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Reassurance of Ethics


Friday, November 30, 2012 by

I wanted to follow up on a question that Luke asked during the talk given by Dean Sharpe on research ethics.  Luke asked whether or not the scope of the research ethics board included the researchers themselves, and Dean said basically "no" and that there were other offices that concerned themselves with the researchers and their welfare.

I understand in the bureaucratic sense why these areas would be kept distinct. It makes sense, particularly in light of the potential risks to participants and subjects of research studies to keep the focus so exclusively on them and let other offices focus on the researchers.

However, there were a couple of things that I have been mulling over since then in relation to my feelings about research methods that involve other people. First, I wonder if the line between the welfare of the participants and the researcher is so clear. Coming into this class, I had strong reservations about conducting research that involved other people as subjects. As the term progressed, I definitely have become more open to research methods involving work with others; however, there still remained this reservation about studying people. After listening to Dean's talk, I feel reassured by the rigor of the ethics vetting process. I guess even though it seems that the focus of the ethics is on the welfare of the participants, I feel that the ethics process is win-win for the researcher, as well.

This benefit to the researcher, got me thinking about the perhaps too cleanly drawn line, perhaps even artificial between the welfare of the researchers and the participants. We saw the blurriness of this line most clearly when we covered ethnography and participant observation. There was always the danger of the line just completely disappearing. I wonder, though, if even in other research methods the line between the two is not as distinct? We have discussed biases throughout the term, and how the perspective of the researcher shapes and influences the study. Maybe it could be argued that in some way the researcher is also a subject (definitely a participant!) in some way of the study.

This leads me to another point that Dean brought up about creating some kind of ownership or possession of the project for the participants. I really resonate with this idea of a research project designed more as a collaboration and community involvement where the researcher acts as a facilitator and less as an authoritarian presence. This would go a long way, I think, towards addressing the power imbalance between researcher and participants and would create a win win for everyone. I think it's the only way that I would feel truly comfortable with a research project that involved other people.

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