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Australasian Human Research Ethics Consultancy Services Pty Ltd (AHRECS)

Research Ethics in Ethnography/Anthropology (Dr Ron Iphofen AcSS)


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“This Report was prepared for the Ethics Unit B6, DG Research and Innovation of the European Commission (EC). The primary audience for this Report are ethics review committees or panels who might not be so directly familiar with the methods regularly adopted by ethnographers and anthropologists. There is nothing new here for practitioners of those disciplines, but it is hoped anyone with an interest in ethics review in ethnography/anthropology may also find the information contained here useful. Although there are some fundamental core ethical principles that can be applied to all human subjects research, the operationalisation of those principles varies according to the methodology adopted. A wide variety of research methods can be found within the social sciences and humanities (SSH) – for this reason the contribution that can be made to advancing human knowledge and scientific understanding from the SSH disciplines may be obstructed or undermined if inappropriate review criteria are applied to research proposals. Ethical review should be informed by the underlying theoretical and methodological assumptions of the discipline which frames the research proposal. This requires the provision of a full justification of the research approach from the research proposer, together with a properly
constituted and competent review panel and a robust, fair and transparent review process.

“Section 1 in this paper deals with basic theoretical assumptions and methodology. Sections 2 and 3 establish the ethical principles by which all scientific research should be assessed. In section 4 those general ethical principles are applied to the ‘special consideration’ that needs to be given to given to ethnographic and anthropological research, given the nature of its theoretical assumptions and primary research methods. This paper draws on previously published material – Iphofen (2011), Iphofen, Krayer and Robinson (2009). I am grateful for the comments made by a range of experts to improve upon the first draft of this Report and particularly wish to acknowledge the constructive contributions to this final version made by Prof. Robert Dingwall

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