Ethics in Critical Research: Stories from the Field

               

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Catriona Ida Macleod, Jacqueline Marx, Phindezwa Mnyaka, and Gareth J. Treharne

is handbook is about researchers’ encounters with ethical dilemmas in the conduct of social and health research in which a critical approach is being applied. Each chapter in the handbook is a story from the eld in which authors, writing from di erent countries, in a range of disciplines, and using varying methodologies, narrate the ethical dilemmas that confronted them as well as the ways in which they navigated these dilemmas. Authors highlight a range of issues, including: struggles that require critical researchers, at times, to traverse traditional ethical imperatives; ethics conventions that unravel in the face of power relations encountered in the eld; the blurring of boundaries between researchers and participants, and between the di erent roles research- ers inhabit; how critical research that is declared ethical on paper can be judged by standards of social justice as unethical; how cross-national standards of research ethics may fall apart in local interpretations and adaptations; and the ways in which institutional power relations can hinder ethical practice.

C. I. Macleod (*) • J. Marx
Critical Studies in Sexualities and Reproduction, Department of Psychology, Rhodes University, Grahamstown, South Africa
e-mail: c.macleod@ru.ac.za; jacqui.marx@ru.ac.za

P. Mnyaka
Department of History, University of the Western Cape, Bellville, South Africa e-mail: pmnyaka@uwc.ac.za

G. J. Treharne
University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand e-mail: gtreharne@psy.otago.ac.nz

© e Author(s) 2018 1 C. I. Macleod et al. (eds.), e Palgrave Handbook of Ethics in Critical Research, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-74721-7_1

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ere are four sections to the handbook, each focussing on particular ethi- cal quandaries encountered by critical researchers. In the rst section, entitled Encountering Systems, chapter authors explore the challenges posed by the sys- tems with which social and health researchers engage during the course of conducting research. e ethics committees1 set up to preview ethics proto- cols have become one of the most foundational systems that critical research- ers have to navigate. Given the biomedical history of ethics review processes, critical researchers may face many challenges in seeking approval from ethics committees. In addition, authors in this section re ect on the institutions and wider social systems within which social and health research is often con- ducted, and which regulate and shape what is possible in critical research. e second section of the handbook is entitled Blurring Boundaries. Authors of chapters in this section tackle the question of when and how it becomes ethi- cal to blur the boundaries imposed by conventional models of ethical research, in particular the relationships between researchers and participants. Some critical methodologies encourage this blurring, and this can result in chal- lenges for the researcher while carrying out research and when ‘exiting’ the eld. Chapters in the third section, e Politics of Voice, Anonymity and Con dentiality, speak to situations in which the requirements of anonymity and con dentiality may not be appropriate ethically or possible for individual participants or institutions, especially when participants want to be recog- nised for their contribution to the research. Authors outline a range of cir- cumstances and considerations demonstrating how di erent responses are needed in order to work through alternatives to anonymity and con dential- ity. e nal section is entitled Researching ‘Down’, ‘Up’, and ‘Alongside’ to capture the various structural positions participants can have in relation to the researcher(s). e authors address ethical complexities when conducting criti- cal research that questions the framing of participants as being subject to research. Critical research continues to develop ethical ways of researching with the marginalised or with the elite, and deeply engaging with co- researchers who can research alongside academics.

e dilemmas raised in each section of the handbook are summarised in the introductory chapters to the section. In the rest of this overarching intro- ductory chapter we outline what we mean by critical research and why the consideration of ethics in conducting critical research needs to be nuanced and complex. We discuss the potential of speaking simultaneously to overarching ethics principles whilst grounding ethics in local realities. Finally, we highlight why drawing on stories from the eld in a range of geographical, social, and discursive spaces is useful in bringing key ethical issues to the sur- face. We argue that the challenges posed by authors featured in this handbook

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provide fertile ground for thinking through cross-national ethics principles in critical research, including the need for relational and situated ethics approaches.

