Ethical reflections on sensitive research with young people living in conditions of vulnerability


  • Maritta Törrönen University of Helsinki
  • Kirsten Elisa Petersen Aarhus University


relational ethical level, ethical reflections, young people, participatory research, sensitive topics


Our aim in this article is to discuss ethical reflections on research that uses a participatory methodology to study sensitive topics. The focus is on young people over 18 years of age living in different backgrounds and potential conditions of vulnerability. We found it interesting not only to explain the traditional ethical concerns but also to highlight ethical relational concerns, which are connected to the ways that all parties involved in a research project work and cooperate. As the basis of our reflections, we use empirical work from four research projects in the fields of psychology and social work conducted in Denmark, Finland and the United Kingdom between 2011 and 2018. These studies raised ethical challenges and dilemmas related to conducting research on so-called sensitive topics. We wanted to ethically reflect on how we could give young men and women a voice in the research process and, at the same time, notice what are often very sensitive and vulnerable life histories. We concentrate here on discussing two ethical strategies: a strategy of doing good and a strategy of taking care of the research participants. Both of these strategies might benefit social work practices with young people, especially for those working in out-of-home care or aftercare.