennser-Kananen (ETMU and University of Jyväskylä)

10.10-11.10    Riitta Ylikomi, Psychologist & Psychotherapist, Traumacon: Trauma in Interaction – Occupational Risks
Chair: Johanna Ennser-Kananen (ETMU and University of Jyväskylä)

11.10-11.30    Break

11.30-12.30    Antti Klemettilä, Psychologist & Psychotherapist, Senior Researcher, Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare: Compassion Stress and Moral Stress – Challenges in Research with Refugees and Other Vulnerable Populations
Chair: Senior Researcher Marja Tiilikainen (Migration Institute of Finland)

12.30-13.30    Lunch

13.30-13.40    Introduction to the small group discussions (in two groups, led by Ylikomi and Klemettilä)

13.40-15.00    Small group discussions (FULLY BOOKED)

15.00-15.30    Wrap-up discussion

The webinar is organized by the University of Oulu, the Migration Institute of Finland (MIF), Åbo Akademi University, the Centre of Excellence in Law, Identity and the European Narratives (EuroStorie), University of Helsinki, and ETMU, the Society for the Study of Ethnic Relations and International Migration. At the University of Oulu, the organizers are the Academy of Finland projects Refugee Journeys: Narratives of Forced Mobilities (2018–2023) and Postmemory of Family Separation: An Intergenerational Perspective (2019-2023). At the MIF, the organizers are the Academy of Finland projects Family Separation, Migration Status, and Everyday Security: Experiences and Strategies of Vulnerable Migrants (2018‒2021) and Action-Oriented Research on Asylum Seekers’ Deportability (2018‒2021). 

For more information, please contact Johanna Leinonen (johanna.leinonen(at)

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Last updated: 27.1.2021