Critical Approaches to Research

What it means to be a ‘critical’ researcher continues to be debated. Don Foster (2008), a South African psychologist, characterised critical psychology as ‘a rather loose, undisciplined and rag-tag headboard for quite a number of diverse streams of theorising and practices’ (p. 92), and the same may be said about ‘critical’ research in the range of disciplines, departments, and other categorisations of elds of research evident in this handbook. While a research- er’s eld (anthropology, psychology, sociology, etc.), career position in the hierarchies of academia, and subject positioning within ‘real-world’ systems may play a role in taking up critical research, the researcher’s epistemological and methodological positions are key. Indeed, critical researchers from very di erent elds may have more in common with each other intellectually than with their respective colleagues in the same eld. is is because a number of theories that enable critical research (e.g., Marxism, feminism, postcolonial- ism, poststructuralism, critical realism) have been taken up in a range of disciplines.

But what exactly are we talking about when we say ‘critical research’? Perhaps the rst clue is that critical researchers are rehearsed in defending their knowledge claims against ‘mainstream’ hegemony, which is often cast in the shadow of biomedical and/or positivist research, as indicated throughout the stories in this handbook. As argued by Painter, Kiguwa, and Böhmke (2013), however, creating neat categories of ‘critical’ or ‘mainstream’ research along the lines of ‘us’ and ‘them’ may be neither possible nor useful. at said, one of the hallmarks of critical research is to be critical of the mainstream and to nd better ways of doing ethical, meaningful research which contributes to social justice. In this handbook we address the long-standing marginalisation of critical research in many elds by giving prominence to rich examples of a diversity of critical approaches and their relation to research ethics.

Critical research also draws attention to mainstream assumptions about speci c elds that become naturalised and shored up as the default. For example, in relation to health psychology, Murray (2014) noted that ‘there is a tendency to ignore the very historicity of the eld’ (p. 7), which has been grounded in natural science and biomedicine. If mainstream approaches to particular elds are founded on taken-for-granted epistemologies, then how

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do these foundations shape what is considered ethical in research? And how does critical research develop a critical awareness of research methods with origins in elds antithetical to the critical endeavour? e central way in which this handbook addresses the latter question is through stories from the numerous elds of critical research.

Critical approaches to research are also characterised by re exivity and self- criticality in relation to the purpose, methods, and ethics of the research. Re exivity has been conceptualised as the ongoing application of critical re ection in research praxis (Finlay, 2002). It ‘involves taking an explicit look at the broader consequences of practices within a discipline’ (Lyons & Chamberlain, 2006, p. 26). More precisely, the consequences and enmesh- ment of power relations between researchers and participants, researchers, and ethics committees, as well as the range of social and historical systems, are acknowledged and unpacked.

is kind of deep re exivity is neatly demonstrated in the poem featured at the beginning of this handbook by irusha Naidu, also the author of one of our chapters. ese verses were penned during a round-table discussion on the Science of Psychology in Africa and the global South hosted at the rst Pan-African Psychology Union congress that took place in Durban, South Africa, in September 2017. In the poem, Naidu voices her frustration with assumptions about what counts as science; how research inscriptions capture, de ne, and reduce the ‘other’; and the blindness of certain methodologies, based in White masculinist science, to particular experiences and ways of being. Using metaphors of irrationality, foreignness, regression, the subjec- tive, and undress, she highlights the colonialist, raced, and gendered nature of much research. She demands a space to do research di erently, refusing to let particular understandings of research ‘cloud my lens’. Simultaneously, she demands that researchers see her, as a potential research participant, on her own terms. Poignantly, she concludes that neither of these is easy: ‘When most White men Are taller than you’.

e signi er ‘critical’, demonstrated so clearly in this poem, contains the exact processes that underpin the approach that we take in this handbook, namely that what appears most obvious should and can be questioned; debates and contestations of issues are important; and di cult questions should be asked and thought about deeply. Murray (2014) argued that ‘[t]here are dif- ferent meanings of the term critical. One the one hand, critical is the concern with meanings; while on the other, it is the concern with issues of power and exploitation’ (p. 9). Broadly speaking, we view ‘critical’ research as seeking to unpack power relations, promote social justice, and highlight inequities.

