ethical research in the borderlands



Border Crit, is a new and emerging critical theoretical framework to better address education and research in the borderlands. There is a pressing need to begin crafting a space for education and research that is mindful of the complexities and ethical responsibilities one has and should maintain when writing about or working with and within vulnerable border communities. Border Crit forefronts the perspectives and counter narratives of people of color as legitimate forms of knowledge. It begins with the understanding that race and borders are endemic to everyday life.

This theoretical framework emerges from and is inspired by LatCrit, Tribal Crit, and Critical Race Theory. Border Crit Studies or BorderCrit Theory requires a re-imagining of a world without borders, geographic, and epistemological. It requires a call for context and a history of the beginning. It maintains that researchers have a responsibility to admit their privilege, and engage with the world they are ‘studying,’ to become close to the people and places they are narrating versus distancing themselves through insincere objectivity.




What does it mean to be a migrant child in Arizona?  The Children's Views and Voices Arizona study is a collaboration between Dr. Angeles Maldonado and Dr. Beth Blue Swadener, from Arizona State University.  The Children's Views and Voices project is part of a 9 nation network doing child rights-based research with young people facing various challenges and daily life experiences.  Learn More...


  I worry about my son. I worry about introducing him to spaces that I know from lived experience can hurt Mexican children. I worry about the loss and lack of culture and language. I worry that when others see him, they will not see a child but a brown face; an “other.”    What does it mean to mother in color? What does it mean to navigate early childhood school systems as a Mexican migrant mother and activist living in Arizona? How do our own identities as racial and gendered beings shape our interactions with our children’s Education? When it comes to childcare, what does it mean to have “choices?”  



Tenets of Border Crit Theory

1. Borders and Racism are interlinked and endemic to life and society.

2. U.S. policies toward border communities are rooted in imperialism, White supremacy, and a desire for political gain. 

3. Border communities occupy a symbolic mythological and transformative space of indistinction that accounts for both the political and racialized nature of identities.

4. Migrant communities believe in (and act upon) their fundamental right to cross borders, or what Ray Ybarra has named “the right to Human Mobility. ” 

5. The concepts of land, property, migration, citizenship, identity, culture, community, knowledge, education, and power take on new meaning when examined through a borderless lens.

6. Governmental policies and educational policies toward border communities are intimately linked around the problematic goal of assimilation and white supremacy. 

7. Redefining migration as a natural fundamental right, exposing the symbolic parade of enforcement and racial fears, as well as foregrounding the stories of local and indigenous communities, is central to understanding the lived realities of border and migrant communities.

8. Coming to the border to film, write, or document often does more harm than good (by inadvertently re-affirming the racism and fear of a few white residents while ignoring, or giving disproportionate time, to people of color who have lived in the border area for generations and make-up the majority of the population).

9. Counter-stories and narratives are essential to theory, and are therefore, real and legitimate sources of data and ways of being.

10. Doing research towards a Borderless Critical Place demands a direct action, activist, and ally component to research. It requires a systematic commitment to social justice, and human rights for people residing on both sides of the border. 



Download guidelines and suggestions for conducting ethical research for and with border communities.  Evaluate wether your research serves the communities you seek to represent.  In what ways is your framing and analysis foregrounding the voices and experiences of people of color? 



Files coming soon.

Recommended readings on Borderland research


Uncharted Terrains: New Directions in Border Research Methodology, Ethics, and Practice

“We must secure our borders” has become an increasingly common refrain in the United States since 2001. Most of the “securing” has focused on the US–Mexico border. In the process, immigrants have become stigmatized, if not criminalized. This has had significant implications for social scientists who study the lives and needs of immigrants, as well as the effectiveness of programs and policies designed to help them. In this groundbreaking book, researchers describe their experiences in conducting field research along the southern US border and draw larger conclusions about the challenges of contemporary border research.

Each chapter raises methodological and ethical questions relevant to conducting research in transnational contexts, which can frequently be unpredictable or even volatile. The volume addresses the central question of  how can scholars work with vulnerable migrant populations along the perilous US–Mexico border and maintain ethical and methodological standards, while also providing useful knowledge to stakeholders? Not only may immigrants be afraid to provide information that could be incriminating, but researchers may also be reluctant to allow their findings to become the basis of harsher law enforcement, unjustly penalize the subjects of their research, and inhibit the formulation of humane and effective immigration policy based on scholarly research.

All of these concerns, which are perfectly legitimate from the social scientists’ point of view, can put researchers into conflict with legal authorities. Contributors acknowledge their quandaries and explain how they have dealt with them. They use specific topics—reproductive health issues and sexually transmitted diseases among immigrant women, a study of undocumented business owners, and the administration of the Mexican Household Survey in Phoenix, among others—to outline research methodology that will be useful for generations of border researchers.