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Walking the Tightrope

Walking the Tightrope: Ethical Issues for Qualitative Researchers

Copyright Date: 2002
Pages: 240
  • Book Info
    Walking the Tightrope
    Book Description:

    Are formal ethics research guidelines congruent with the aims and methodology of inductive and qualitative social research? Using the experiences of 16 Canadian, American, and British researchers, this collection explores answers to the question.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-8320-4
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
    Will C. van den Hoonaard
  4. Contributors
    (pp. xi-2)
  5. Introduction: Ethical Norming and Qualitative Research
    (pp. 3-16)

    There is a paradoxical process at work today among qualitative researchers when it comes to formal research ethics. While they largely reject the prevailing, mainly biomedical, approach of the ethics review of research, they are opening up new perspectives and sensibilities about the ethical dimensions of their own work. This collection reflects the tension between the demands of formal ethics review and qualitative research as a counterpoint. The former, qualitative researchers believe, erodes or hampers the thrust and purpose of their research because current ethical research standards are designed in terms of issues relevant to quantitative, hypothesis-driven research.

    Ethics review,...

  6. 1 Good Intentions and Awkward Outcomes: Ethical Gatekeeping in Field Research
    (pp. 17-25)

    Researchers in the biological, medical, and social sciences have done controversial research that offends ethical sensibilities. The most extreme cases have been well publicized, such as the Tuskegee study on syphilis (United States Public Health Service, 1973) and other research that put patients at risk (Barber, 1976); psychologists may think of Milgram’s obedience study (Baumrind, 1964; Milgram, 1963), while sociologists may think of studies of homosexual encounters in public places (Humphreys, 1970; Von Hoffman, 1970).

    In the light of the publicity generated by such work, it is not surprising that funding agencies and other regulators have demanded that the public...

  7. 2 Yet Another Coming Crisis? Coping with Guidelines from the Tri-Council
    (pp. 26-33)

    This essay addresses continuing concerns of those of us whose work depends on the field as a primary source of data – those of us who conduct, produce, and analyse observations of social life, interviews, and group discussions. When we consider ethical issues, we are often less than comfortable, for we must grapple with a lack of correspondence between codes of ethics and the conduct of ethnographic methods. Satisfying of research demands may entail some violations of ethics codes, especially when the codes are interpreted literally and without regard for the range of research circumstances that are not informed by...

  8. 3 Do University Lawyers and the Police Define Research Values?
    (pp. 34-42)

    Significant changes during the later twentieth century have profoundly affected the conduct of social scientific research. During this time institutional review boards (IRBs) at major universities all over North America came to regulate scholarly research. Originally called committees for the protection of human subjects, they have revealed themselves to have simultaneously greater and lesser goals, as we argue below.

    The directives and judgments of these boards have evolved, becoming considerably more restrictive, and they now represent a major bane and obstacle to active researchers. Although they present themselves as something other than petty, narrow minded, restrictive bureaucratic ‘rangers,’ it is...

  9. 4 Challenging the System: Rethinking Ethics Review of Social Research in Britain’s National Health Service
    (pp. 43-58)

    There is growing awareness among researchers about the problems of working with ethics review committees in medicine and health in the United Kingdom. Although Sorenson (1978) noted such obstacles as far back as the 1970s, there has been a steady chorus of protest over the past five years (see, for example, Alberti, 1995 and 2000; Jenkins, 1995; Nicholl, 2000; Oddens and De Wied, 1995; and While, 1995). Ethics review bodies of the National Health Service (NHS) have remained surprisingly untouched by the shift towards primary care and the growing interest in the perspective and voice of patients. A culture of...

  10. 5 Reflections on Professional Ethics
    (pp. 59-69)

    Professional and research ethics among social scientists have gained more attention and concern as state agencies, public universities, and professional associations have come to influence the nature and process of research and intellectual inquiry. The experiments on human subjects in Nazi Germany and the Tuskegee experiments on Black men with syphilis in the United States were among the first to draw attention to the dangers of state-sanctioned science. Infamous cases such as these led to establishment of institutional review boards (IRBs) in the United States in the 1970s, which promised greater protection and informed consent to human subjects who participate...

  11. 6 Confidentiality and Anonymity: Promises and Practices
    (pp. 70-78)

    This essay addresses the challenges that researchers face in ensuring the anonymity of research participants when they are working with qualitative data. Codes of ethics prescribe respect for confidentiality, while research strategies to promote trustworthiness require openness with the data. The objective of the chapter is to uncover some of the underlying assumptions of these two, oft-conflicting principles and to provide some suggestions for respecting both.

    Because we use qualitative methods in studies involving humans, we have a more difficult challenge than do quantitative researchers in ensuring the anonymity of participants and the confidentiality of their data. The divergent perspectives...