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Although ‘critical’ research is often associated with qualitative methods, this is not necessarily the case. Indeed, some of the studies featured in this handbook used both quantitative and qualitative methods (e.g., Edelman, Section 1; Paphitis & Kelland, Section 2; Mir n-Veitch, Conder, Treharne, Hale, & Richardson, Section 4). A number of studies featured in this hand- book commit to criticality by using methodologies that are designed to pro- mote social justice and healing, including participatory methods that imply patient and public involvement (Edelman, Section 1; Paphitis & Kelland, Section 2; Lovell & Akhurst, Section 4), transdisciplinary research (Cockburn & Georgina Cundill, Section 1), and arts-based methods such as poetry, sto- rytelling, and theatre (Naidu, Section 3; Paphitis & Kelland, Section 2; Rice, LaMarre & Mykitiuk, Section 3). In others, interventions are combined with research, such as critical health interventions (Akhurst, van der Riet, & So ka, Section 2; Paphitis & Kelland, Section 2), poetry therapy (Naidu, Section 3), and home-based care (Naidu, Section 3).

Critical Approaches to Ethics

e literature on ethics in the context of research is extensive. It reveals a wide variety of approaches informed by di erent epistemological traditions and political commitments. Despite this pluralism, most formal processes of eth- ics review are dominated by a principlist approach to research ethics, based on the principles of respect for autonomy, bene cence, non-male cence, and jus- tice (see Beauchamp & Childress, 2009). e dominance of a principlist approach to research ethics has been linked to the involvement of the state in the development of ethics governance (Evans, 2000). In the past two decades, an increasing number of countries around the world have developed national policies governing the ethical conduct of academic research. is has been done in an attempt to establish similar ethical standards for research con- ducted both in and between countries. In the context of the development of ethics governance, the presumed ‘calculability and simplicity in ethical decision-making’ (Israel & Hay, 2006, p. 18) that a principlist approach sug- gests has an obvious appeal to those tasked with drafting national guidelines (Evans, 2000). e mandate of ethics committee members is, after all, to provide guidance that can ‘be understood with relative ease by members of various disciplines’ (Beauchamp, 2010, p. 36).

ere is, however, considerable criticism of principlism, partly as a result of the prominence of this approach in the regulatory ethics context. It is argued, for example, that the assumed universality of the principles has imperialist

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undertones (Dawson & Garrard, 2006) and limited applicability, particularly when individuals are not autonomous (Baines, 2008). Competing ethical imperatives can sometimes occasion deadlock in ethical decision-making (Baum, 1994), and critics argue that if principlism cannot provide su cient guidance in the moments in which it is most needed, then it is inadequate to the task (Clouser & Gert, 1990). Although far from settled, one outcome of these sorts of debates is that few still view principlism as a ‘straightforward framework for problem solving’ (Israel & Hay, 2006, p. 19). It is now gener- ally agreed that ethics principles provide guidelines for ethical decision- making that have to be ‘interpreted and made speci c’ (Beauchamp, 1995, p. 184, italics in the original).

e chapters making up this handbook are a response to this challenge. In fact, the idea for the book came to us at the 2015 International Society of Critical Health Psychology conference, where a signi cant number of pre- senters spoke about their experiences of the limitations of principlism for guiding ethical conduct in research. ey spoke about how critical researchers are compelled to engage with principlism because it dominates the ethics gov- ernance assemblage in international conventions, national guidelines, profes- sional codes of conduct, institutional policies, funding eligibility, gatekeeping, and so on; it is now almost impossible to proceed with the conduct of research without rst successfully navigating ‘procedural’ ethics that arise from princi- plism. Speakers at the conference, many of whom feature in this handbook, also highlighted the contextual challenges of conducting ethical research, challenges that are not always foreseen or accommodated in bureaucratic eth- ics assemblages.

