Academic journal article New Zealand Sociology

Edge Walking Ethics

Academic journal article New Zealand Sociology

Edge Walking Ethics

Article excerpt

Edge walking ethics

There is a disconnect between university ethics review committees and certain parts of the academy (Edwards, Kirchin, & Huxtable, 2004; Eikeland, 2006; Fitzgerald, 2005; Haggerty, 2004; Tolich & Smith, 2015; Wall & Overton, 2006). Israel and Hay (2006) sum up the disconnect succinctly:

[s]ocial scientists are angry and frustrated. They believe their work is being constrained and distorted by regulators of ethical practice who do not necessarily understand social science research (p.1).

Part of this frustration stems from social science researchers experience with the minutiae of ethics review procedures, the tick box application forms and the ensuing questions it generates (Halse & Honey 2007; Hammersley 2006; Hoecht 2011; Israel & Hay 2006; Tinker & Coomber 2004). Collectively social scientists perceive there to be minimal risk of physical harm to their participants (van den Hoonaard 2001; see van den Hoonaard 2002; 2006) and they have issue with ethics review being underpinned by a bio-medical paradigm. Hence many social science researchers have to reconcile their understandings of planning and doing research which is ethical, with processes and principles which speak to bio- medical based ethics codes (Tolich & Smith, 2015). At times the review process does not fully capture the dynamic and complex nature of research with human beings (Kindon & Latham, 2002; Reid & Brief. 2009; Tauri, 2014). At other times the review system does not facilitate understanding producing a miscommunication: yet the notion of 'tell us researchers what you want' or 'we wish you understood what we mean' also suggests a desire to know and share and to have dialogue (see Schwandt, 2007; Sikes & Piper, 2010; Stark, 2012; Tauri, 2014).

A normative narrative argued by these academics cited above is that formal ethics review processes and thus ethics review committee members can hinder the research process, hence they see little worth in the review system or process. Iphofen (2009) terms it research governance, dismissing ethics committees to be more about protecting the institution from litigation than about protecting research participants. He argues ethical review should be independent of research governance, and for professional associations and researchers to be proactive in terms of developing ethical awareness and integrity.

On the other side, those, like myself the author who serve on ethics committees champion the role ethics committees play in enhancing integrity in the research process. In unpacking the simplistic binary of the 'all powerful institutional human ethics committee' and the 'all powerless educational research community', and in writing about his experiences as both researcher and ethics committee member, O'Neil (2010) suggests committee members and researchers "look to continuously re-negotiate a complex shared space around the ethics of research..." (p.231). Hunter (2013) argues the value of ethics review seeing the benefits of regulation to outweigh the costs, notwithstanding the fact ethics review processes and system should also be open to critique and improvement.

In speaking to these two sides I identify with being an edge walker. As a researcher who submits my work for ethics review I also take a critical stance to ethics committee, seeing the limitations but as a serving member of an ethics committee I see also ethics review as having merit. Another edge walking act is in my everyday role as a teacher, charged with educating postgraduate students about procedural ethics as well as educating them for the big ethical moments that develop in the field (see Guillemin & Gillam 2004) neither predicted by the researcher or the ethics committee during the formal ethics review. Here I impart the idea that the ethics review system provides a valuable process where students can also work out their ethical intentions.

Krebs (1999) says edge walkers are considered to be those people who live in two cultures with the ability to behave reflexively, to consider more deeply various tensions they face, where they encourage the unpacking of taken for granted assumptions. …

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