Abstract: Regulatory realities in the ethics review of research leave not much space for researchers to fulfill their ethical obligations. The world of ethics committees is inhabited by those who firmly believe that ethics oversight of research is fully justified. The intended target of ethics policies are researchers, many of whom are also believers, but on the grounds that these policies are unjustified. The dynamics of power between these two worlds are, however, uneven. Agencies and institutions privilege ethics policies in this dynamic; researchers must find their way through this regulatory terrain.
Working on my research for The Seduction of Ethics: Transforming the Social Sciences (van den Hoonaard, 2011) I employed participant observation in ethics committees, informal chats, formal interviews, documents, and discussions and decisions about policy. The research revealed chasms between the realm of research-ethics review and that of researchers characterized by deeply-held ideologies about ethics and research. These ideologies represent two different belief systems that view each other with a great deal of suspicion, not unlike two competing religious communities. This paper explores the structural dimensions of these two belief systems as they struggle for space in research-ethics review, and examines where and how these two realms of beliefs are bound together in this space. In many respects, the two realms exemplify the typology of “church” and “sect.” Upholders of the ethics-review system (“church”) see it as the dominant paradigm whereas the followers of the “sect”–researchers– must needs to measure themselves against the dominance of the “church.”
Although critical scholarship on the research-ethics review system has come significantly to the fore in recent years, the scholarship emanates only from scholars. There is no auto-critical scholarship that the ethics-review system engages in. Participants in ethics-review conferences work in a bubble.
Will C. Van den Hoonaard (2015) “Believers versus Believers: The Struggle for Space in Research-ethics Review.” Conference Paper, Jun 2015 https://www.researchgate.net/publication/277707825_Believers_versus_Believers_The_Struggle_for…