So, grounded in stories from the eld, in di erent geographic locations, in di erent social and political contexts, and in the complexities of real-world research informed by di erent disciplinary and epistemological approaches, the chapters in this book o er critical engagement with the establishment of certain conventions in the interpretation of ethics principles. For example, authors interrogate common assumptions about what constitutes ‘vulnerabil- ity’ (Feltham-King, Bomela & Macleod, Section 1), ‘risk’ and ‘harm’ (Edelman, Section 1), and the way in which these are deployed by powerful stakeholders (Marzano, Section 4). Mindful of histories of colonialism, apart- heid, and other systems of oppression, authors highlight the signi cance of the imperative for democratic ‘collaboration’ (Lovell & Akhurst, Section 4; Paphitis & Kelland, Section 2) and the rights of participants to claims of ‘ownership’ of data (Mayeza, Section 4). Others trouble some of the assump- tions underpinning the requirement to obtain ‘informed consent’ (van den Hoonaard, Section 1; Cockburn & Cundill, Section 1; Rice et al., Section 3;

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Mir n-Veith et al., Section 4), and demonstrate how identity masking can undermine ‘respect’ for persons (Naidu, Section 3) and the ‘justice’ impera- tive (Ashdown et al., Section 3; Marx & Macleod, Section 3). e chapters illustrate why it is important to challenge ‘conventional’ wisdom and to avoid complacency which is unlikely to lead to ethically responsible research. In this regard, the chapters in our book constitute an arsenal of carefully considered and well-argued responses to many of the standard interpretations of ethics principles.

As each chapter is a story from the eld, this handbook grapples not only with the frustrations of procedural ethics but also with the ethically important moments that arise in the actual conduct of research. Authors discuss, for example, the ethical complexities of inhabiting multiples roles (Barker & Macleod, Section 2), of positioning oneself and being positioned by others (Harvey, Section 3; Akhurst et al., Section 2; Mayeza, Section 4), of the blur- ring of boundaries between researcher and researched in participatory (Lovell & Akhurst, Section 4) and arts-based research (Rice et al., Section 3). Underpinning these and a range of other issues are deep concerns about the signi cant power di erentials that exist among and between various stake- holders in research, including our own investments in what can be referred to as the bourgeois simulation of research excellence (Stewart, Section 4).

Ill-prepared by deliberations characterising procedural ethics, and frus- trated by the limitations of principlism, authors were motivated to seek guid- ance in alternate approaches to ethics. ese included relational (Barker & Macleod, Section 2) and situated (Marx & Macleod, Section 3) approaches to ethics, as well as insights informed by psychoanalytic (Harvey, Section 3; Stewart, Section 4), feminist (Feltham-King et al., Section 1), and postcolo- nial theory (Stewart, Section 4), and critical disability studies (Rice et al., Section 3; Mir n-Veitch et al., Section 4). In each instance, authors grounded their discussions of the usefulness of alternative approaches in the speci c situational and relational dimensions of their research, e ectively eliminating distinctions between applied ethics and ethics in theory, which is so often what undermines the usefulness of an ethical perspective. Indeed, the useful- ness of this handbook lies in the careful balance recommended by authors of: the universal versus the speci c; principle-based versus re exive actions; abstract versus grounded reasoning; and rigid versus exible practices.

e chapters featured in this handbook point to the necessity of con- structing and practising research ethics in a ‘both/and’ rather than an ‘either/ or’ fashion: both cross-national principles and contextual responsiveness. is is in contrast to some authors who advocate what they call situated or situational ethics in opposition to principlist approaches (Piper & Simons,

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2005; Usher, 2000). For example, in their edited book on ethics in educa- tional research, Simons and Usher (2000, p. 2), argue, ‘Researchers cannot avoid weighing up often con icting considerations and dilemmas which are located in the speci cities of the research situation and where there is a need to make ethical decisions but where those decisions cannot be reached by appeal to unambiguous or univalent principles or codes’. While being sensi- tive to sociopolitical contexts, as well as taking account of the ethical impli- cations of di erent research methods and practices, is clearly important in critical research, this in no way implies, we believe, the wholesale abandon- ment of ethics principles that have cross-contextual and cross-national signi cance.

