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Seduction of Ethics

Seduction of Ethics: Transforming the Social Sciences

Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 392
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  • Book Info
    Seduction of Ethics
    Book Description:

    Van den Hoonaard reveals an idiosyncratic and inconsistent world in which researchers employ particular strategies of avoidance or partial or full compliance as they seek approval from ethics committees.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-9452-1
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. Preface
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-2)
  5. 1 Introduction
    (pp. 3-19)

    Contemporary national research-ethics regimes for universities are seductive. They pull into their orbit administrators, policymakers, university staff, members of ethics committees, and researchers. This seduction is transforming the very nature and method of social science research. Just as the political, professional, and business realms have become fascinated, even obsessed, with ethics codes as a substitute for the general moral culture, so, too, have research-granting agencies, researchers, and their guardians (universities, administrators) fallen prey to the seduction of ethics. My aim is to record the interactions between researchers and these guardians that account for the pervasive transformation of social research.¹ This...

  6. 2 An Archeology of Research-Ethics Review
    (pp. 20-38)

    Conventional wisdom places the beginnings of the research-ethics review at the Nuremberg Trials of 1946–7, born out of the use of Nazi medical experiments based on involuntary consent of their ‘participants,’ physical and mental suffering, and expectation of death through the experiments.¹ The Nuremberg narrative offers us a continuing linear history of the development of ethics review primarily through the establishment of the World Medical Association’s Declaration of Helsinki in 1964 (and subsequent emendations). The review of social science research would be next in line to follow the same ‘high’ ethical procedures as the medical sciences.The Belmont Report...

  7. 3 The Criticisms of Research-Ethics Review
    (pp. 39-54)

    The previous chapter on the archaeology of research-ethics regimes hinted at the problematic aspects of those regimes as they pertain to the social sciences. Those problematic aspects are not specious.¹ Chapter 3 outlines the thrust of these criticisms and the way the research-ethics world attempts to transcend them. It is my intention to demonstrate that the criticisms that result from those problems are based on the perception, or fear, of researchers that the ethics-review process harbours inevitable-changes in the way social scientists conduct their research. These changes primarily touch the fundamental methods (rather than the ethical dimensions per se) employed...

  8. 4 What Is the Normative Ethics Framework for Social Researchers?
    (pp. 55-73)

    I have thus far taken into account elements of the research-ethics review process that fall outside social researchitself.It is clear that researchers and members of the ethics-review system hold the view that the ethics regime offers an inappropriate model for social science research, that the regime can sometimes appear to strangle legitimate research, that ethics review might curtail academic freedom, that ethics committees have become bureaucracies, and that the hegemonic influence of the ethics-review system advocates the normalization of ethics (but from the perspective of that system).

    What is vitally missing from the discussion so far are the...

  9. 5 Structure and Composition of Research-Ethics Committees
    (pp. 74-96)

    The previous chapter presented three social-research activities that underscored some approaches which, as one can see, met ethical criteria but might be considered impossible to undertake under current research-ethics regimes, despite the fact that all three researchers provided a respectful and dignified relationship to their research participants — indeed one of the formal goals of research-ethics review. These three cases — which give sharp contrasts to what is not possible in research today — already illustrate the powerful role that the ethics-review system can play in determining (in) appropriate research methods. This chapter approaches the world of research-ethics review from the perspective of...

  10. 6 The Moral Cosmology of the Ethics-Review World
    (pp. 97-121)

    Moral cosmology (a system of beliefs) is integral to any study of a social world, including that of ethics committees and staff. In our context it will be important to explore not only the perceptions and beliefs that chairs, members, and staff of ethicscommittees have about themselves but also the beliefs they have about researchers and research participants. It is the ethics-review world that drives these perceptions and beliefs, a sort of ‘emotion work’ (Hochschild, 1983: 17–18), feelings that staff and members of ethics committees feel obliged to create, nurture, and sustain while being part of the ethics-review process....

  11. 7 Procedural Routines: The Application Form and the Consent Form
    (pp. 122-143)

    Administrative routines occupy a key role in the research-ethics galaxy. These routines, however, act as a wall between the world of research-ethics committees and researchers from diverse, non-medical research traditions. The routines consist of developing application forms to be used by researchers and formulating standardized consent forms. These routines involve written texts and create a discursive regime that often works against the expression of diverse research approaches. Michel Foucault, among others, sees this discursive regime as an inevitable expression of power. For him, the ‘problem of the “discursive regime” ’ deals with ‘the effects of power peculiar to the play...

  12. 8 The Meeting: Making Agendas and Decisions
    (pp. 144-175)

    This chapter is devoted to data I gathered while conducting participant observation at four ethics committee meetings. The first section concerns the agenda of the meeting of the ethics-review committee itself. It became quite apparent (to me) that the agenda constitutes, in fact, two agendas. The official agenda contains, for the most part, decisions and issues related to the applications. However, there is an unofficial agenda that revolves around administravia where some of the topics focus on attendance, problems due to lack of staff and resources, and relations between professors and students and between the faculty and the ethics-review committee‚...

