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Australasian Human Research Ethics Consultancy Services Pty Ltd (AHRECS)

Promises, Promises: Lessons in Research Ethics from the Belfast Project and ‘The Rape Tape’ Case (Papers: Kay Inckle 2015)0

Posted by Admin in on August 23, 2016

This paper draws on two social research projects which have made headline news in the Republic of Ireland since 2011: The Belfast Project which was conducted by ex-paramilitary researchers in Northern Ireland in conjunction with Boston College in the USA, alongside what the media dubbed as ‘The Rape Tape’ case involving a postgraduate student from Maynooth University in the Republic of Ireland. Considered together, these cases highlight contrasting approaches to ethics which have significant lessons for sociologists teaching and conducting ethical research. The cases illustrate how sociologists need to model nuanced yet robust approaches to ethics if we are to avoid causing harm to research participants and to produce students with solid ethical skills which they can utilise in a range of contexts. Such an approach combines ontological foundations with reflexive, context specific applications. The paper begins with an outline of the two cases based on documentary sources. The cases are then considered in the context ethical definitions and protocols from academic texts and professional sociological bodies across the three affected jurisdictions (UK, Ireland, USA) in order to reflect on the lessons and implications for sociologists in conducting and teaching ethical research.

Keywords: Research Ethics, Sensitive Research, the Belfast Project, the Rape Tape Case

Inckle K (2015) Promises, Promises: Lessons in Research Ethics from the Belfast Project and ‘The Rape Tape’ Case. Sociological Research Online, 20 (1), 6 DOI: 10.5153/sro.3570

An Alternative Ethics? Justice and Care as Guiding Principles for Qualitative Research (Papers: Martyn Hammersley and Anna Traianou 2014)0

Posted by Admin in on August 22, 2016

The dominant conception of social research ethics is centred on deontological and consequentialist principles. In place of this, some qualitative researchers have proposed a very different approach. This appeals to a range of commitments that transform the goal of research as well as framing how it is pursued. This new ethics demands a participatory form of inquiry, one in which the relationship between researchers and researched is equalized. In this paper we examine this alternative approach, focusing in particular on two of the principles that are central to it: justice and care. We argue that there are some significant defects and dangers associated with this new conception of research ethics.

Keywords: Research Ethics, Qualitative Research, Justice, Care, Participatory Inquiry

Hammersley M & Traianou A (2014) An Alternative Ethics? Justice and Care as Guiding Principles for Qualitative Research. Sociological Research Online, 19 (3), 24 DOI: 10.5153/sro.3466

AAA Comments on Notice of Proposed Rule Making for IRBs (Papers: Rena Lederman & Lise Dobrin 2016)0

Posted by Admin in on June 22, 2016

Below are some excerpts from the 18-page comment submitted by the AAA to the Office of Human Research Protections on January 6, 2016, in response to the proposed changes in the “Common Rule”, the federal regulations that motivate the system of research ethics review that is implemented by IRBs. The AAA comment was authored on the AAA’s behalf by Rena Lederman (Princeton University) and Lise Dobrin (University of Virginia). An overview of the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) and the full text of the AAA’s response can be found here.

On the NPRM’s proposal to expand the definition of “human subject” to include even non-identified biospecimens:
The American Anthropological Association is in general accord with the principle of “autonomy” (or “respect for persons”) underlying this NPRM proposal to change the definition of Human Subject. Anthropologists and their study participants have objected to the reduction of biospecimens to “data” (i.e., values detachable from their sources); they have pointed out that blood, tissue samples and the like can come to stand for persons and be invested with specific social, cultural, and ritual values.

On the problematic omission of sociocultural anthropology’s signature methods from both the Common Rule and the proposed rule change:
Our first and most important general comment is that several of the proposed changes will deepen, rather than alleviate, ambiguity. This is especially true with respect to sociocultural anthropologists’ most characteristic research activity – “participant observation” (also referred to as “ethnographic fieldwork”, “fieldwork”, and similar terms) – which finds no place within the existing Common Rule at all. Insofar as the proposed changes likewise make no mention of participant observation, anthropologists and others who employ this approach—along with their IRBs—are left entirely in the dark. This situation promises to keep ethnographic field projects that rely on participant observation in “expedited” or “full board” categories when according to the logic behind the NPRM they should be “exempt” or “excluded”…

Lederman R & Dobrin L (2016) AAA Comments on Notice of Proposed Rule Making for IRBs. AAA Ethics Blog

The AAA issued an update about the changes to the common rule on 23 May 2016. You can view the update here

Médecins Sans Frontières – Research Ethics Framework: Guidance Document0

Posted by Admin in on June 17, 2016


“Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is one of the leading humanitarian medical organizations. The
foundational and animating values of MSF as a humanitarian medical organization are rooted in
ethics. It has a well-deserved reputation for its work in responding to humanitarian needs created by a
variety of health emergencies around the world. It is respected as an organization for its leadership
and moral authority in humanitarian affairs.

“Historically, research was not seen as core to the mission of MSF. However, it now initiates, sponsors
or participates in numerous research projects in multiple field sites. The results of MSF research have
had substantial impact on global health policy and provided benefits to populations served by MSF
and elsewhere. MSF has also shown leadership in operational research initiatives in the humanitarian
NGO sector. As a result, research has become increasingly integral to MSF activities, both in the field
and in global health advocacy.

“MSF has paid particular attention to ethical issues related to the research in which they engage. This is
manifested by the creation of an independent ethics review board (ERB) that evaluates all research
proposals involving MSF. This board chose to use an explicit framework to assess the ethical
dimensions of the research1. Since its adoption in 2003, the research ethics framework has served
well, as it has brought greater clarity to the expectations of both the ERB and MSF staff engaged in
research. The quality of the proposals submitted to the board has improved considerably over the
past decade…”

Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) (2013) Research Ethics Framework: Guidance Document. MSF.