Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) is an emotive subject, particularly in southern Aftica. Among those who have been directly affected by the disease, or who perceive themselves to be personally at risk, talking about AIDS inevitably arouses strong emotions - amongst them fear, distress, loss and anger. Conventionally, human geography research has avoided engagement with such emotions. Although the ideal of the detached observer has been roundly critiqued, the emphasis in methodological literature on 'doing no harm' has led even qualitative researchers to avoid difficult emotional encounters. Nonetheless, research is inevitably shaped by emotions, not least those of the researchers themselves. In this paper, we examine the role of emotions in the research process through our experiences of researching the lives of young AIDS migrants in Malawi and Lesotho. We explore how the context of the research gave rise to the production of particular emotions, and how, in response, we shaped the research, presenting a research agenda focused more on migration than AIDS. This example reveals a tension between universalised ethics expressed through ethical research guidelines that demand informed consent, and ethics of care, sensitive to emotional context. It also demonstrates how dualistic distinctions between reason and emotion, justice and care, global and local are unhelpful in interpreting the ethics of research practice.