Welcome to Ethnav, a tool to help you navigate some of the complexities that now face ethnographers when presenting their research plans to the various bodies charged with responsibility for regulation and governance of research. The tool takes the form of a series of basic questions. If you click on these you will see text boxes which expand on these questions. Click further and you will find a series of essays which attempt to elaborate and explain the context of current regulation and governance. The documents are cross referenced by way of links that will enable you to move easily between essays, ethics codes and the bibliography we have compiled.
We hope that you find this tool useful. Needless to say, the landscape is a changing one and we would welcome users' ideas for how the tool might be improved and updated.
With best wishes
Bob Simpson, Durham University
Margaret Sleeboom-Faulkner, Sussex University.
Why the need for ethical navigation?
For researchers using qualitative methods in the social sciences issues of ethics, governance and regulation have become extremely complex. The approaches taken by social anthropologists create particular challenges which can make the planning and carrying out of research confusing and daunting. The aim of this tool is to help those using methods that are collaborative and participatory to navigate their way through the landscape of research engagement as it has developed in the UK.. Read more >>
Where did the idea for the EthNav come from?
As a result of research experiences in the field of biosciences, both authors have become concerned about a tension between research ethics on the one hand and the capacity to carry out certain kinds of research on the other. In response to these concerns they organised a series of international workshops to explore the extent of this tension and the forms that it was taking for qualitative social scientists in general, and social anthropologists in particular. Out of these discussions came a recognition that there was a need for a simple document - the EthNav - enabling researchers to orientate themselves in an increasingly congested landscape of expectations and regulations
Why do anthropologists often experience difficulties when it comes to research ethics regulation and governance?
Research is systematic enquiry which sets out to find something out about the world in which we live and as such covers a vast topology. 1 Within this topology, social anthropological research mostly tries to understand something about the world by focusing on the people living in it with the aim of producing an ethnography. The participating and observing anthropologist starts with an idea of knowledge making that is collaborative and emergent. As such, it is dependent on the relationships established with people in a particular lifeworld (Habermas 1984) and, because these are social relationships, they are usually dependent on trust, mutuality, engagement, commitment, empathy and the ongoing cultivation of these qualities. However, epistemologies and ontologies are interwoven in complex ways in anthropological enquiry. Within the bigger picture, the relational foundation of the process of enquiry undertaken by the participant-observer does not sit comfortably with models of research that are predicated upon epistemological separation of researcher and subject at the outset
What sorts of ethical challenges do social anthropologists face in practice?
As we have seen, there is a general reluctance in ethical and professional codes to be prescriptive or rigid when it comes to how things should be done. To fill what might otherwise be a pedagogical hole, a large body of case material is now becoming available. These vignettes typically present ethical challenges and conundrums that researchers have encountered in the field and present the solutions that they arrived at (or perhaps failed to arrive at!). They are building up into a body of case material, which varies considerably in content but often provides identifiable patterns when it comes to power relations, positionality and potential harms and how these might be avoided. In addition to the case studies we have assembled here, you may find these useful.
How do professional codes relate to the research you undertake?
Professional associations, as the representative bodies of particular disciplines, have developed codes of ethics covering conduct, values and responsibilities. These documents tend to be high level and general in form rather than prescriptive but nonetheless provide an important compass when it comes to deciding where priorities might lie should dilemmas arise for the researcher. As these documents evolve, and do so within different country settings, it is essential that anthropologists at all levels of professional development are familiar with the content of their local codes, as well as the history which brought them about. It is also important to be aware of how requirements for oversight and regulation emerge from legislation, such as the EU’s new General Data Protection Regulation
What examples of different approaches to ethical governance are available on the web?
The amount of material now available on the web to support ethical governance of anthropological research is now considerable. In this section we have assembled a broad range of materials that might give an idea of the different approaches taken to ethical governance in different places and (text missing)
What is ethics review and how did we get to where we are?
As part of the development of a research project, review by a properly constituted research ethics committee is now a standard expectation of most institutions. The purpose of such a review is, ostensibly, to provide an objective and independent assessment of the harms and benefits to those who participate, as subjects, in the proposed research. Ethics review by committee has thus become established as a uniform aperture through which to pass research of all different shapes and sizes. In this section you will find information about how the idea for ethics review came about, how review boards operate, including who sits on them and the paperwork they issue.
What is the relationship between sponsors of research and its ethical conduct?
The research councils that distribute funding now play a key role in ensuring that research is subject to ethics review and that ethical standards are maintained. In this section we consider the relationship between the sponsors of research and its ethical conduct.
What forms does ethics review take in the UK?
How ethics review of research projects is organised in UK universities is subject to wide variation. In this section we present details of a survey which describes this variation. We also include accounts of additional tiers of review that might be required for health related research, research carried out among specific minority groups, research that might require multiple reviews from different institutions, and research in a foreign country.
How can we distinguish morals from ethics, and what constitutes virtue in the context of anthropological research?
In this section we provide an overview of the broader ethical traditions within which the ethics of anthropological research sits. We distinguish between morals and ethics (and consider challenges to this distinction) and show how this distinction relates to virtue ethics. Consideration is given to just what constitutes the virtues in the context of anthropological research.