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Becoming an ethical researcher
Becoming an ethical researcher

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2 Showing respect

The Cambridge Dictionary (2020) gives a definition for respect as:

due regard for the feelings, wishes, or rights of others.

And offers synonyms including:

due regard · consideration · thoughtfulness · attentiveness · politeness · courtesy · civility · deference

The respect Victoria was aiming to show to the vulnerable people covered in Case study 2.2 can be defined as shown in the Cambridge Dictionary as paying attention to their feelings and rights through her thoughtfulness, attentiveness and by showing courtesy.

Victoria’s reflections on her research demonstrate how she went about showing respect to those who had found themselves in settings without secure housing, food and safety, and living in groups that bring together different cultural, religious and language traditions.

Victoria was keen to find ways to represent people living in such situations to help them express their voice through her study and, especially, to limit their experience of research as being conducted ‘on’ them. However, you may think that in such a setting, where people are so vulnerable, research should not have been undertaken at all. Even in the Indian classroom you saw in Case study 2.1, the rights of researchers to arrive with film cameras could be questioned.

Described image
Figure 4 Decision-making needs to ensure that the positive consequences outweigh the negative

To make a decision about whether to conduct research, a researcher (and those advising them) needs to balance the possible benefits of the proposed research against the possible risks of causing harm.

Activity 3 On what basis should researchers have access to settings?

Timing: Allow approximately 20 minutes for Part A and 25 minutes for Part B

Is it always ethical to go into environments where people interact to observe, talk to those in the setting or collect artefacts? Think back to Case study 2.1 (an Indian classroom) and Case study 2.2 (research in refugee camps) and then reflect on the following questions from your own perspective; it might help you to think like a researcher wanting to carry out research.

Part A

What does a researcher need to know?

Use the following questions to prepare you for making a post on the course forum [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)]   by, first, thinking from the perspective of a potential participant.

Think about:

  • What harm might a researcher cause by observing you and others in your setting? How would you feel if someone sat in a space where you were and took notes, completed a checklist or made an audio or film recording?
  • What harm might a researcher cause by interviewing you and others in your setting? How would you feel if someone asked you questions, made notes about what you said or made an audio or film recording of you?
  • What would you want to ask the researcher before giving consent?
  • What would you want to know about the researcher?
  • What do you think would be helpful for them to know (or that you would not want them to know) about you?
  • What kind of information would motivate you to participate in their study?
  • How could the researcher make you feel more comfortable to be observed/interviewed?

Part B

What rationale would you offer to carry out research?

Choose one of the case studies (2.1 or 2.2) and imagine you are one of the researchers. Post on the course forum a short justification for your research, which considers how you plan to maximise the benefits and minimise the harm to participants from your research.

Offer this in two parts about a) what you would need to know to ensure the study was beneficial (around 50 words) and b) what you would need to do to minimise the harm from the study (around 50 words).

Post your explanation on the relevant forum thread for either Session 2 Activity 3 Case study 2.1 or Case study 2.2.