Stories from the Field: Complicating Ethical Imperatives

A number of national and international conventions have tackled the ques- tion of how to conduct ethical research. Most notable among these are the Nuremberg Code (1947), the Declaration of Helsinki (World Medical Association, 1964), and the Belmont Report (National Commission for the Protection of Human Subjects of Biomedical and Behavioral Research, 1978). ese guidelines were developed in the context of concerns about atrocities carried out in the name of research, the lack of regulation of research, and the potential to do harm. In particular, research conducted by Nazi scientists on concentration camp inmates and the Tuskegee experiments in which African American subjects were kept ignorant of being infected with syphilis and left untreated underlined the need to regulate medical research that is conducted within wider social, political, and economic inequalities (Fairchild & Bayer, 1999). Importantly, the necessary corrective to these grossly unethical prac- tices came from stories from the eld. Students of research ethics are often inducted into the necessity of research ethics principles through the telling of these historical narratives.

In thinking deeply and in a nuanced fashion about ethics in research, espe- cially critical research, it is important that lessons are learnt from researchers’ stories. Drawing on the experience of researchers in the eld helps to surface important ethical quandaries that require consideration in critical research. e power relations that play themselves out in, rstly, creating these quandaries and, secondly, in working towards some form of resolution are highlighted.

Ethics in Critical Research: Stories from the Field 9

e point of departure for each story narrated in the book is the extent to which experiences of conducting research generate unforeseen crises. Stories from the eld outline signi cantly the ways ethical guidelines or principles are translated in practice in both predictable and unpredictable ways. Arguably, it is through their application that the textures and ssures of ethics guidelines are apparent. In turn, in their being based on concrete examples, the chapters indicate how practice can have bearing on the theorisation of ethical research practice.

It is worth considering the extent to which a notion of criticality lies dor- mant in the notion of ethics, and how this is activated through translation into praxis in the eld. As an unpredictable space, interactions in the eld can highlight the limits of the ‘prevention of harm’ model that underpins ethical guidelines. Each story in the book draws attention to contingency in the eld and highlights the constraints of both a forecasting and an instrumentalist approach to ethical practice.

In the rst section of the handbook, authors tell stories that unpack the constraints of systems, both institutional and otherwise, on research practices. eir narratives ask whether there may be divergences between critical research methods and the commitment to bene cence. As the stories in the chapters suggest, political values as abstractions do not readily translate to the preven- tion of harm when encountering participants and the more dynamic space of the eld. Researchers may encounter individuals and organisations that medi- ate access both physically and discursively, as narrated in Section 1. What happens, therefore, if researchers nd themselves having to take on an author- itative position that reinscribes a particular power dynamic in order to under- take empirical work while, simultaneously, committing to critical practice?

Implicit in the construction and application of ethical guidelines are pre- scribed research roles, as highlighted by authors in Section 2. After all, it is the researcher who is tasked with nding strategies to minimise harm, to ensure con dentiality and anonymity, and so on. Contingency in the eld means that such roles may be disrupted. Participants may have expectations unfore- seen by the researcher prior to undertaking research; the role as primarily a researcher, written into the contract between researchers and participants, may be dislodged temporarily. Sensitivity to context, as the stories suggest, means a continual interpretation of one’s ethical guidelines while remaining committed to their core principles. In a number of chapters throughout the handbook, authors provide insights into di erent strategies employed to negotiate the unexpected.

Changing contexts also means rethinking prior assumptions about harms when considering con dentiality and anonymity from the perspective of

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participants, as highlighted in Section 3. While standard practice may take for granted anonymity as a preventative measure, participants may feel di er- ently. Chapters in Section 3 draw on a range of stories from the eld to high- light the complexities of navigating a way through contested anonymity and con dentiality practices.