  12. 7 Biting the Hand That Feeds You, and Other Feminist Dilemmas in Fieldwork
    (pp. 79-94)

    This essay considers three ethical dilemmas inherent in a research project that sought to understand, from the standpoint of the residents, how one administrative document was used in a maternity home. The solution to these dilemmas is the focus of this essay. First, as a feminist, I found that my responsibility to challenge hegemonic ideology clashed with the realities of recognizing the need for some social control in an institutional setting. By analysing power relationships in fieldwork, I decided that while social work contains elements of social control, in this instance the ‘relations of ruling’ (Smith, 1996) went beyond what...

  13. 8 My Research Friend? My Friend the Researcher? My Friend, My Researcher? Mis/Informed Consent and People with Developmental Disabilities
    (pp. 95-106)

    Research is filled with ethical dilemmas. The first problem that researchers must face is to arrive at a reasoned and reasonable definition of informed consent. Most agree that ‘informing-for-consent’ is a process (Tymchuk, 1997), rather than a time-limited event. Informing for consent is a responsibility that a researcher must take seriously at every stage of the endeavour, not just at the beginning. What we as researchers understand to be informed consent can change radically as our research moves forward. Researchers must assess a situation to decide the relative priority of many factors so as to create an effective design for...

  14. 9 Hazel the Dental Assistant and the Research Dilemma of (Re)presenting a Life Story: The Clash of Narratives
    (pp. 107-123)

    Life history and narrative analysis have long been popular tools for qualitative researchers attempting to ‘unpack,’ appreciate, and move towards an understanding of the ‘lived experience’ of people. Narrative analysis puts them in direct contact with ‘people engaged in the process of interpreting themselves’ (Josselson and Lieblich, 1995: ix). It focuses on everyday social reality in a way that quantitative and even some qualitative methods do not. Yet, despite repeated calls to ‘listen’ to respondents’ interpretation of their own lived experience, qualitative researchers continue to encounter numerous obstacles. Mishler (as quoted by Josselson and Lieblich, 1995: 1) notes that conventional...

  15. 10 Breaking In: Compromises in Participatory Field Research within Closed Institutions
    (pp. 124-136)

    This essay explores a case study of participatory action research (PAR) into the experiences and views of students as they enter and leave high school. Ethical issues are inevitably entwined in such an enterprise at both practical and epistemological levels. Formal institutions have ethical standards to be satisfied, which may or may not be compatible with the intrinsically ethical ideals of participatory research.

    As the researcher, my ethical goal (and, sometimes, dilemma) was to find a way to allow the voices of the students to be heard. Despite considerable research policy and theoretical attention vis-à-vis educational transitions, very little has...

  16. 11 The Harmony of Resistance: Qualitative Research and Ethical Practice in Social Work
    (pp. 137-151)

    There is a widespread, but poorly organized, call for ethical research methods that can generate new knowledge while respecting the diversity of knowledge claims from marginalized individuals and groups (for example, Maddocks, 1992; Gorman, 1993; Weis and Fine, eds., 1993; Gilchrist, 1997). If, as Janice Ristock and Joan Pennell (1996) explain, research is ‘the search for answers to questions in a way that is made open to the appraisal of others’ (116), then researchers must ensure these ‘others’ authentic representations of their local realities. The difficulty in responding has been the lack of support for researchers’ use of qualitative methods...

  17. 12 Pace of Technological Change: Battling Ethical Issues in Qualitative Research
    (pp. 152-159)

    Advances in technology, particularly in information-based systems, are increasingly influencing the conduct of qualitative research. With the advent of the internet, social scientists continue to explore what constitutes ethical concerns or dilemmas in the application of innovative research methods (for example, analysing correspondence via e-mails and chat rooms). As a result, academic researchers are increasingly scrutinizing attempts to reconcile the critical issues and methods employed in the conduct of internet research. Has the ‘information age’ changed qualitative research? Are we moving away from more traditional research methods in qualitative research, or is the internet an adjunct to current-day research? Does...

  18. 13 The Tri-Council on Cyberspace: Insights, Oversights, and Extrapolations
    (pp. 160-174)

    This essay examines theTri-Council Policy Statement: Ethical Conduct for Research Involving Humans(MRC, NSERC, and SSHRC, 1998d) in an attempt to fathom the document’s implicit position on the use of cyberspace material as a source of data for academic research. Funding by the councils is ‘conditional on research organizations’ adherence to guidelines’ (Grubisic, 1998: 1). Thus, learned research in Canada is expected to abide by the statement’s specifications. Data captured through cyberspace can now be used for such research methods as ethnography, including observation and participant observation, case studies, content analysis, linguistic studies, biography, and discourse and textual analyses....

  19. Some Concluding Thoughts
    (pp. 175-188)

    The qualitative, or inductive researcher’s wish for alternatives to the current practice of formal ethics review may well be needless, for many forces countenance other approaches. Litigiousness and the continuing force of quantitative, or deductive research will no doubt hamper qualitative research for the foreseeable future, aided and abetted by the work of research ethics boards (REBs) in Canada and institutional review boards (IRBs) in the United States. The boards can withhold funds if the researcher has not sought ethics review, and the university loses money. The resulting and widespread ‘culture of fear’ gives added impetus to these enactments, born...

  20. References
    (pp. 189-206)
  21. Index
    (pp. 207-218)