Research ethics blog back online

Thanks for the comments on the first post.  I am sorry there has been a bit of a hiccup with this blog but there were some technical hitches and I was then on holiday for a couple of weeks.  I hope to contribute a bit more regularly from now on but today I am just going to respond to the comments rather than start new topics.

In a sense the two responses complement each other quite nicely.  Anon questions the analysis in terms of US hegemony but I think we have to ask where the fear of litigation comes from.  Does it apply equally in the Australian case cited or in Ireland, where I have been asked to speak in a couple of weeks’ time or throughout mainland Europe where the European Commission is pushing to introduce ethical regulation into countries that do not currently have it, beyond what is required for clinical trials. You can argue for a spill-over of the ‘compensation culture’ myth, which has as little empirical foundation in the UK as in the US, but then you are really talking about the hegemonic transmission of culture anyway.

Gillian notes the problems caused for her by the fact that her informants do not recognize the issues in the same way as her institution: her informants are going to be made modern citizens whether they want to be or not.  I had thought that Australia had moved beyond this in its treatment of First Nations people.  This reminds me of another case which I have written about, which I heard from a UK researcher who had begun an ethnography of a Japanese factory before his university introduced a REC system.  However, he wanted to do taped interviews at the end of the study and was told to get approval from the committee, who also demanded signed consent forms.  His Japanese informants found this grossly offensive because it implied a lack of trust when they had opened their factory to him for a year previously and given him free access to company personnel and data.  They agreed to co-operate out of goodwill towards him but the interviews were very formal in character, with minimal responses and yielding little useful data.  At the end, they asked him to terminate his research because they felt polluted by this demand that their trust be documented.

All ethnography rests on trust – it is a fragile foundation but that makes its everyday preservation the real and effective discipline of the researcher rather than the actions of some remote set of regulators.

Anthony – I will look at your paper if I can get online access.

Robert Dingwall

Robert Dingwall is a consulting sociologist, providing research and advisory services particularly in relation to organizational strategy, public engagement and knowledge transfer. He is co-editor of the SAGE Handbook of Research Management.

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