EASA, 2008: EASA08: Experiencing diversity and mutuality
Ljubljana, 26/08/2008 – 29/08/2008
Ethically sensitive researches in anthropology
Date and Start Time 27 Aug, 2008 at 09:00
Welfare, respect for the dignity and rights of participants, etc. became standards for scientific quality. The workshop intend to present cases of good practice and tensions between new or better knowledge on one side and different rights of individuals and groups on the other.
Welfare, respect for the dignity and rights of participants, avoiding harm, doing justice, confidentiality, informed consent, anonymization, became standards for scientific quality in all aspects of the research process. Nevertheless we can find many dilemmas in weighing the risks and benefits. Specific research topic can require specific ethical sensitiveness and finding right solutions to ethical dilemmas. Ethical sensitiveness is essential to legitimate research, especially qualitative research. The workshop intend to present cases of good practice, tensions between the search for new or better knowledge, which is regarded as a social good or benefit, and different rights of individuals and groups.
Chair: Mojca Ramšak
Face to face behind bars: ethical fragilities in the researcher - prisoner relationship in a Greek prison for women
This presentation is based on my experiences with interviewing incarcerated mothers in a Greek prison. During the 18 months of the research, I encountered a series of fragile ethical issues concerning my identity as an anthropologist and researcher, the protection of their anonymity, inequalities in the researcher - prisoner relationship, the emergence of friendship. Allowing the women to believe that I was a prison psychologist or legal consultant, their initial explanation for my visits, might have conveniently conveyed the idea that their discussions with me were protected by a therapist-patient or lawyer-client code of confidentiality and would not be revealed to other prisoners. The ethical impropriety of this arrangement is obvious; however, in persisting to identify myself as "only" a researcher meant that new avenues to trust needed to be created and that when (and if) their life stories were revealed, it was not in exchange for therapy or advice. The resulting imbalance in our relationship was yet another ethical concern, but was alleviated by other reciprocities, for example, bonds of trust, mutual exchange of thoughts and moments of intersubjectivity. These attributes of "enduring friendship" assist in writing about motherhood in prison; however, it is unclear what remains of the research-generated solidarity for the women who continue with their life of confinement.
Ethical dilemmas in ethnographying medical visit
Based on fieldwork experiences (participant/direct-observation of medical visit), I will present several ethical issues concerning researcher's position when the fieldwork is based on observations of medical care places and practices. Particularly, I will discuss some dilemmas raised by the application of medical research's ethical principles (informed consent, protection from harm, confidentiality) to ethnography of medical care. Various dilemmas are linked to researcher's responsibility such as following one : should he/her attempt to protect the subjects (here patients and physicians) from potential risks related to research, or scrupulously apply ethical principles for research involving human beings defined by the Declaration of Helsinki? Then, I will analyze social meanings and uses of ethical rules by authorities, which control the access to fieldwork (here the Conseil de l'Ordre des médecins). This analysis shows that their interpretations consider patients' words and clinical encounter as sacred; protect the autonomy of medical profession; value quantitative or positivist approaches and depreciate the ethnographic method; overemphasize medical secrecy; essentialize medical ethics. The encounter with a strong biomedical professional ethic is a source of power stakes and of mutual misunderstandings. For ethnographic research, the risk is that biomedicine intrumentalize antheopology - under the cover of ethics - that therefore would limit the fields' open for ethnographic research.
Some ethical considerations regarding recruting subjects through media solicitation
The main question arose before I began the research on formerly alcohol dependent individuals, which I mostly recruited through media solicitation. As a psychologist I was obliged to use the ethical standards of the Psychological Association; working in the field of health care, I was bound to the principals of medical ethics; and conducting anthropological research on former patients and partly on non-patients, I used anthropological ethical regulations. The paper is aimed at answering three questions:
1. What would be a case of a good practice in applying different standards in research field that is seemingly regulated by different sets of ethical regulations?
2. What would be the best way to avoid risks with research participants and maximize the benefits from knowledge, produced through qualitative research?
3. What are subjective ethical considerations when volunteering in such research?
"You're the only one I will tell it to …" - researcher in a difficult situation: questions about fieldwork methodology
I want to base my paper on my investigations to talk about problems which appear during fieldwork. My doctoral thesis will explore the ways in which Catholic sisters perceive their place and the role of their communities in the contemporary Poland. Implementation of this project includes conducting the interviews, therefore my source are individual experiences and memories with all the consequences that follow. I don't want to find an objective truth. Rather, what interests me is an analysis of a subjective picture of religious communities and the role that is played by them in modern society.
The tool I use to assemble materials are narrative interviews, in other words - a kind of conversation. In my paper I wanted to share some reflections and observations about a specific character of my source, ethical and methodological problems, which a person wanting to investigate such a hermetic and difficult environment like monastic life, encounters. Interview is a special situation during which one meets humans' "thought, dreams, ideas, norms, fears and hopes" only because one permits people to talk. Therefore one should realize what kind of role the researcher plays in these circumstances, and also be aware of the factors which influence the investigation process, like: expectations of the interlocutor, personality, social positions and provenance of the dialogue partners, even the sex of the researcher. It will be the aim of my paper to share an experience and talk about mistakes, as well as what I'm concerned to be my investigative successes.
