Human Research Ethics Committees have become an established part of the institutional structure of research in the humanities and social sciences over the last two decades in Australia, a development which many in the political disciplines have regarded with ambiguity or outright hostility. My purpose is to consider some of the particular problems which arise for the political disciplines from the form of research ethics review which has become institutionalised in Australia, and to suggest some reforms which would significantly ameliorate these problems.
My argument is that the conceptual framework on which research ethics review is built, and consequently the institutional model by which ethical review is applied within Australian universities is not appropriate to some forms of political research, with serious detrimental consequences. These consequences may include, but are not limited to: research findings being potentially skewed; research going underground or being undertaken in ways which diverge from what has been approved by committees; self censorship; disengagement with institutional research governance procedures; the generation of risk for researchers who are operating outside institutional approvals because they feel they “have to”; the construction of unnecessary prejudice against the legitimate aims of research ethics review procedures; and, finally, and most disturbingly, important and legitimate research not being undertaken.
Raise the issue of research ethics with a politics researcher in the hallways of any Australian university, and you are likely to meet with a litany of complaints which match in some measure or another my list above. Being a politics academic and – until recently -‐ the chair of a university wide human research ethics committee, has been an interesting experience; one which has led me to offer the following analysis and suggestions for reform.
Anthony J. Langlois (2011) Political Research and Human Research Ethics Committees. Australian Journal of Political Science, 46:1, 141-156, DOI: 10.1080/10361146.2010.544287