  13. 9 An Idiosyncratic and Inconsistent World: Communications between REBs and Researchers
    (pp. 176-198)

    The previous chapters have suggested that there are a large variety of factors that lead to ethics committees’ making idiosyncratic and inconsistent decisions, such as uneven attendance at meetings, the interjection by committee members of disciplinary paradigms and individual perspectives (i.e., private reflections about ethics), discretionary judgments, the attitude of what is ‘reasonable,’ varying desires about what it means to protect research participants, unfamiliarity with ethics policies, the use of distancing mechanisms, the tendency for committee members to work as manuscript editors, and the influence of jealousies and, sometimes, vendettas. All of these elements contribute to a destabilizing process in...

  14. 10 The Underlife of Research-Ethics Review: Preparing an Application
    (pp. 199-222)

    The Seduction of Ethicspoints to strategies researchers use to handle the demands of research-ethics review committees, from total avoidance to full compliance, and all intermediate points of adjustment. Some of Goffman’s (1961, 1967, 1974) concepts are useful in shedding light on the interactional dynamics between research-ethics review committees and researchers. We can speak of the underlife of an institution when all of its members (researchers in this case) fall under the shadow of REBs.

    In the two-sided world of research-ethics review, there is a split between a relatively small number of ethics staff in universities and a large number...

  15. 11 Secondary Adjustments by Researchers
    (pp. 223-235)

    Given the complexity of the ethics regime, it should come as no surprise that while some researchers embrace the social entity of ethics committees warmly and wholeheartedly, many do not. Still others resist.¹

    The challenges of submitting a proposal to the research-ethics committee come to a head after the ethics committee has returned the application to the researcher. It is unusual for the application to return without the ethics-review committee insisting on modifications. Committees rarely reject proposals, but projects may be abandoned or withdrawn if researchers cannot face the new conditions (Israel, 2005). As was noted in an earlier chapter‚...

  16. 12 The Beleaguered Methods
    (pp. 236-257)

    I have already alluded to some of the ways in which research-ethics review has an impact on social science research. This chapter examines more closely how research-ethics review is not only redirecting social research itself but has also resulted in the decline of certain methods. As the following chapter shows, no less serious is the impact of research-ethics review on theory and on choice of research topics. It is also true that the review has resulted in the maintenance and even increase in the use of particular methods.

    There are at least four general elements that account for the redirection...

  17. 13 On Theory, Topics, and Favoured Methods
    (pp. 258-273)

    While the previous chapter demonstrated how particular methods in social research are waning, this chapter shows us some important new shifts in social research primarily as a consequence of research-ethics review. The chapter explores how the ethics-review process is reshaping the theoretical orientations of social research, often as a result of the rise of neo-positivism and the criterion of ‘scientificity’ demanded by ethics committees. No less drastic are changes related to the choice of research topics: what ethics committees allegedly want are topics that are pleasant, safe, and non-sensitive, and that have social, rather than analytical, merit. Finally, the chapter...

  18. 14 Macro-Structural Linkages
    (pp. 274-285)

    It becomes obvious to anyone who lives in the research-ethics world that two kinds of hierarchies prevail, one of them relates directly to the work of research-ethics review committees, and the other to the researchers. In these cases, one can speak ofvertical ethicswhen a system of ethics at one level is actively engaged with other levels of ethics, such as for example, when a departmental ethics committee works with a university-wide ethics committee. Vertical ethics functions to bind several institutional levels of ethics to one another. It is a hierarchy of ethics that spirals up or down the...

  19. 15 Will the Social Sciences Wither Away or Is There an Alternative?
    (pp. 286-292)

    We return to the analogy of the tundra. When social researchers try to plot their way through the ethics tundra by following the biomedical exigencies of ethical research, they lose their way. The ethics codes tend to cast their guidelines in a way that direct the gaze of biomedical researchers to a point on the horizon. Any experienced traveller knows that the tundra cannot be traversed using a beacon as a straight line: there are innumerable bogs, ponds, rock formations, and outcrops that can obstruct the direction of even the most seasoned adventurer Without intimate knowledge of the tundra, one...

  20. Appendix A: Methodology
    (pp. 293-302)
  21. Appendix B: Applications Considered Annually by Selected Research Ethics Boards in Canada
    (pp. 303-304)
  22. Appendix C: Samples of Communications from Ethics Committees to Researchers
    (pp. 305-316)
  23. Appendix D: Interview Guides
    (pp. 317-320)
  24. Notes
    (pp. 321-338)
  25. References
    (pp. 339-358)
  26. Index
    (pp. 359-375)