Statelessness and Research Ethics


Natalie Brinham talks to Samanwita Paul about the rich field of statelessness studies, how survivors of state crime disrupt dominant discourse around “legal identity”, and her experience of conducting qualitative research with Rohingya in the wake of the genocide in 2017.

At that time, she was set to carry-out fieldwork for her PhD, but instead, took a bold step back, and changed her plans to enable a more ethical research process. She says: “when trauma is so fresh and widespread traditional research can sometimes do more harm than good.”

Dr Natalie Brinham (aka Alice Cowley) is a genocide and state crime scholar. She is coauthor (with Zarni) of the 2014 study titled ‘The Slow Burning Genocide of Myanmar’s Rohingya.’ She has worked for many years in NGOs in the U.K. and Southeast Asia on forced migration, trafficking and statelessness in both frontline service provision roles and research and advocacy roles. She has published policy papers, academic articles, and opeds on statelessness, legal identities and genocide. She completed her PhD in legal studies at Queen Mary University of London in 2022. Understanding genocide as a sociological process, her doctoral thesis explores the central role of state identification schemes in Myanmar’s genocide, from enabling systems of segregation and institutionalised discrimination, to the physical destruction of the group, to identity destruction and the reorganisation of national identities and power relations. Drawing on Rohingya oral histories and narratives relating to their ID cards, the research considers how survivors of state crime disrupt international discourses on statelessness and legal identities for all. In October 2023, Dr Natalie Brinham will begin an ESRC Post Doctoral Fellowship at Migration Mobilities Bristol at the University of Bristol.

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With one new release every month, our episodes will feature people engaged in research all around the world, and across various career stages.