Critical Approaches to ‘Vulnerability’ in Empirical Research (CAVER) [2019-20]

Alternate Mondays, 12.00 - 14.00 during term-time

Seminar Room SG2, Alison Richard Building, 7 West Road, Cambridge, CB3 9DT


Guidelines for ethical research practice frequently make reference to “vulnerable groups” who require ‘specifically considered protection’ throughout the research process. However, in empirical research across the disciplines we too often fail to reflect critically on what it means to define a person or group as “vulnerable”, and to extend these discussions to consider what specialised approaches to research with “vulnerable groups” might look like in practice.


As a group our aims are:
To problematize the construction of some research participants as “vulnerable”, exploring and developing research practice that both makes provisions for the struggles, challenges and disadvantages experienced by many participants in research about social issues, but which also acknowledges participants’ agency and offers a meaningful and collaborative experience throughout every stage of the research process.
To reflect on the dynamics of power that play out between researchers and research participants labelled as “vulnerable”, critiquing this dynamic without attempting to absolve researchers from their responsibility to address it, and exploring ways in which we can challenge this dynamic.
To bring together academic researchers and people with lived experiences of multiple and complex disadvantages, who might be labelled as “vulnerable”, to collaboratively discuss and reflect on these issues.



Michaelmas 2019: Epistemology, Methodology, Method 
Lent 2020: Reflexivity and Positionality
Easter 2020: Connecting Theory and Method


Administrative assistance:



Julia Doyle (PhD Student, Centre for Gender Studies)
Hannah Marshall (PhD Student, Institute of Criminology)
Ilaria Michelis (PhD Student, Department of Sociology)
Miriam Shovel (PhD Student, Institute of Criminology)
Ji Ying (PhD Student, Faculty of Education)


Julia Doyle is a PhD candidate in the University of Cambridge Centre for Gender Studies. Her research focuses on storytelling by Syrian refugees in original oral history interviews, memoirs, first person journalistic accounts and other media. This project is positioned in IR as well as the broader, interdisciplinary fields of refugee/migration studies and narrative studies. She holds a MSc in International Relations (Research) from the London School of Economics and Political Science and a BA in History and English from Merton College, Oxford.


Hannah Marshall is an ESRC-funded PhD student at the Institute of Criminology, University of Cambridge. Her research interests include human trafficking and labour exploitation, county lines exploitation, participatory methods and co-production, and intersectional feminist theory. She holds an MA in Sociocultural Anthropology from Brown University and a BA in Sociology from the University of Cambridge.


Ilaria Michelis
 is pursuing a PhD in Sociology at the University of Cambridge. Her research aims to explore the potential of intersectionality as a framework to better understand and respond to violence against women and girls during conflict and other humanitarian crises. She holds a MSc in Development Management from the London School of Economics and Political Science and an MPhil in Sociology of Marginality and Exclusion from the University of Cambridge. Before returning to academia, Ilaria worked as a humanitarian professional for over ten years, primarily in East and Central Africa and the Middle East, in the areas of women’s protection and empowerment, violence against women and girls, women’s rights and reproductive health.


Miriam Shovel is a PhD student at the Institute of Criminology. Her ESRC-funded research explores the police response to domestic abuse in England and Wales. Prior to her PhD, Miriam completed an MPhil in Multidisciplinary Gender Studies, and has also worked in Local Government. Beyond her immediate research, Miriam is interested in the social construction of identity, as well as strengthening the connection between research and practice by engaging with policymakers and practitioners.


Ji Ying (Yumjyi) is a PhD candidate at the Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge. Her research focuses on rural parents’ pedagogical beliefs, values and practices through a perspective of ethnicity in China. Specifically, she explores how Han Chinese, Tibetan and Tu-Tibetan rural parents in two different communities in Western China understand and navigate the state schooling system. She holds an MPhil in Education Research from University of Cambridge.



Faculty Advisors

Dr Menali Desai (Reader in Sociology, Fellow of Newnham College, Deaprtment of Sociology)
Dr Caroline Lanskey (Lecturer in Criminology and Criminal Justice, Institute of Criminology)


Programme 2019-20


Critical Approaches to Vulnerability CAVER
Subverting Perceptions of Vulnerability in Empirical Research
14 October 2019, Seminar Room SG2, Alison Richard Building, 7 West Road, Cambridge, CB3 9DT
Nothing About Us Without Us: The Transformative Power of Participatory and Reflexive Research
28 October 2019, Seminar Room SG2, Alison Richard Building, 7 West Road, Cambridge, CB3 9DT

Paula Harriot (Prison Reform Trust), Ghadah Al-Nasseri (Women for Refugee Women), Dr Arathi Sriprakash (University of Cambridge)

Connecting Theory and Method in Critical Approaches to Research with 'Vulnerable' Groups
11 November 2019, Seminar Room SG2, Alison Richard Building, 7 West Road, Cambridge, CB3 9DT
Open Forum: Developing and Designing Research with 'Vulnerable' Groups
06 December 2019, Newnham College MCR, Sidgwick Avenue, Cambridge, CB3 9DF NB: different day and venue

Open Forum