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Australasian Human Research Ethics Consultancy Services Pty Ltd (AHRECS)

Research ethics versus ethical approval: A response to Tomaselli (Papers: Katie Fitzpatrick | 2017)

 


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Keyan Tomaselli’s opinion piece provides a great deal of food for thought about a wide range of issues in research. I want to pick up here on one point he makes, which I think is worth further consideration: the issue of research ethics and approvals in ethnography. He notes that “bio-medical ethical models are imposed on anthropologists” and he raises concerns about how universities engage in the gate keeping of research approvals. This is an important point and one that might usefully be explored further in future issues of this journal. It seems to me that ethical approval has, indeed, been divorced from the academic field of research ethics, especially in qualitative research. As Tomaselli notes, we might question the right of “organisations [to] claim jurisdiction over the right of adult individuals or researchers to make their own respective choices”. I think we might also seek to uphold the rights of young people—not only adults—to make decisions about the kinds of research they engage in and how their voices are represented therein.

Ethical issues in ethnographic research are, indeed, complex, locally and culturally specific, and are difficult to regulate. Part of this difficulty lies in the fact that ethnographic research is, by definition, relational. Romero and Walker (2010, 209) observe that “some of the most prevalent methodological and ethical questions in contemporary ethnographic research concern whose voice is heard and how it is represented”. They note that “in theory and in practice, Institutional Review Boards require that the identity of individuals be protected and remain anonymous or at very least confidential” [sic] (223). Many ethnographers adhere to this approach because they are committed to protecting the identities of their participants, especially when the research concerns personal, legal, sexual or other sensitive materials. However, an assumption that people’s identities should and will be obscured in research representations is also problematic, especially when this decision is made prior to even entering the field.

Fitzpartrick, Katie. 2017. “ Research ethics versus ethical approval: A response to Tomaselli.” The Ethnograhic Edge  1, (1): 21– 33. http://dx.doi.org/10.14663/tee.v1i1.20
Publisher: http://dx.doi.org/10.14663/tee.v1i1.20



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