In di erent in ections, stories from the eld draw attention to the circuits of power in the process of undertaking research. If the writing of ethical prin- ciples grants the researcher responsibility, what is one to make of the relation- ship between responsibility and power? Ethical guidelines may be inscribing both actual and imagined participants as powerless in a preventative frame- work. A number of authors of chapters in Section 4 re ect on their experi- ences of consciously negotiating power. For the reader, this lays bare dynamics that may be concealed when the ‘doing’ of ethics remains in preliminary bureaucratic processes. In short, while researchers are tasked with foreground- ing ethics prior to entering the eld, this abstracted process remained indebted to ongoing, and particular, stories that provide feedback in the act of translation.

Going Forward

As a result of the complexity of conducting critical research, researchers are called upon in innumerable ways to re-evaluate what it means to be doing ethical research. Critical social science researchers, students, and teachers of research ethics increasingly nd themselves navigating the dilemma of choos- ing between doing good (being ethically responsive to the people being researched) and doing good research (maintaining pre-approved protocols). In understanding research ethics as a process that is responsive to the com- plexities of the eld, researchers may nd themselves in a quandary in relation to the administrative necessities of ethical clearance.

e increasing regulation of research ethics has led to some scholars noting that ‘the regulatory concerns are more technical than ethically substantive. … the format of review can readily induce a ‘tick-box’ mentality: a preoccupation with lling in the forms correctly’ (Posel & Ross, 2014, p. 3). e bureau- cratic process, which engages a priori with imagined ethical dilemmas, is often viewed as a hoop through which researchers must leap before getting on with the real business of gathering data. But, as pointed out by Posel and Ross (2014), ethics and research is ‘often unruly and abidingly ambiguous, their complexities resistant to simple and neat formal assurances’ (p. 3). As research- ers approach gatekeepers, enter research sites, interact with participants, and

Ethics in Critical Research: Stories from the Field 11

engage with groupings of people and institutions, so the messiness of life, the quandaries of unforeseen actions and circumstances, and the complexities of power relations make themselves felt.

e completion of ethical clearance applications is useful in inducting new researchers into research ethics and in focussing a research team’s initial con- ceptualisation of ethics on a particular project. If, on the other hand, ethics considerations are limited to administrative processes, then it is likely that researchers will not be prepared properly for the ethical dilemmas that inevi- tably arise in the eld, especially when conducting critical research. e sto- ries from the eld told by the authors of the chapters in this handbook may resonate with challenges faced by many researchers. A number of pertinent questions are posed in these narratives: what are the implications of power relations within the various systems relating to the conduct of research (Section 1)? How do we draw lines between research and other relationships (Section 2)? Who has the responsibility of de ning ‘harms’? How do anonym- ity and con dentiality assist or potentially impede social justice research (Section 3)? How are power relations between researchers and participants navigated (Section 4)? How do researchers ensure that ethics and methods are responsive to the situations within which the research is conducted? As such, these stories provide spaces for nuanced and re ective thinking about the complexities of conducting critical research.

e research featured in these chapters all received ethical clearance from the relevant ethics committees and/or other institutional gatekeepers. While critical of established interpretations and applications of a principlist approach, authors do not shun procedural ethics entirely. Instead, their stories demon- strate the contextualised and multifaceted ways in which the principles implied in ethics review may be stitched together with situated and grounded ethical praxis in the eld, a praxis that is necessarily circular in its re ection and action cycle. We continue our cycle of discussion of the chapters and overarching themes of ethical critical research in the introductions to each section and also in the nal re ection chapter of the handbook.

Notes

1. e bodies tasked with reviewing research ethics prior to researchers’ engage- ment in the eld have di erent names, depending on context. In this hand- book, authors have been free to use the names pertinent to their context (e.g., Internal Review Board in the United States). We use a generic term, ethics committees, in our introductions and conclusions.

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