Life stories as reserach and didactic activity
Presentation is based on personal experience of conducting biographical research within the scope of a course/training. It appears as one way of doing it (when something like that is appropriate) combining both research and educational/didactic activity. It demands significant sensitivity and extra energy in developing positive group climate. Once when is created, participants can feel safe and warm to tell their stories. Warming up appears particularly important in doing this activity with potentially traumatized people, in this particular case peace activists from post-war setting. The important ethical concern related to unequal relation between researcher and biographer that may have significant impact on overall research is mitigate by another component of overall activity - didactic activity, transfer of knowledge, as the major benefit for participants. In this way, the process is in the same/similar scale stimulating for both sides, creating partnership relations. Certainly, the basic intentions and motivation for both sides should be clearly outlined. The relationship between researcher and participants is primarily professional that may grow into friendship, but not necessarily; it is not its primary aim.
Friendship as the relationship between researcher and researchee: ethical doubts
Contemporary anthropology pays a lot of attention to the various dimensions of research process. One of the most important changes introduced by so-called reflexive turn in anthropology was underlining the complexity of mutual relations between researcher and researchee. It occurred to be no longer possible to perceive the research process as just matter of collecting necessary data. Instead, the social research - and amongst them especially the anthropological research with traditionally important role of field-work became analyzed from the point of interaction between two parts involved in the process, namely researcher and researchee. I am especially interested in the character of mutual relation between them; I would like to pay attention to one of the ways this relation can be shaped: the relation of friendship.
The first important question is the impact of such kind of relation on the research process. From one point of view, involving in close emotional relation can help the researcher to "get close" to the researched reality: informations on researchee opinions and attitudes. From the other point, relation of friendship may cause many problems of various kinds- methodological, ethical and psychological. The ethical aspect of "using" friendship in anthropological research is my basic point of interest. I want to cope with the following questions:
- To which extent anthropologist is allowed to use data collected as friends of his/her researchee?
-How to distinguish between different roles in which the researcher is involved during a research with friendship relation - the role of a scientist and the role of a friend?
Being sensitive and discreet when dealing with honour and good name
The notion of honour and good name (reputation) capture those moral values, which essentially influence quality of life and human dignity. Honour is an element of human dignity. It defines prestige and reputation, therefore it's personal, but at the same time it's also social. Reputation is an indicator of honour. Representations of honour and reputation attach themselves to the functions of language and to the political, historical, economic or other meanings that connect practices and norms of social groups.
Analysis of civil and criminal lawsuits in a smaller, socially isolated village in Slovenia show the dynamics and mechanisms of protecting morality, performed through mutual social control. The main medias for harmonizing were daily quarrels, gossip, libel and physical violence, which derived from the verbal offences. With these offences, villagers checked the stability of their values, especially honor and good name. Their ways of control and understanding of punishment show deeper fears, which were even more explicit, when the outside world started to break into their lives. Values, which were defended through gossip and libel, were their land or property and family, that is its' good name. Similar scandals as in my case study could occur in any setting with the same economic base or social structure, especially if the village is isolated.
Problem of data privacy protection of research subjects
Although psychoanalytic interviews are not psychoanalysis, it appears that a psychoanalytical view manifest in the association method and in the later interpretation of the material)initiates in a research dyade a processes characteristic of a psychoanalytic situation. Ethical dilemmas are therefore those characteristic not only of a research situation, but of a psychoanalytic one.
In the example discussed at the end of the research, an issue regarding data privacy protection occurred. Despite the fact that the basic recommendations for the data privacy protection were respected, I was faced with a dilemma - whether to publish the results - and under which conditions, or to give up on their presentation.
The hypothesis is that the problem of privacy is a result of an insufficient distinction of the research / psychoanalytic context and the private (friendship) context of the meaning due to a multiple intertwining of the everyday life of the research participants (the researcher and the research subject). In the attempt to understand what can be learned from the ethically sensitive example about the method used and the mistakes in its application, I will analyse the course of the research from its beginning to the very end. Finally - how is a researcher to write a paper without endangering a subject's privacy? The manner in which I wrote this paper presents a practical attempt to apply the recommendations which, according to my opinion, present an answer to this question.
Ethics and the inevitability of bias in research on nuclear issues in India
I examine the ethical concerns that arose during my research on nuclear issues in the proximity of the Koodankulam Nuclear Power Plant in south India, a nuclear site that underwent construction in 2002 and is designated to be Asia's largest.
Firstly, during the course of the fieldwork, I became very wary of the nature of my relationship with 'informants' who were against the plant, and who became what I would like to term friends in view of the opinions and activities we shared. In the process, I became conscious that to align too closely with them would be to raise suspicions on not only my intentions, but also their reasons for associating with me, technically an 'outsider' who could undermine their authority as national citizens and even subject them to accusations of 'terrorism'. I account for what strategies were put in place to mitigate such excesses.
Secondly, I account for the fact, that even though I interviewed and liaised with advocates of nuclear power, it was virtually impossible to maintain a semblance of neutrality in my work on the subject of 'perceptions and representations of nuclear issues in India'. Despite the fact that I attempted situational analyses, symbolic interpretations and contextual understanding, personal bias was inevitable due to a combination of my a priori views on nuclear power and the knowledge acquired and experiences gained during fieldwork. I place this realisation in the long tradition that anthropology has had with marginalised communities as opposed to state-backed and corporate elites.